Our main goal of using social media was to improve networking and aim for real collaboration between participants to take off. We found out the goal was set too high. People don't start new projects after meeting each other for the first time, ideas need greenhousing. But we had some impact: 86% of the participants said they got new ideas in their session that they had used or were planning to apply. We managed to let people connect beforehand through a platform (ning) and afterwards link participants to other networks or initiatives (like the outcome mapping community). The evaluation was quite positive about the effect of using social media. People were especially happy to connect and read before the event. (the exception was the twitter wall- people not on twitter didn't really get it and I can't help sympathizing with them)
From the experience and various sources I've collected I can distill seven important lessons:
- Use social media to find and connect your event to existing (online) communities. An one-off event is not going to create communities, but can give a space to communities to connect with new people. Through your event people may also get to know new communities that they may join. Because of social media - it is much easier to join, lurk and decide whether you want to leave or stay in communities and networks (and become active). Use tools like socialmention.com or through know spaces to search for relevant groups and communities. Or you may know offline networks working on related themes. Connect to those groups. Beginners may be familiar with forums, or may get to know online community life through your event.
- Co-create your event and program with a wider group of participants Traditionally a small group of people/volunteers design the event and make decisions about the program, themes and speakers. The exciting thing about social media is makes it easy to call for wider participation in program design. You can ask participants to come up with ideas and may use tools like uservoice or crowdcampaign. See for instance how KM2010 is using social media to get proposals from potential speakers and they've asked the audience to decide on the most interesting ones. However, we experienced that participants may be quite consumptive. In our case suggestions were few (but useful!) and the organizers still had a large part in designing the program. This brings me to the next point of building new habits of co-creation.
- Build new habits in using social media event after event It pays to invest in the persistent use of social media. Last year we experimented with a ning platform, a twitter account and a few videos. There were 90 people at the event, but the platform has currently 117 members, the twitter account 91 followers and the videos have been watched by 200-300 people. This year, we can start with an platform that has already assembled 117 members interested in the event. It will be easier to engage them then last year when everything was new. The first tweet to ask for input has already been sent.
- Enhance networking between participants and the quality of connections by using social network media. The members profile feature was one of the best used features of our social network platform. Offering a space where people can view the other participants before the event and connect on themes can help to make sure the right people connect and connections are meaningful. The profile questions (or other ways to allow people to present themselves) are hence important. Personally I've experienced this by connecting with two members who working on intercultural communication. Since I'd known them online, I wanted to meet them and had nice conversations. Without the social network platform, I could have missed them. Be creative in how you do this. In ning, there is a new application which is called member-mix. It allows member to connect randomly with a buddy before an event. This can also be a great way of connecting people (though not on interests). Another possibility is to create network walls or offer LinkedIn Live corners where people can connect directly on LinkedIn (without having to exchange business card which you loose anyhow). Or use advanced search to find people with common interests. Make sure there is enough time for networking live during the event.
- Connect to the participants' reality by using polls. Polls are very powerful (and popular) to tap into the ideas and reality of the audience. It's a method to get everybody's ideas and opinions out and make people think about their situation. It may be a good step up to interaction. The kind of question matter a lot. Doing a short poll at the beginning of a session or before the event can help to know what level the participants are at, or can trigger interesting discussions. Polls can be done in many different ways. I always like the line ups- or how do you call them? (people who don't use social media line up at this side of the room, people who are active users line up there, others in between). Twitterpolls are popular, but the downside may be that you exclude the people who are not on twitter. So you may use a web-based poll before the event, an SMS wall or polleverywhere which can use both. Or simply raise hands or coloured papers. That brings me to the next point
- Make sure you are not sidelining people through your choice of social media Don't use media because they are cool to use. Last week I was part of a polling exercise which used small devices and a laser reader. Everyone had a polling device, I thought it was brilliant. Someone wondered, however, why they didn't use Twitter. I thought using twitter would have sidelined half of the audience, unfamiliar with twitter. A twitterwall is fun and looks nice, but may not add value. Hence, you may choose not to project a backchannel. Simply because the presentors are not comfortable with it or the majority of the audience may feel excluded. Making use of an existing, spontaneous backchannel by having someone scan and read it is fine ofcourse.
- Make information from sessions available in attractive, short formats for people who can't make it. People may be interested in your event but can't make it on that day or have to choose between two interesting parallel session. We tried to stimulate session organisers to report and upload information to the platform. This was hard en not very energizing. On the other hand, the videos had a good number of views. This time, I think it is best to try and use short videos to gain some insight into a session and make sure the presentation are available (eg. on slideshare). Stimulate live blogging and live tweeting to get additional coverage of what's happening and attract wider attention. Last year we did not have wireless internet connections. But audiences are mixed, so this year we will have wireless and stimulate blogging and tweeting for the people who might enjoy this.
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