Conferences are brought to life with social computing tools

Conferences are brought to life with social computing tools

Are your meetings conventional, or conversational? If you answered conventional, you need to change them into participative events using new web 2.0 tools.
In my last Buzz Networks column, Ich Bin Ein Presenter, we talked about enhancing your presentation strategy using new Web 2.0 and online tools. This month, I’d like to talk about using social computing tools to bring your conferences and meetings to life.
With travel budgets shrinking and the demand for higher quality meetings on the rise, meeting planners are increasingly challenged to create engaging events. You need to get them there, keep them there and give them a reason to come back. Beyond the positive physical and organizational logistics of your event (location, facility, transportation, audio-visual, social events, session topics, presenter selection, etc), you want attendees to gain and retain insights about the program topics and to truly interact with other attendees, vendors and you, the sponsor.
To enhance engagement, you need to get as many attendees as possible to participate not only in the live events during the meeting, but also online – prior to, during and after your meeting. Using the Forrester Research classification scheme for how people use social technology, called the Social Technographics Ladder, you’ll find a variable range of participation among your meeting attendees based on whether they are “creators, critics, collectors, spectators, joiners or inactives.” Your goal is to use new generation web 2.0-based tools to create a conversation around your meetings integrating your efforts with those of content creators and critics to build a “meeting community.” These tools can add tangible and lasting value generated by your event.
Linear thought
The traditional “linear event” – meeting sign-up, passively listening to programmed sessions and heading home with the handouts – is dead.
In fact, in a recent article, Fortune magazine defined the new meeting age as Conference 2.0, describing the trend of incorporating web 2.0 into meetings and events. Whether the meeting is an “unconference” – events like Barcamp, Bloggercon or Mashup – where participants drive the meeting content, or a more conventionally programmed event looking for ways to drive participation; web 2.0 tools are essential to move your meeting from static moment in time to dynamic ongoing process.
Let’s walk through some of these tools and how you might use them.
For many events you’ll want to set up a conference web site that has information on the meeting, including directions on how to sign-up, session and speaker descriptions, etc. This web site will be the holding location for many of the web 2.0 tools we’ll describe.
Once your program is set and attendees are starting to sign up for your meeting, you can help them out by making sure that have the event on their calendar. One way to do this is to provide a .vcf event file that can be downloaded directly and saved into their Outlook calendar. Webinar providers, the airlines and others have put this strategy into play to reduce the step of requiring the buyer to enter this scheduling information on their own. As part of your .vcf file include a link to the conference or meeting web site or page, along with any other web 2.0-related meeting tools you’ve put into place like blogs.
Let’s look at other tools you might consider adding to your meeting and briefly discuss some of the processes and procedures you also will want to add to the event.

  1. Blogs – For a major meeting you are going to want to create a conference blog. This is the heart of your web 2.0-enabled meeting, where you can post information about the meeting including embedding podcasts, video clips, photos, slide presentations, etc. that are generated during the sessions and other events surrounding your meeting. The blog will have content displayed in chronological order for review and feedback by attendees. You are also going to want to encourage and be aware that attendees could be commenting on your sessions in real time using their own blogs or through micro-blog posting to an aggregator site that you set up through a tool like FriendFeed.
  2. Photo Sharing – When people attend a meeting they love to meet others, to network and find out who they are. As part of meeting this objective many meeting planners are beginning to set-up photo sharing on sites like Flickr, Pictoma, Photobucket or one of the over 40 other photo sharing sites, where attendees and planners can upload photos from the conference or from social events for sharing and viewing during and after the session.
  3. Audio, Video, Document and Slide Sharing – Along with the photos you might want to take short audio or video clips of sessions or of informal interactions between attendees that can be uploaded in audio file format as a podcast or to a video sharing site like YouTube and inserted into your blog. In addition, using tools like SlideShare or authorSTREAM, session slides or summaries can be uploaded and inserted into your blog. Documents that are generated at your conference can be embedded into your blog by using a tool like Scribd.
  4. Social Networking Site Groups – Many conference planners are setting up groups in social networking sites so like LinkedIn or Facebook, so that meeting attendees can network before, during and after the meeting. These groups create a bond that can go beyond the point in time when the meeting took place.
  5. Wiki – Another tool we’re seeing put into practice is a conference wiki. Unlike a blog, a wiki can be set up as a collaborative workspace where anyone can post content related to the meeting topics. I would recommend that when implementing a wiki, you appoint a moderator for quality control purposes.
  6. Twitter – One of the newer tools being used in meetings is Twitter, where attendees using their cell phones or mobile netbooks can tweet about the conference session in real time. These” tweets” can be accumulated into a conference microblog where the feedback can be used to re-direct the sessions to a more productive line of discussion or where in real time a presenter can see that they are on track or way off track with attendees.

For the planner, these tools allow leveraging the meeting content beyond session attendees, for viewing by others at the conference or those unable to attend. Suddenly your conference content has added value for a broader audience.
I’ve put together a slide show showing some examples of these tools in use at a wide range of meetings. You can view the slideshow here or look at the embedded presentation

Making tools work
If you decide to implement web 2.0 tools in your conference you can do so using many available free and low fee tools as referenced above. However these tools will fail if you don’t follow certain steps to make your conference a true next gen meeting. Here are some steps I’d recommend:

  1. Assign a web 2.0 conference leader.
  2. Have audio, photography and video recording capabilities and assignments.
  3. Wi-Fi enable your meeting.
  4. Identify and reward participants, especially the creators (T-shirts, recognition, reduced fees, free good, other benefits).
  5. Capture, include and share names of attendees, participants.
  6. Remind attendees of the blog address and how to access all other social computing tools.
  7. Tag all your postings with your conference name.

If you put these recommendations in place, you’ll move your meeting from conventional to conversational and attendees will walk away saying –
“Wow! This meeting was well worth my time.”

Paul J. Gibler, “the Web Chef” is principal consultant for ConnectingDots, a marketing and communications strategic consulting and training company. Paul speaks on e-marketing and presentation skills. He writes two blogs – e-Bytes and PPT – Powerful Presentation Techniques. He can be reached at
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.