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Cross-posted from the 4Change blog:

On March 18 the #4Change Twitter Chat took on the topic of ‘How Social Media Can Enhance Events.’ This topic seemed particularly apropos with the chat taking place immediately after the annual SXSW takeover of Twitter, and soon before the Non-profit Technology Conference and Skoll World Forum, two other conferences with an oversized online presence. Social media at events has also been on my mind recently with Ashoka hosting Tech4Society in Hyderabad India and the Ashoka Future Forum in Washington DC, both more social media-enabled than any previous Ashoka-organized events.

It is almost hard to imagine these days a significant event not having a social media component, whether this is simply individuals in the room tweeting or a resourced effort by the host. So the question is not, as it once was, “will social media be created?” but rather “will this social media enhance the event?”

As Christina Jordan posed in the pre-chat blog post, What’s the potential benefit of using social media to cover events? For whom?

Numerous benefits of a conscious strategy to utilize social media at events were suggested by chat participants including taking the stories and examples being shared to a wider (and more diverse) audience, allowing organizers and the cloud see what is resonating with attendees and creating a back-channel for attendees to interact and debate, as well as allowing those not in attendance to feed their points of view into this discussion. This can often allow people to say what isn’t being said out-loud in the room, as well as giving those unable to attend physically some sense of participating in and benefiting from the event. Social media can also assist with documentation, capturing key thoughts and currents during the day and allowing them to be looked back over afterwards. For the vast majority of events there will be no mainstream media coverage: only social media will carry and record the outcomes of these gatherings beyond the immediate attendees.

Concerns were also expressed however at the possible distraction and disruption at events, with TED pointed out as an example of an event that doesn’t allow tweeting during sessions.

So what are the key elements of a successful event social media strategy? 4 key elements were identified: Preparation; Resourcing; Aggregation and; Integration.

1. Preparation. Preparation, as with most things, is critical to get the maximum impact from your social media efforts. Tags should be identified and distributed to all participants beforehand, inviting them to take part in creating content on the day. Create groups for photos and videos to be shared and be careful to choose a twitter hashtag not already in use. If you’re doing live streaming test thoroughly. Prepare widgets for deployment.

2. Resourcing. It requires a dedicated person to effectively create social media at an event, whether they are live tweeting, live blogging or uploading video and photos. Multiple dedicated people will be required to do all of these things. Having at least one person exclusively focused on the online conversation allows multiple threads to be pulled together and background information identified. For example at the recent TEDxAshokaU event I was tweeting links to the profiles of the Ashoka Fellows as they spoke, providing crucial additional information to anyone intrigued by the quotes emanating from the room.

3. Aggregation. With most successful events generating a considerable volume of diverse social content aggregating this into one place where it can be easily accessed is critical. Most people felt that this was a job best done manually by a discerning staffer or volunteer (another resourcing issue). An example of this sort of aggregation is the Tech4Society coverage page, updated daily during the event with new blog posts and videos and containing a Twitter widget displaying the #tech4soc stream.

4. Integration. If you are integrating social media into the live event experience it needs to be seamless and well managed. Screens with running twitter streams can be very distracting to participants and presenters. On the other hand they can also provide a platform for sourcing questions, generating discussion or even choosing the agenda. If you are capturing video during the day can this be presented back to participants at the end of the day as a way of summarizing proceedings?

Video was touted as an increasingly important tool in all its forms: live streaming, rapidly-produced interviews and audience reactions and better-produced videos of presentations ala TED. It was also pointed out however that video poses particular bandwidth issues, making it inaccessible to view or event get online in many parts of the world. As a real-world example of this we were unable to upload videos as planned from Tech4Society in India due to bandwidth limitations.

At the end of the chat participants were asked for their takeaways, as is customary:
@Nidhi_C: takeaway: when planned, #socmedia can play role of a valuable audience participant, add spice to discussion, & connect
@liadavide: Takeaway: SM is a great tool but still has some way to go especially in areas with poor telecom infrastructure
@karitas: takeaway: if prepared/promoted right, SM can bring live/remote participants 2gether, & add fun/useful layers 2 experience.
@tashjudd: takeaway – social media has fundamentally changed who audience of an event can be, possibilities are much wider now
@christinasworld: my takeaway – preplanning of a #socialmedia strategy is really important
@amysampleward: takeaway: sm at events has 3 audiences: presenters, present audience, remote audience. create value in/out 4 all.

My takeaway? An event without a social media strategy is a wasted opportunity. Events now provide a platform much bigger than the event itself, allowing more people to participate in the conversation and experience elements of the content. While live experiences are unique and essential social media is a lever to push the impact of the event beyond those in attendance.

Additional resources:
Social Media Enabling Conferences: A Tech4Society Case Study (Netsquared)
A Few Reflections from SXSW Crowdsourcing Panel (Beth’s Blog)
3 Ways Live Events Help Online Communities (Mashable)
Social Reporters toolbox (Delicious)

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