why large conferences need to beware of social media

social media for conferences

There once was a time when reaching a highly targeted audience required significant investment. When building credibility within a community required a workforce and proprietary content. There was a high cost of entry to build a conference which minimized options for those seeking relevant education and networking.

There has been a movement for years now towards communities of like-minded individuals organizing, congregating and networking online. As members understand the needs, wants and desires of their community, non-traditional alternatives to conferences have exploded. There has never been a time in history where we’ve had more accessibility to choice than we do now. Webinars, unconferences, e-books, online communities, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, hybrid events, and the list goes on.

Large conferences need to beware of the growing number of alternatives to their event. Conferences are fighting for share of wallet and time – not just with other large conferences, but with the exponentially increasing group of options that fall under networking and education for their target.

What are you doing to stay relevant?

free ebook . new ideas for old conferences

I speak at a variety of amazing conferences around the world on the topic of Social Media. And although these conferences have recognized the need to educate their attendees on the topic of web 2.0, salve some have been slow to leverage social media for their own event. I wanted to pull together this eBook to help stimulate ideas for ‘old conferences’ to think in a new way.

I will stress, troche however, that before moving forward with any of these tactics, a few things need to take place:

1. Make sure you have an event worth talking about. If you garden you know that making sure you have great soil before planting is key. The same is true about have a great product or service before marketing it.

2. Make sure you’re organization is ready for social media. Culture clash is one of the most common reasons for social media upstart failure. Understanding the fundamental shifts in culture needed to make social media work is critical before starting.

3. Make sure you know what you’re looking to achieve and how you plan to measure success. Social media without a strategy is a lot like pots and pans in the hands of a baby. You can spend countless hours playing. If you take the same pots and pans and give them to a chef, they can create an amazing dish. Same tools – two totally different outcomes. Knowing how to use the tools, what you’re looking to do with them and how to course correct if you’re off track is imperative.

I hope that I’ve provided some good thought starters. I know I’ve only scratched the surface, so I welcome you to weigh in with any additional ideas on this post. How have you used social media to meet your conference objectives?

free ebook conferencesClick on image to download the free ebook “New Ideas for Old Conferences”.

If you missed our last free ebook “Social Media in Events 2010“, feel free to download.

QR Codes for event planners

Event planners should be aware of QR codes. Why? Imagine something that looks kind of like a pixelated bar code that can be printed and applied virtually anywhere. With a smart phone and a reader application your attendees and prospective attendees can scan the QR code directly from their cell phones. When scanned, readers can be taken to a website URL, sent a text SMS, sent a phone number or provided with additional text. The WOW is that attendees can get more information about anything that interests them about your event…anytime and anywhere from the convenience of their cell phones.

QR codes were originally created by Denso-Wave (a Japanese firm) back in 1994. The idea was to create a code that contained more data than the standard 10-digit bar code yet could also be decoded at very high speed. Although QR codes have been around for quite some time, they’re re-gaining a lot of buzz in large part because of mobile technology.


8 ideas for event planners

Build a better print ad – Why not include a QR code in your event’s print ad? This way people who are on-the-go can simply scan your code from their cell phone to be taken directly to your event registration page.

Create a contest – At Mobile World Congress, Neustar will be pairing up with Visa to showcase the power of QR codes. Using their smart phones, event attendees are encouraged to download a barcode reader application. As part of their Welcome Packets, attendees will receive a faux Visa gift card, and will be invited to scan the QR barcode on the back each day to enter a contest to win a €50 gift card. One gift card will be given away every 30 minutes between 10am and 4pm on each day of the show.

Make networking easier – UK Museums recognized the challenge with sharing business cards at events. They’re annoying to carry around, they require you to write on them to ensure you remember who gave you the card, and once you get back to the office, you have to re-key in all the information. To help their conference attendees overcome these annoyances, they added QR codes into registration badges. Attendees could scan their contact’s badge QR code with their cell phone and download their contact information. To learn more about how UK Museums did this, click here.

Get people discovering – Google IO employed QR codes at their Developer Conference by encouraging attendees to scan everything in sight. They scattered various types of codes all around the conference facility and every time a QR code was scanned, the attendee would rack up points. The top 3 highest scorers at the end of the conference got to take home some swanky Google swag from the event.

Make learning about sponsors easier – Sure, we recognize sponsors with prominent signage. But think of how much more valuable sponsorship could be if attendees could scan a QR code on their cell phone and be connected with sponsor websites, exclusive deals or more information on the company.

Make registration a breeze – Check out this fantastic idea over at Nofont on How to Build a Better Conference Experience. In it Jaan Orvet writes about how QR codes could make registration lines obsolete, allow attendees to get ahold of the presentation copies they’re looking for and make getting around a foreign city much easier for the attendee.

A new take on the Scavenger Hunt – Instead of paper clues, have participants search for QR codes. When they scan one, they’re sent a text with their next clue.

Info-rich T-shirts – Have conference employees walking around with t-shirts that say things like: Tickets to the gala almost sold out (with a QR code that will take attendees to the registration page on the back of the shirt), Want to know where the bathrooms are? (with a QR code that will take attendees to washroom directions), Vote for your favorite tradeshow booth (with a QR code that will take attendees to a voting page), etc.

Build a better presentation – How many times as a presenter have you been asked to share or repeat a website URL? Make it easy for attendees to simply scan a QR code from your presentation to be taken to the website directly.

Temporary tattoos – Want to get people networking? Create temporary QR code tattoos for attendees. Let them know that 1 other person in the room shares an identical code and have them find their matching partner.

Get your QR Code

Generate your own QR codes using Kaywa (or Google search “Generate QR Codes” for a ton of options)

Download a reader like ScanLife on your smartphone

Other great ideas (updated frequently)

QR codes for tracing bicycles via Springwise

Event Camp 2010 . learnings from outside the fishbowl

I just participated in a few livestreamed breakout sessions from EventCamp 2010 New York. One of which was a session run by Samuel J Smith which used what’s called a fishbowl technique to promote discussion around his topic: Integrating Social Media Onsite at Events. I learned a great deal from watching this session remotely and give Samuel big kudos for taking a leap and doing something unconventional.

The Fishbowl Set Up

fishbowl technique at Event Camp 2010
The fishbowl in action at Event Camp 2010

Having sat through far too many sessions that use conventional classroom style room set ups, I found this more collaborative set up quite refreshing. For those of you who have not seen fishbowl dialogue in action, it is much like it sounds…a circle of 5-8 chairs are placed in the center of the room facing each other (this would be the fishbowl) and 2-8 (depending on the size of your audience) rows of chairs are set up to radiate out of the fishbowl.

People who volunteer or are selected to sit in the fishbowl have a dialogue or provide points of view on a selected topic. One of the fishbowl chairs is always left empty – this way if anyone from the audience wants to join the discussion they seat themselves at the empty chair (and someone else gets up to free up a chair). The idea is the moderation is kept to a minimum and the constantly changing fishbowl participants drive the dialogue.

I found this technique to be a great way to tap into the intelligence of the audience and build content for a subject around the needs, challenges and experiences of that crowd (at least the ones who participated in the fishbowl).

Learnings from outside of the fishbowl

Get the audience warmed up

We all know that audience interaction can be tough to achieve. There are natural extroverts who have no problem standing up and making a point, but there are others who get shivers of fear at the thought of even putting up their hand. Sitting in a fishbowl can be very intimidating, so it’s not for everyone. But I do think there’s an opportunity to warm up the audience before the fishbowl begins. Get people on their feet and interacting.

Set parameters upfront

To build off of the last point, there are some individuals who gravitate to the spotlight. Some of them can tend to go on and on and on and on and on and on about a point (It should be noted that this did not happen at EventCamp). Setting some upfront parameters may be helpful to ensure people stay on topic, don’t hog the mic and interact professionally.

A side note: My husband is one of those guys who is a best man or MC at every wedding we attend. Most of our friends are West Indian and let’s just say that the speeches portion of the reception can be…er…a bit long winded. He regularly warns wedding guests that if their speeches go on too long, he may come out to cut them short. His schtick? A pair of briefs (i.e. underwear). When someone drones on with the speech he pulls out the briefs and flashes them to the speaker and the audience. It gets the audience re-engaged and gets the speaker to wrap up. Case closed.

Choose a controversial subject

There was some great dialogue, but one of the most enjoyable parts of Samuel Smith’s session was when Clinton Bonner decided to take the ‘devil’s advocate’ position on a topic. It got participants fired up (in a good way) and created some great points on both sides of the argument.

Instead of picking an all encompassing subject, why not pick a controversial statement like: “why social media should never be used for events” . It gives people permission to pick sides and get passionate about their points of view.

Online engagement

A goal, whenever live streaming a session, is to involve the online audience as much as possible. The fishbowl made it very difficult to engage the online viewers since (stating the obvious here) we couldn’t physically sit in the empty seat. I do, however, think there’s an opportunity to allow online viewers to have a seat in the fishbowl by way of video stream. I’d love to get an a/v professional to weigh in on this (in the comments section) to see if you have any recommendation on how this could work.

Fishbowl introductions

As an online viewer, since there were so many people moving in and out of the fishbowl, it was a bit hard to keep up with who was speaking. I’d recommending asking anyone who speaks to introduce them self and their twitter handle.

I really enjoyed this session and plan on using the technique and some of my learnings from all of you in some of my upcoming seminars. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Sam!

What do you think?

Did you watch the fishbowl? What did you think? Can you see yourself incorporating this into any of your events?