Have you made some event resolutions for 2010? I suspect it may have included something about integrating social media into your conference format.
Well, it’s time to screw your event resolutions about integrating social media. No, I’m not a heretic that has moved to the dark side banning social media from events and conferences. Calm down.
I’m talking about creating a Social Conference, Living Conference or Conference 2.0, as some are calling it.
So, how social is your annual conference, meeting or event?
In theory, the annual conference is already a social event. Right? You probably provide a conference website and email marketing about the event. That’s social, right?
Your conference is about people gathering in one place for several days attending meetings, education efforts, networking sessions, parties and special events. In that process, people interact and are social with one another. They are social on the bus to the convention center, in the hallways, during meals, at special events. Fairly standard social stuff, wouldn’t you say?
Yet in a Web 2.0 connected world, social has a much deeper meaning and a far reaching impact than just the onsite event. Social is an attitude and way of viewing your entire conference planning and onsite experience. It’s about changing the top-down controlled format and allowing the conference attendee to help create a much more organic experience.
That sounds a little messy, doesn’t it? It also is a little frightening, giving the power back the conference attendee. You’re probably thinking, “But what if…” Or, “I’m not sure I’m ready for an organic conference. I’m not into Birkenstocks, hemp flower dresses, fruits, nuts and flakes yet.” Well, that’s for another post too.
David Armano wrote a fantastic post on Harvard Business Review called Do You Live Social?
“Do you live social? …Many organizations simply skip this question because they assume that they themselves don’t have to be social (open and collaborative) to reap the rewards (cost savings, marketing ROI, effective reputation management, and search engine juice) they think they might get from social media,” he writes.
Here’s a twist on his question. “Do you conference social?”
It’s more than advertising and marketing. It’s a way of thinking and approaching the conference experience that requires event organizers to participate in social spaces honestly. It’s about having an open and collaborative conference planning process. It’s about encouraging conference attendees to “take control” of the meeting, to help guide it so that it meets their needs, to help customize the content for their own learning and digestion. It’s about cheering attendees on to share their thoughts, their input and add to the presenter’s content. It’s about supporting attendee engagement with each other and with the content.
This will not be easy for traditional conference organizers. We’re used to top-down, command and control approaches. We decide when you’ll eat, what you’ll hear, what you’ll see, who you’ll meet. Giving up control is hard.
So how do you create a social conference? I suggest starting small. Pilot a collaborative program by allowing potential attendees to crowdsource conference topics (not speakers–that’s a different blog post). Consider a spinoff of Starbucks customer initiative with “My Conference Idea.”
Or encourage your staff to have personalities and use social media to begin communicating with attendees and prospective attendees. Not communicating “at or to” attendees pushing conference tradeshow, registration and sponsorship specials. Rather engaging in conversation with others about the conference. Or start by reaching out to industry bloggers and influential tweeps asking them to blog and micro blog during the event.
Don’t just ignore this stuff, start somewhere.
Need more help wrapping your head around the Social Conference? View this short PowerPoint comparing Traditional, Web 1.0 Conferences to The Web 2.0 Social Conference.
And what social elements would you add to your next conference or event? Share your thoughts, comments and additions with us!