How social media should be used at a conference. It’s not how you think

really comfy chairs at the NSCAA
Really comfy chairs at the 2010 NSCAA

I have been to several conferences already this year and plan on going to several more. With the exception of one where it was part of my contractual arrangement to tweet and populate the social media spaces, I did not tweet or take photos and send up to twitpic, live-blog any particular workshop or do a video about my experience. Instead, I just attended, met lots of people face-to-face, had conversations, attended the workshops and really engaged myself in the experience around me. And after a few hours, I did not miss myself tweeting and taking photos.

And I have only two observations about conferences.

1. Every conference should have a meeting/networking area with really, really comfortable leather chairs. Really. It is amazing how rich a conversation becomes when each person is able to sit on a throne.

2. Social media should be all over conferences, but not primarily generated by the attendees. The days of hoping the attendees will tweet out about your conference and pithy quotes the speaker just said is about at its end. When attendees are tweeting the last thing they heard, they are missing the next thing that is probably more important.

That does not mean conferences should quit using social media. Far from it. It means the conference should take more ownership in representing themselves in the social media spaces. Send up tweets about the workshops in advance, link up videos of speakers doing interviews before and after their presentations, link their agenda to twitter hashtags to give the attendees “hooks” for feedback, encourage attendees/speakers to write feedback blog posts that you can point back to and send out tweets by the conference staff on main points during the keynote and general sessions (kinda like what E!’s Red Carpet does during the Oscars, Golden Globe, etc.)

But encourage attendees to be present first.

And being present means networking in real life with people around them and listening to and thinking about the material being presented to them in workshops and keynotes. It means freeing up your attendees to participate in the live event, while planning also to satisfy the curiosity of those outside looking in. It should not mean a robotic parroting of quotes during speeches.

And ultimately, it means creating enough excitement that those who are following along on your blog, through twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook are wishing they had gone and will plan to next year.

Social media for conferences is all about increasing participation at your live event.

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