Conferences and other events are a time when having an online presence offers obvious advantages. Most conferences have a parallel stream on Twitter, most display it somewhere in the venue.
A conference I was at recently displayed the Twitter stream next to the speaker, offering a real-time engagement with both attendees and those not physically present but interested in the subject.
The Twitter functionality allowing this is called a hashtag. The # sign before a word, without a space, makes that word into a search term. This functionality has pervaded the web, so that if you enter a word like #support into a search engine, you get directed to Twitter.
Conferences now very often have a hashtag assigned to them by the organisers – like #ukgc15 for UK GovCamp 2015. It works best if it’s a unique combination of letters and numbers, because otherwise unrelated content will show up in the stream.
The stream is useful both for comments in real time and for networking with other attendees after the event. The hashtag can also be used on other platforms to add photos and videos, blog posts can be written after the event and found by other attendees with the hashtag. The experience of the event is completely changed, and the return on having made the investment of time and money to attend is multiplied.
And it’s not just great on the day and in the aftermath of the event – everyone can keep in touch on social media and there’s a lasting effect on your online life.
Another benefit of having a good online stream is that you are able to get much more varied input than just the words from the speakers and those of the greatly extroverted networkers walking around gladhandling everyone.
Social media has even been used well in preparation for events. There is a whole movement of agenda-free ‘unconferences’ that make use of online tools to discuss ideas for talks ahead of the day. On the day the agenda is set by attendees introducing themselves and their idea for a talk before the whole audience and posting it on the prepared table of rooms and time slots.
These kinds of events are the most interesting and fun one day conferences. Everyone gets to share and learn from others, and it’s much easier for a diverse range of people to be actively involved in and keep adding to what’s happening.
But even at a regular good old-fashioned conference with keynote speakers and panels and a room full of people sitting down and thinking of lunch, you will benefit from taking part in the online discussions. You will practically be guaranteed that people will look at your blog or other content. And that’s got to be worth trying something new.