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What value can social media add to conferences?

14 Apr, 14 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Attending the IOC World Conference for Prevention of Injury and Illness in Sport in Monaco last week got me thinking about the value social media adds to such events. Apparently, 84% of organisers use Facebook to promote their events, while 61% use Twitter and 42% use YouTube. It seems that social media not only facilitates knowledge sharing and networking amongst attendees, it can also help create a real buzz that starts before the event and continues long after it ends.

The organisers of the IOC conference did a great job of enabling participation on Twitter before the event kicked off. The group of 113 invited speakers (which I was lucky enough to be part of) were encouraged to spread messages in advance and delegates were forewarned of the conference hashtag (#IOCprev2014). The opening keynote also contained a call to action, announcing that prizes would be awarded for the most tweeted and retweeted.

These tactics seem to have paid off, with the 3 day conference generating over 7,000 tweets, 4,000 retweets, and a total exposure to 11.5 million users. But what else can be done? Are there other tools and initiatives being used to harness the power of social media during events?

Involve participants in decisions

A great way to get your potential attendees interacting early on is by enabling some measure of feedback or ‘crowd sourcing’ on the conference programming. South by Southwest leads in this area, with its ‘panel picker’ process that turns over 30% of the programming selection to potential attendees. In 2013, there were over 4000 submissions to speak.

An easy way to replicate this would be to use something like Crowd Campaign, which gives participants a way to suggest content and for others to vote on it. Tweetpoll or PollDaddy are even simpler options.

Create teaser content

Simple videos, which can be produced on a tight budget by speakers, are ideal as they are shareable and rank highly in internet searches. If video is too difficult, what about doing the same thing via a blog? Consider setting up a page for the event, and creating a centralised repository for all blog posts by speakers. is free, and all you need to do is pick a layout, and then subscribe to the RSS feeds of each speaker’s blog.

Gathering social information from all registrants is also a good idea. Create a Twitter list of all attendees, and update it each time a new person registers. Also, encourage registrants to tweet about their attendance. Users are 71% more likely to buy a product if somebody recommends it to them on a social platform.

Enhance the live experience

Pick a hash tag (the shorter, the better) for your event so that attendees and remote participants can follow discussions on Twitter. This can amplify the reach of an event far beyond those that are present. Having a ‘Twitter wall’ in a central conference location requires very little effort using something like Tweetwally.

You can also create your own media during the event. Using apps like Ustream, you can stream live video of your event for free. Or set up a Google Hangout for each session on Google+. You could  create a daily post-show podcast, interviewing speakers, sponsors, and attendees. There’s also the option of setting up an official Flickr gallery for the event, and encouraging attendees to take photos and upload them. You can even award prizes for ‘Photo of the Day’. Awarding prizes to the most engaged attendees is a popular and effective way to encourage discussion.

Aggregate coverage

Take the conference content and spread it as widely as possible. Instead of just putting presentations on your website or emailing links to attendees, release them on SlideShare. This can keep the buzz going an make your event discoverable even after it’s finished.

Provide Twitter transcripts to attendees, and also post them to your event pages. Use Storify to add commentary and pull together conversations on popular themes.

Monitoring the social media buzz around events will provide insights into what attendees liked/disliked, helping organisers make improvements for next time. If you run a regular event – whether it’s weekly or annual – social media can be used to keep your community engaged all year round.

Finally, measure everything. There are various analytics tools out there that allow you to drill-down into the reach of your hashtag. TwitterReach is good for smaller events (up to 1500 tweets) but for anything over that, you’ll need a subscription to something like Topsy.

What else would you like to see at the conferences you attend? Please feel free to add comments below.

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