16 Criteria For Choosing Your Conference Backchannel Tool

So you’ve decided you want to help facilitate the attendee communication at your next event.

You’ve set a goal to increase your onsite attendee engagement with each other and the speakers during the event. And your goals include listening and responding in real time, when appropriate, as well.

Yet, you’re not sure where to begin or which tools to use.

How to decide which tool to use?

Let’s consider one of the most popular backchannel tools today: Twitter.

Why has Twitter become so popular as a backchannel tool?

  • Free
  • Ease of use
  • Short learning curve
  • Fast
  • Searchable
  • Feels personable because thumbnail photos of those tweeting displayed
  • Ability to attach pictures, documents, links
  • Accessibility from smart phones and laptops
  • Ability to facilitate ongoing relationships among audience members long after the meeting has ended

Here are 16 criteria to consider when choosing your conference backchannel communication tool so that it becomes as popular as Twitter with your attendees.

Adoption Rate
1. Popular
What online communication tools are the most popular today?

2. Setup
Is it easy or hard to setup? Can a new user sign on and setup an account quickly?

3. User-friendly
How easy is it for your attendees to use? What level of technical knowledge or skill do your attendees need to have to use it? Is it intuitive or do your attendees need training on it?

4. Learning Curve
What’s the learning curve for using it? Is it easy or steep?

5. Mobility
Can people use it on their mobile devices in addition to laptops?

6. Costs
What are the costs of using this tool? Is it free or fee-based? If free, will users be bombarded by advertisements and spam if used?

7. Archived
Do you want the communication to be archived or temporary? If you use Twitter, the information is typically kept for about two weeks. You can visit http://wthashtag.com immediately following the event and print the transcript for the event. This is great data to understand the adoption rate, value and ROI of the conference backchannel.

8. Displayed publicly
Will displaying the backchannel publicly extend the conference’s messages to a broader audience? Does a public backchannel increase the ROI and/or any potential risks?

9. History/References
What backchannel tools have other conferences used? Does the backchannel tool have any references or case studies?

10. Customized
Can you customize the look of the tool with an event logo? Can you change the settings for font size, color, style, etc?

11. Character Limit
Does the tool limit the number of characters per comment or can attendees write their thoughts in long form? Is a character limit good for your audience?

12. Identified or Anonymous
Can the users be anonymous or do they have to identify themselves with a name, photo or other means in order to comment? There is a higher risk of negative or inappropriate comments from anonymous users.

13. Standalone
Do you want the backchannel to be a standalone, private communication tool or do you want it part of a public service like Twitter that can reach far beyond your conference walls?

14. Software or Web-enabled
Does it require a download of special software or is it web-enabled?

15. Monitored or Real-Time
Do you want the ability to monitor and approve comments before they enter the backchannel? Or are you open to real-time comments.

16. Attachments
Can users attach pictures and links to additional sources easily? Or is it rich text enabled only.

These are just a few questions to consider as you choose your backchannel tool for your next event.

What other criteria should be considered when choosing a backchannel tool? What are some of your experiences with the backchannel?

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  1. Wow! What an exhaustive and impressive list you have here.
    I would add to #15, the idea that there might be an option to push content to specific attendees…can you sort the attendees into groups or lists and privately send them messages?
    And looking at whether or not a backchannel can enhance sponsorships. I’m just going out on a limb here, but maybe a backchannel could provide opportunity to support sponsor messaging and data capture. This isn’t something I’ve really thought through, but more of a conceptual vision 🙂
    Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl

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  3. davelutz says:

    Midori, great point on #15. I’ve seen solutions that integrate with Twitter that display a stream that only includes people that have indicated that they are attending that specific conference session (with or without the use of a hashtag). What a great way to improve relevance and attendee engagement!

    Dave Lutz – @velchain

  4. Great post. Although event producers can suggest a backchannel tool, at the end of the day, its completely up to the audiences which channel(s) they use to use for their communications. I would say its a combination of several tools.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I totally agree with you. The conferences I’ve attended that have had successful backchannel tools were chosen by the event producers and marketed well in advance of the event. They were also marketed onsite at the event at the start of every session (yes, every session) and the tweets were projected in the room in some fashion, whether behind the speaker, on a screen on the floor to near the speaker or on the side of the room.

      Ultimately, if attendees are not satisifed with the chosen backchannel, they will use another tool. And, you’re 100% correct that attendees will probably use several tools anyways.

      The question becomes, is the conference or event producer listening?

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  9. Howard says:

    I am impressed! As I am new to the online environment we require all the guidance and assistant we can muster. I will begin our next conference by discussion all the various options and how we can best incorporate this into our internal and external communication strategy.

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