I am just back at my sister’s house after my first day of genealogy conferencing here in Knoxville at the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference. The sessions were informative, I got to see an old friend and met several more that I had only known online up until this point, in addition to making new acquaintances.
I had a grand ol’ time Tweeting who I was sitting next to and what sessions were up next until after lunch. That’s when a request was made to refrain from texting or Tweeting as each of the afternoon speakers was introduced.
What a disappointment! I had heard this was an issue at last year’s APG conference too, and thought that perhaps they’d opened up to all the benefits Twitter can bring to a conference. I know that of which I speak, having run the PR for the past two Association of Independent Information Professionals conferences.
I do not know with whom the decision lies to ban or discourage Twitter at the APG events, and thus have not been able to find out why they don’t approve of its usage, but want to address some of what I think may be their concerns here:
First of all, Tweeting will not discourage attendance at a conference — yes, some audience members may tweet a key point here or there from a speaker, but this is a filter through which potential future conference attendees will become interested in the conference. Attendees are not going to be able to give away any secrets 140 characters at a time. They are going to provide free advertisements about the great sessions and speakers your event attracts, which could net new attendees in the future.
Secondly, it will not disrupt the session. Go ahead and admonish folks to turn down the sound on their phones to prevent beeps and rings from interrupting the speaker. If I were a speaker, I would ask my audience beforehand who is Tweeting. That way, I’ll know (or hope) that someone looking at their phone or laptop instead of me while I’m talking is perhaps Tweeting what I have to say. That’s instant gratification for a speaker — an audience member finds a tidbit interesting enough to share with their online followers.
Twitter is a necessary tool to use in event planning and marketing these days and the best part is, that your audience can do most of the work for you. If you set up a hashtag to promote a conference before the event, buzz can be generated before the first speaker takes to the podium. The conference organizers need only sit back and watch as attendees Tweet about what they’re enjoying about the conference and the takeaways they found most valuable. Yes, some may complain about the food or that the session rooms are too cold — great! That’s instant feedback you can act upon to improve the conference right then and there or at least to plan for in the future.
I can understand that event organizers may fear losing control of the message and content of the conference by allowing Twitter and other social media activity. There are proactive steps you can take to manage this, however. Firstly, set up that hashtag and advertise it early so that all your attendees include it on their posts. Not only can their readers follow along then, but so can you. Second, many organizations advertise a social media policy for their events, including guidelines on what’s appropriate to Tweet and post. There are other bloggers, out there (ahem, Amy Coffin), who can speak to this better than I. Third, monitor the posts about your event — retweet the stellar ones, revel in your successes and plan to fix anything about which your audience members may have complained (and then advertise that you’ve done so). Create the impression that you’re on the ball, not behind the times.