Day 15: How to create a twitter event backchannel for your conference or event

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Even though the steps discussed yesterday for backchanneling in the classroom, can also be applicable to conferencing and events, your objectives will not not necessarily be the same. Where it can be deliberately used to support teaching and learning in the classroom, at events it is an organic way to enhance conferencing objectives of networking, information sharing and event marketing.

More and more conference and event organisers are realising the importance of  facilitating and embracing an official event backchannel stream. “Partwicipants” at events nowadays expect to network, discuss presentations and share thoughts using twitter as their communication channel. Some comments from delegates at the last few conferences were we had a “facilitated” backchannel:

“At first I found the screen with constantly updating discussions irritating, but by the 2nd presentation I was mesmerized and enjoyed the additional information and illuminating comments.”

“The best thing about this conference was the twitter screen. It summarised everything”

“I was forced to tweet the session from my cellphone and found that I remembered much more about the presentation afterwards”

“My colleagues who did not attend with me could follow the entire conference from work and give input as well- it was almost as if though they were here as well!” 

Having a twitter backchannel for an event can start creating a buzz  even before the start of the event. It allows people to start networking, start seeing who will be there and give them the opportunity to “check them out” as well as start talking to them. By the time you meet face to face you already have some common ground which result in networking on steroids. I have found that the connections I have made in this way have, in every instance, become lifelong learning partners.

Why you should have an official backchannel stream?

If event organisers do not actively facilitate an official twitter conference stream, it will be organically created by the participants themselves. Those, used to interacting using twitter, will create their own hashtags and this can result in  disjointed discussions that can be hard to track. By having an official backchannel, you can turn every hashtagged tweet into a marketing tool and your event will reach people in real-time who are not even physically there. They will experience the event through the tweets of those who are present and can become part of the discussion, bringing in fresh perspectives. Instead of your event being restricted to a few people it can potentially be “attended” by thousands of people globally!

As conferences are getting more and more expensive, institutions are very picky about which ones they allow their staff to attend. If a conference/event has a facilitated backchannel you will be able to “virtually” attend and actively participate in the conference. If the conference organisers have the wisdom to make sure that every session has a summariser (see later) you will be able to participate remotely. This can result in the event trending (becoming talked about regionally) due to the high tweet rate, adding to the buzz  and reach of the conference. By engaging with a conference backchannel you will also be be to tell, from the “objective”  twit-chat, if the conference is worthwhile to attend in the following year.

The flip side of this is that  if you are the organiser, you have to be prepared, you have to facilitate and you have to actively be seen to promote a transparent communication channel. As a twitter backchannel is an open communication channel, you also have to be prepared for “negative” feedback and comments coming through. By setting up an official backchannel you can “set the stage” and guide the rules of engagement as well as address issues as they arise.

Steps to set up a backchannel:

  1. Create an official hashtag for the event and incorporate that into all correspondence, brochures and emails as well as all your other online platforms (blogs, website, Facebook or Google+ page etc.)
  2. Let people know that there will be a twitter backchannel and encourage them to start communicating with each other and with you about the event. (Get the buzz going)
  3. Send delegates a Howto backchannel tutorial to get those who have not used twitter before a chance to register and get comfortable with how to use it to follow the event stream (see my example and feel free to adapt it and use it for your own event under Creative Commons Attribution licence)
  4. Appoint backchannel facilitators (summarisers) for every event session. They will be responsible for summarising what a speaker is saying, submitting screenshots of presentation as illustration, post links mentioned, retweet relevant commentary, focus speaker’s attention on questions in the stream, block spammers, and deal with (or pass on) issues about the event.
  5. Organise free internet access and a seperate twitter stream screen (e.g. 2 screens = 1 for the presentation and 1 for the twitter stream  in the main event hall and preferably in all the venues, as well as in the “social” area like the dining or exhibitors hall. This way people missing other streams or presentations can still participate across events.
  6. Start the event off by explaining how the twitter backchannel works and suggests rules of engagement (or put a looped presentation on while delegates wait for conference to start,  explaining how it works).
  7. Create a tweet summary (PDF) at the end of every day (e.g. and tweet that to the stream so that people can have a printout of the backchannel discussions. See this example of the #schoolnetsa11conference  tweet summary. 

If you are planning an event or conference at your school, you should seriously consider creating a social media strategy that does not just entails twitter as a communication backchannel, but will integrate and automate all the essential platforms where your audience “hang out” e.g. twitter, Facebook, Google+, a blog and your school/organisational website.

How do you particpate in an event backchannel?

Here are a few guidelines to get you started. You can …

  1. Find out what the event hashtag is (from the organisers) or create one yourself if there is none, and let them know.
  2. Search for the event on twitter and save the search so that you can keep track of it.
  3. Summarise the main points that the presenter is sharing. This can be a summary for your personal use if you need to write a report about the event later!
  4.  Read what others are saying and respond.
  5. Ask and respond to questions.
  6. Share additional links in support /critique of what is being discussed.
  7. Be polite and constructive.
  8. Network: arrange to meet up with someone (at the conference) face to face via twitter
  9. If you are attending “virtually” ask someone at the conference to tell you what the event is about and provide you with a website link for the event.
Activity: (#day15 #ict4champions)
On completion of this activity you should have posted at least 2 tweets with the above hastags included in your tweet.

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 My time for working and supporting on this workshop  is sponsored by Casio SA. Thank you for making this unworkshop possible!!

This entry was posted in Twitter, Workshops and conferences by maggiev. Bookmark the permalink.

About maggiev

I am a masters student at the University of Johannesburg and an educational consultant with a passion for maths literacy and maths - ML is a new subject that has recently been introduced in our country. My other passion is getting teachers to use ICT in their maths classrooms.

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