I’m often asked: “Should I be amplifying my event?” and I usually start by admitting my obvious bias when answering. However, the truthful answer is: “It depends.”
I thought it would be useful to consider some of the scenarios when event organisers should (in my opinion) be amplifying their event, and examine some of the myths which hold them back…
You should amplify your event when:
Your remit is to spread the word
If the whole raison d’etre for your event is to disseminate key messages as widely as possible throughout a community, you need to think about amplifying that event. Period. This does not necessarily mean forcing Twitter upon participants, but rather looking for online social tools which enable resource sharing and allow space for discussion. This could simply involve publishing the speaker’s slides via Slideshare or creating written session summaries for the event blog or website to help participants share the key messages with their colleagues in a reliable way. Video sharing sites are another great way to achieve this. The event itself is just one (albeit focal) platform to achieve your overarching aim.
Your potential audience is wider than your delegate list
You can’t please everyone when choosing an event date or venue, so there will always be some people who can’t make it but really would like to be involved. If you know there are a significant number of potential participants out there who cannot make the physical event but have a passionate interest in the proceedings, you should consider amplifying your event. Amplifying will not replace physical attendance for those people, but it will give them a sense of connection to the event and help to keep them informed, which can help encourage attendance at subsequent events.
Participants have self-organised the amplification at previous events
If you have been asked “what’s the hash tag?” at a previous event, you definitely need to get organised and amplify formally next time. Audience-driven amplification is great, but you don’t get the benefit as an organiser unless you engage, or at least listen to it. If your audience is already interacting in this way you have the opportunity to enhance their experience, so look at what they have done and the tools they use to discuss the event or related themes and build your amplification plan around these tools and online discussion spaces.
You have a core of active Twitter users in the audience
If active Twitter users are there, they will probably be tweeting and will not necessarily be complimentary if there is no clear event hash tag or support available from the organiser within that space. As with all elements of event design, the key is to know your audience.
The best way to find out is to ask for a Twitter username from delegates upon sign up. Check them out and see how active they are. If there are 5-10 who seem really active in an audience of up to say 200 delegates, and a larger number of others who are slightly less active, then you will probably find that if you amplify your event you will get a reasonable level of engagement using Twitter. It is critical to have a small core of active users who will make the conversation vibrant and therefore encourage other voices to share their views.
You can show a wide potential reach for your amplified event
A really good way of gauging the potential reach of your event is to collect the Twitter usernames from delegates, speakers and sponsors to create Twitter lists, which can be shared later as part of your amplification plan to help participants get to know each other before the event. However, these lists can be used to create some great visualisations to assess or justify the case for amplification.
This was created by Tony Hirst using Gephi and the JISC11 /speaker, /delegate and /remote lists that I had created for the organisers using Twitter IDs collected via their sign up forms and the event’s Lanyrd page. In this diagram he shows the connections between listed accounts and the accounts of people who follow three or more people on those lists to show the potential reach of the messages from the event. I thought this was really useful, so I have downloaded Gephi and will be experimenting with the types of visualisations that can be created to support the case for amplification around an event.
The audience needs to be “techie”
No, it doesn’t. It is a very common myth that amplification only works with technology orientated audiences, but it is not true. Many more traditional audiences can be effectively engaged, provided you use the right combination of tools to suit them. You will often find that your audience will be using online tools for professional networking already, whether this be in the form of LinkedIn groups, Twitter communities, emailing lists or discussion forums. If you use tools they are familiar with, amplification can work with most modestly computer-literate audiences.
Amplification = Twitter
No, it doesn’t. Twitter is a really fantastic tool for generating discussions and sharing key messages and links, but it is by no means the only tool in the box. It is not even the only tool in the box to generate realtime conversation, as you can use services such as CoverItLive which has a low barrier to entry and no requirement to sign up for an account and learn a new set of skills. There is a vast array of tools which can help extend your event outside of the physical confines of the conference room, and although Twitter is a very common one, it is not essential.
Amplification will remove some of the value of the physical event
No, it doesn’t. There is still a huge benefit in attending an event in person, which every online participant I have ever spoken with will freely and often jealously admit. Amplification is not a replacement to an event, it is an enhancement. By glimpsing what is going on and being involved in the conversations, online participants are more likely to see the value and attend in person next year, whilst physical attendees have the option of an additional and useful dimension to their event experience. Your event also adds value to the existing online professional networks surrounding your target audience, which gives your event a more valuable profile. The more people sharing news, comments and links to resources about your event, the more publicity you get.
Whilst this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of scenarios or myths, hopefully this provides the beginnings of a frame work to help event organisers decide if amplification is the right course to extend their event. I would very much welcome comments or alternative scenarios in which people have found themselves arguing the case for (or against!) event amplification.
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