Can Twitter still be a disruptive power at an event? Some thoughts following our meeting with the organisers of SXSE London…
Yesterday I was lucky to meet Ben Stockman and Andrew Walker (organiser and inaugural speaker, respectively) from the SXSE London event, which enters its second year this November.
As part of a wider discussion about the disruptive power of social media, we talked about the inspiration for the event, which rallies against established social media events, such as Social Media Week London. The group behind SXSE London were concerned that these high profile social media events have become more focused on marketing and sales, with less emphasis on the creative ways that social media can be used to effect change. They wanted a more grass-roots event, featuring the “do-ers” of social media, including Michael Sani (Bite The Ballot), Jon Morter, (RATM for Xmas #1 2009, Save 6 Music), Ben Stockman (Award-winning community strategist), Sian To (Cybher).
We were discussing the ways in which Twitter can be more effectively integrated into the event experience, rather than forming a space for yet more self-promotion and “gushing”. Can we make Twitter really count at an event?
In the early stages of event amplification, a lot of the emphasis focussed on giving people a useful experience of social media tools, like Twitter, to help encourage adoption and thereby a more vibrant, amplified discussion which could be captured and be of longer lasting benefit to the community. This kind of “tweet more!” approach (together with a bit of bandwagoning by event marketeers) has led us to a situation where “twomiting” is becoming increasingly the norm. This makes the Twitter backchannel more difficult for the remote audience to navigate and dilutes the impact of the online discussion. You end up with lots of noise, lots of people being subject to that noise, but not a lot being achieved as a result.
But surely “amplification” is all about reaching more people?
Well, yes. But reaching them with what?
What event amplification aims to do is facilitate and amplify a useful conversation about the issues raised by the event. This can involve more people from outside the event’s physical venue, but the fundamental aim is to attract active participants to the conversation.
Employing a “Make Social Media Count” Ethos
I’m keen to see the organisers of events like SXSE London promoting the idea that social media should be used in a focused way by speakers, exhibitors and attendees. This could be achieved in a number of ways:
1. Use a “one tweet” initiative
I originally encountered this idea as a way of getting non-Twitter users to see the benefits of tweeting at events. Attendees are encouraged to listen to a presentation in full, then publish just one tweet which summarised the most useful point they took away from the talk. This was then used to start an amplified conversation about the talk.
This same idea could be used again in a different way now that we have wider uptake of Twitter. Encouraging audience members not to tweet during a presentation, but save their comments for the end, when they can tweet more informed reflections on the value of the points raised could improve the quality of the Twitter backchannel discussions.
This approach was the subject of a lightning talk at UX Bristol 2012, when the speaker asked each person in the audience to photograph the person next to them and tweet the picture with the person’s Twitter handle and their main take away from the event. This was a great way to re-emphasise the “social” part of social media. A summary of the UXBristol 2012 take aways can be found here.
2. Employ an official live tweeter
Offering a live commentary from an official, branded Twitter account is a good way to ensure that there is a steady stream of interesting soundbites emanating from the event, reducing the audience impulse to tweet a blow-by-blow account of the event. This can improve their concentration levels, allowing them to contribute their own comments and reflections to the discussion.
3. Hold focussed, online discussions
A focussed Twitter chat or Q&A with a guest speaker can act as an online breakout group, keeping the remote audience engaged when the local participants split into breakout groups. It is also a way to make the Twitter backchannel a useful, productive stream of the event, where issues are discussed in detail.
Exhibitors and guest speakers could all be given a specific, advertised time slot in which to hold a topical debate or Q&A, with the assistance of an experienced moderator.
This need not exclude the local audience, who may participate fully or dip in and out around their other activities at the event. However, what it can achieve for local audience is a greater awareness of those following the event from outside the venue, and an opportunity for a more direct, structured dialogue with them.
4. Code of conduct for sponsors and exhibitors
Tweeting endlessly about a prize draw on your exhibition stand is just spammy. Unfortunately, it is also a growing trend among sales and marketing people who think that they understand social media.
Taking a hard line with sponsors and exhibitors can be difficult, but they too need to be encouraged to think creatively about how they engage with the discussion. Remind them that it is a discussion, not a billboard space!
5. Think creatively about your social media channels
Twitter may be popular at events, but it is not the only social media tool in the box. Organisers need to think carefully about the other channels they might be able to use to encourage different sorts of behaviour around their event. Tools such as Branch could be used to promote more detailed conversations about any hot topics raised.
I believe there is still scope for social media to be a disruptive power within events, despite (or perhaps because of) the apparent ubiquity of Twitter. We do not need a radical new technology – the tools already exist. The challenge is to use these tools creatively to make a real difference to the event experience and the community that the event serves.