I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks communicating from conference halls in North America and Europe at events by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and Orange Business Services. Overall Orange Business Services organizes a slick customer conference. The exceptional branding of the venue makes it seem like you have just walked into a building owned by Orange, not a hotel that has been temporarily co-opted for the occasion. To be fair, their task is relatively easy in Amsterdam where the color orange is omnipresent.
One of the things I learned from these two weeks is that even pioneers in using social media to broaden the impact of their live events are still learning how to do it more effectively. Here are 7 tips.
1. Your social media presence starts when the first conference brochure or site goes public. Not everyone who receives your invitation will be able to attend the event. A great way to extend the reach of the physical meeting is to prominently promote the possibility of virtual participation through social media channels and to promote your chosen hashtag. If you don’t make that information available during your first mail shot, you are missing a key opportunity to connect with the widest possible audience.
2. There’s no point having a live blogging team if they can’t connect to the Internet. Any business traveler knows that hotel internet connections are notoriously unreliable. In order to optimize their investment, internet infrastructures are designed to accommodate less than 100% capacity (the overbooking business model), and these networks are easily submerged when conference participants storm the castle. It is critical to provide connection options so that your team can actually post. At minimum, I recommend having wifi in every meeting room (even if it is private with only bloggers and staff given access) and a hub with a cabled connection in the blogger’s lounge. You may also want to consider providing your bloggers with dongles to access the Internet via the mobile phone network.
3. Your bloggers have their greatest added value in the corridors. Anyone in the meeting room can take notes. True, they may not post them to your website, but, especially if they use the hashtag, their reports can be tracked on the web. Make sure your bloggers have the opportunity and means to interview participants and speakers. One key point: speakers MUST commit at the outset to make themselves available after their presentations to be interviewed by the live blogging team.
4. Provide a blogger’s lounge. Your blogging team needs a place to put finishing touches on articles, to exchange with one another and sometimes just relax before plunging back into the content. Sugar, caffeine and fruit are welcome.
5. Provide enough structure to foster creative autonomy. Schedule a blogger orientation before the opening of the conference and let your team know in advance so that they take it into account when scheduling travel. If there are parallel sessions, provide sign-up sheets for bloggers to indicate which they intend to cover. This will help identify gaps and concentrations. Even if you don’t “assign” bloggers to specific sessions, this could help a blogger hesitating between two sessions to decide which is the best choice.
6. Make your bloggers visible. Given them t-shirts, special badges and, where possible, a window between the blogging lounge and a public area so that people who realize who they are and what they are doing.
7. Make the social media stream visible. Put monitors in high-traffic areas with the Twitter stream and/or a mash-up of all the social media streams covering your event. This raises awareness of the social media coverage. Participants may refer back to these resources afterwards or send the details to off-site colleagues.
Disclosure: Orange Business Services covered travel and accommodation for the invited blog team at Orange Business Live 2010.