Friday, October 02, 2009

How to use social media for an event with people who are not used to social media?..

I've been to events where everyone is twittering, tagging and hopping around with their laptops. I've also been to events where nobody even knows what tagging is. In most events, you will find a mix of people.

I was asked by Partos, the branche association for development organisations in the Netherlands to think with them how social media can support their yearly event, Partos Plaza for roughly 100 participants. The event will take place next tuesday so we don't have any evaluation data yet, but I can share our design and some first observations about the process.

We thought very carefully about the aim of using social media. We didn't want to add a social media layer simply because you look old-fashioned if you don't (I think we can wait for the first event without any social media and it will be seen as a relief :). So our aim of using social media was:

  • To support interaction between participants before and during the event and between the organisers and participants
  • To experiment with social media and show participants some uses of social media
  • To ensure continuity and follow-up- other years it was very invisible what happened with all the ideas and energy. Having online interaction afterwards can help taskteams or interest groups to continue online (if there is an interest to do so). This may lead to better collaboration initiatives
So what did we design? We chose to start with a ning platform as the central place. The advantage of ning compared to other solutions was that it is a social network, and can stimulate networking through personal pages. We asked people about their LinkedIn profile and whether they have a twitter account or site they want to share. So there are more opportunities to connect. Ning doesn't require a huge investment, so we can close it down after the event if there is no interest to continue online, gives quite some flexibility. And its events function could help with the organisations of the workshop and registration of attendance. Furthermore, we thought that we could use the platform to invite people to co-create the workshops and come up with ideas for the open space. We decided to make everything public so that people hesitant to register could also read along. We also experimented with a twitter account without investing too much time in it because we did not expect many participants to be on twitter. During the event we will focus on:

  • A network wall with the printed profiles from the ning. We asked people in their profile about their interests and the knowledge that the person has they would like to meet. This will be displayed on the network wall and people will be invited to contact each other or suggest names of people to meet.
  • A twitter screen and twitter corner. We would like people to answer the question: what idea, insight of new contact did you gain today? so that it becomes collectively visible what is happening in terms of networking and creation of new ideas. The large majority not on twitter will be invited to twitter from a central account in a specially set-up twitter corner.
  • Last but not least, all workshopleaders will report something (small) back on the platform and investigate whether there is an interest to continue somehow working on their topic. This will allow people to read on what's happening in parallel workshop and ofcourse it will be easier for people who can not make it to peep into the content.
There will not be wireless access to the internet available. We did not stimulate people to bring laptops, and think it's OK to focus on the workshops and the conversation.

Our first experiences are mixed:
- There were not that many reactions to the statements and to the invitation to think along the programming. I guess it is due to not being that at ease with working through a social network because the people who did respond were all well versed with various social media. It is an repeated event, so I see that participants are quite passive and not that eager to co-create. It's fine if other organise it for them! (this is my interpretation by the way)
- The number of participants on the ning and the number of visitors were higher than expected. We are now at 90 people. We had expected a maximum of 60 on the social network because some might not be interested in it.
- Twitter has been an eye-opener! Without investing a lot, we have 31 followers in 4 weeks time. And from the participants, at least 30 are on twitter and/or have a corporate twitter account. Interesting to see that twitter has become such an easy entrance into social media.... about 7% of the traffic to the ning has come through twitter, even though it was not heavily used. And 20% is still through the website of Partos.
- There are some assumption in social networks that work against the hierarchy. Secretaries asking how they can register their bosses for workshops when the boss has registered on the ning... This is only possible to do it yourself or if the boss gives his/her log in data to the secretary.
- I have the impression it makes it easier for the not-so-obvious participants to join, like the private intiatives (as we call them) versus the professional organisations.

Will keep you posted after tuesday and definitely after we have some feedback from participants...

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socialreporter said...

Hi Joitske - really interested to see how you are designing the blend of online and face to face. You'll some of my similar experiments on socialreporter - often using Ning as well. How did it go on the day? I have been using a lot of video, and encouraging people to do the same. But does anyone watch it afterwards?

Joitske said...

Hi, I've done some form of social reporting with Euforic too. In this case we decided not to do social reporting because we were not sure there was a large group beyond the people present who would be interested in following it. Instead we focussed on participation and enhancing the quality of networking of this group.