The Grand Social Experiment

Eight lessons on social media coverage at a large conference

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend MAX, Adobe’s creativity conference, in Los Angeles. I went to cover the event on social media and to blog about it afterward. Almost 4,000 words and three blog posts later, I wanted to switch gears and spend some time thinking on what I learned about social media and its utility at a live event. Some of my experiments worked and some of them failed, but all of them provide some insight as to how people interact with social media, specifically Twitter.

Last year, after my first foray into covering an event, I posted an article on the 10 challenges of live social media coverage. A year later, I present to you eight short lessons I learned from covering MAX 2015.

#1. Liking things gets you profile looks.

I started with my social interactions a few days before I left for MAX. I created a column on Tweetdeck for the #AdobeMAX hashtag, and basically liked anyone’s posts I thought were interesting or expressed anticipation for the conference. It was incredible seeing the excitement of people flying from all over the globe to attend MAX.

What I didn’t expect was that I started gaining followers immediately, and I began interacting with people on Twitter before the conference, giving them info on everything from weather to what to pack.

#2. Having a profile worth seeing gets you follows.

On the advice of Lindsay, one of our internal social media experts, I changed my profile to say that I was covering Adobe MAX. I think part of the reason I actually got people following me was that I was actually affiliated with both Adobe and MAX in some capacity, and I was an actual human being, not a corporate account.

My theory was that by marking myself as a part of the conference (and dropping the usual “this is the other stuff I do” segment of my profile), I was able to give myself a bit of credibility in my interactions. Great tip, Lindsay. Theory proven.

#3. Interacting With People Keeps Interest.

I know that best practice dictates that you acknowledge when someone follows you, but nothing is quite as irritating to me as someone who has a bot answering for them: “Thanks for following me, Elaine!” Instead of doing this, I began interacting with people — favoriting their posts, responding to their questions, and giving humorous, flippant commentary where I thought appropriate.

By interacting with people as a normal person, I feel like I retained the interest of my new followers. That being said, I know that I certainly didn’t reach 100% follower satisfaction; a small but significant number of people stopped following me during or after the conference. This is par for the course, and I have to remind myself that a genuine social presence is less about a numbers game and more about influence. As someone once told me, “You can buy followers, but you can’t buy influence.

#4. Calling for attention doesn’t really work.

I spent a lot of time asking for people to meet me. “Hey, guys!” I wrote. “Anyone want to talk about #projectcomet? I’m open to meeting at lunch!” Our team had announced a new UX design and prototyping tool in the keynote at MAX, and we were eager to talk to customers. But either people didn’t see the message or really didn’t care to talk to us in that manner, because I got a grand total of two takers in the three days I ran the experiment.

I asked during lunch. I announced it during the “Meet the Teams” event in the evening. I asked at another lunch. Only two people interacted with me the entire time, and I did manage to meet up with both of them. But it was an intense amount of outreach for very little payoff. I’d judge this experiment as a failure. The fact of the matter is, most people don’t always look at their social media channels during live events, preferring instead to actually interact with people live. I ended up getting the best interactions with people while sitting down at lunch at a random table and engaging with people in person.

#5. Quantity doesn’t always matter.

Last year at MAX, I tweeted over 650 times in a 3 day period. This year, I got to maybe 200, including responses to people. Last year’s coverage was live, this year’s was a lot less. I ended up summarizing the talks I went to instead of live tweeting, and I felt like there were just as many responses as the year before.

The conclusion? It’s not necessary to equate quantity with influence. I know that I lost followers last year due to the flood of tweets, but I’m hoping I balanced out this year with actual utility.

#6. Organize for the long term.

I will fully admit to having a pretty consistent filing system with Twitter. Everyone I follow goes into a list. However, I made a large mistake during MAX — everyone, no matter what they did, got lumped into a category I reserve for creative people of all stripes. I realized about halfway through the conference that 250 people on a list was probably going to mean that I wouldn’t be able to easily skim through my tweets in Tweetdeck. I still have to go through and sort out who belongs in what sublist, but it’s a good note that I’m going to need to pay attention to the length of my lists going forward.

#7. Everyone tweets the large events.

This was particularly true during the keynotes and the Sneaks, where Adobe shows off its new technology. During the latter, I tried to keep it to 1–2 tweets per demo, but I discovered that everyone was posting to social media at that time — not only was the physical WiFi network saturated (so… many… devices…), my tweets were being lost in the #AdobeMAX hashtag. I ended up posting brief commentary and interacting with people who were live tweeting during the sessions instead.

However, I noticed that the smaller sessions that I attended were not as well-covered. Some of the classes that I attended where there were 50 instead of 150 people received less social media love, especially when it came to quotes or best practices. I felt like coverage in those sessions were more important and had higher impact.

#8. Ultimately, it’s about the personal touch.

The people I connected with the most during the conference were people I had made some kind of contact with before MAX. Some were people I had chatted with in the last year, community experts, beta testers, user group managers, and more. They were the ones that searched me out, who had the most significant conversations with me, and with who I felt the most connected. Meeting with them in person was one of the highlights of the trip, because we had a relationship already; it was more like seeing an old friend than meeting someone for the first time.

Meeting these people also allowed me to meet their extended networks, as they introduced me to others in their circle. Through this type of friendship networking, I was able to more deeply feel a part of the MAX community.

Ultimately, social media is about relationship, and recognizing this key concept is critical to its success. Last year, I was just starting out on social media when I made it to MAX, and only connected with one non-Adobe employee, someone who I had met through a prerelease testing group. This year, I feel like I spent as much time with our customers as I did with Adobe employees, finding new opportunities to further myself both personally and professionally.

Social media still remains a large, amorphous beast to me, but after a year in the trenches, I find myself much more able to discern what is important and what isn’t in social media coverage. By remembering that relationship is at the core of social media, I can claim the social aspect of it, and continue to build my network based on genuine interactions.

Over the past year, I’ve broadened my personal network through social media, and some of these people have crossed over into true friendships. I was reflecting on this phenomenon recently as I evaluated my social circle. There were many new relationships, many friendships that blossomed due to a simple introduction through social media. While it cannot replace genuine human interaction, social media augments it by providing a unique entry into conversation.

So to my social media friends and acquaintances: it was great to meet you, and it’s great getting to know you more. Let’s keep talking, because through conversation, we’re building a deeper and more connected network for our generation.

Elaine is an engineer at Adobe. You can find her on Twitter at @elainefinnell. All statements in this essay are her own and do not reflect the opinions of her employer.

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