How To Leverage Twitter At Business Conferences

Ideas for better twitter-optimizing your event…


Twitter is a serious and massive social medium, combining the personal engagement/attention benefits of Facebook with the professional/business audience and networking possibilities of Linkedin. Too often at conferences, seminars, and other speeches, Twitter is ignored as a serious communication and promotional tool. If you see tweet @usernames or #hashtags, they’re usually relegated to a mere trendy gesture, or afterthought by speakers and organizers who clearly do not really believe in the relevance of Twitter or focus on its potential usefulness. I hope this can change with developing best practices in online<->offline event promotion and management, and already we can see more and more events proving the benefits of becoming more Twitterized without it having to seem gimmicky or cringeworthy.

First of all, let’s look at the advantages of promoting Twitter engagement with your event, and then I’ll list some practical tips for what you can do.

Here are the benefits:

  • Benefits your brand and your sponsors’ brands:
    Twitter and other social media communications around and during your event will spread your message well within topic-interest and professional networks; sponsor messages can hugely improve their reach compared to just a few lame banners hanging behind the stage; and the generally positive interaction from attendees and online-only followers will reflect well on your whole organization not just the event.
  • Benefits your speakers’ personal and business brands:
    Speakers at conferences, whether or not they are paid, always have brand and reputation improvement in mind when agreeing to present: adding a social media dimension to the event, directly connecting them with individuals in their niche audience, is a great way to give them further promotional and networking possibilities, as well as better connecting the halo of their expertise and following with your own organization and sponsors.
  • Benefits your audience:
    Business events are typically valued by attendees more as networking events than for the learning / discussion / advertising booths that provide the overt event structure: therefore, pulling them into online discussions, empowering influencers and mavens among them to “show themselves” during the event, and creating direct channels to the event organizers and speakers will all hugely increase the networking value as well as general interest level of your event.
  • Benefits your event quality:
    Exploiting the potential for an online layer of participation and live group discussions in social media during your event will really improve the value for attendees, as they will discover highly relevant new ideas and information via the online media which would not be visible or accessible if they were only attending “in their online body”; additionally, you (and sponsors / exhibitors) can deliver a much richer range of content to attendees online, assisted by social media channels, than you can just with paper / display materials; for audience with special communication needs, adding social media to the live course of your event will hugely improve your #accessibility and enable their engagement in new ways.
  • Benefits your event popularity:
    Having a clear Twitter focus for your event helps you plan and coordinate buzz-building in the run-up to it, as well as helping continue to build global audience after the event and retain engagement from actual attendees;
  • Benefits your event general usefulness:
    By building a social media group, however informally, around your event and its attendees, you make your event more useful to your general campaigns and community building, particularly if you can use the audience you’ve gained to promote awareness of further events and content; and don’t ignore the value your real-world events deliver to worldwide non-attending audience, not just at the time but in very lasting online information… opening up your content from the event (and your attendees’ contributions, naturally) will make the whole thing more useful than being limited just to the original synchronous face-to-face event.
  • Benefits your market understanding:
    As Twitter will be used conversationally in your event, or at least will allow you to listen to public comments about your event or topics within it, this is a huge and invaluable source of market research, whether it’s just general sentiment and preferences, or actual problems to fix or actionable innovation suggestions to follow up.

Given the benefits, the question is more “can you afford NOT to enable the social media dimension of your real-world events?” — and Twitter is one of the easiest and most effective parts of doing so.

By the way, if you are not much of a Twitter user yourself (boo! hiss!) and wonder who on earth would want to tweet while listening to a speech or walking an exhibition…well, a key point to realize is that Twitterati among your attendees are likely to try to exploit the timeliness (newsworthiness!) of your event and originality of its content (particularly speeches of experts) to boost the interest level of their own tweets, as well as indirectly to seem more knowledgeable, hip (for attending), and insightful for being the first to curate the good stuff straight onto social media.

Tips for Leveraging Twitter at your Event

  1. Have a clearly meaningful and unique #hashtag for your event, and ensure this is on all of your pre-event signup and publicity material, shown clearly to attendees with encouragement to use it, and monitor it during the event. Your Twitter instructions should be as clear and mandatory as the fire escape ‘housekeeping’ bit.
  2. In large events such as industry trade fairs, a hashtag may become a target for spamming. Consider having sub hashtags for particular seminars or topics within a large event to make spamming harder and less general. In situations where your hashtag is made useless or even toxic by deliberate flooding, such as in the London World Travel Market in 2013 when human rights protesters “occupied” it (and good on them for the idea!), you should have a backup plan, at minimum having a reserve unique hashtag to announce as an update to attendees.
  3. Also advise your audience on your suggested topic hashtags (broad, such as #SEO, #knitting, #foodie) in order to draw in social media audience beyond just the people who know your brand or stumble across the event hashtags.
  4. Encourage all of your speakers and main public spokespeople to have active (and clean / work-appropriate) Twitter accounts, and use these addresses in your publicity and attendee information. Consider designating organization-level Twitter accounts specific to the event (or event management generally) and ensuring customer queries and other social interactions are competently handled in realtime, especially at the time of the event.
  5. Display the speaker’s @username , if not also your organization @username and the event hashtag, clearly at all times in the footer of powerpoint slideshows. Showing it just at the beginning on a first slide or a final ‘thanks’ slide means it will probably not be picked up and misses the opportunity for live tweet reactions or on-topic questions/comments by Twitter users in the audience. Speakers could also suggest topic hashtags to encourage relevant tagging of tweets from their speech.
  6. When you have interesting powerpoint slides, such as insightful diagrams, pithy quotations, or interesting statistics, design them in big size and simple, clear layout so that they can be snapped on phone cameras and tweeted. Ensure your pace through your slides allows for people to do this.
  7. Similarly to the above point, speakers should think not just of their verbal communication, but also deliberately aim to build tweetable factoids, quotations, and surprising / controversial points into the slideshow that are “tweet bait” for your audience. Obviously, speakers should discuss with organizers about any copyright or exclusivity concerns, and the organizers should lay down rules for attendees… an absence of stated rules nowadays may be taken for blanket permission to tweet anything.
  8. After their speeches, speakers should be requested to tweet some comments on the hashtag after they sit down. This can enhance the realtime relevance of the conversations, and of course highly boost the number of followers that speaker gets at that immediate time.
  9. When organizing your event, consider how to get attendees to submit (and opt-in to publicizing) their social media URLs including Twitter handle. This can then be printed or otherwise distributed to attendees as exclusive and high value networking material. If conferences did this routinely, I for one would attend more of them… then I could still “network” connect online with attendees I knew were there but didn’t have a chance to speak to “in meatspace”.
  10. Similarly to the above point, you can offer attendees the chance to print Twitter and other social media handles on their name badges. The name badges can also reference your designated hashtag(s) and organizational handles.
  11. If you have a lot of social media addresses, hashtag guidance etc, to share with attendees, display on your materials and big screens a type-in-friendly short URL redirecting to an information page on your site listing everything they need as links or copy-paste-able text. This is probably good practice for your pre-event publicity anyway, as anything that helps avoid typing on mobile devices will make it easier for people to hook onto your feeds and participate.
  12. Speakers, particularly known experts or celebrities, should be “introduced”/”announced” in realtime on social media with explanations of who they are and why they (and their topic) are awesome. This helps people tweet at or about them while listening, as well as building live content for non attendees to follow. It pays to have a live social media curator / MC handling this during your event.
  13. Inviting submission of audience questions via Twitter, during a speech, is a good way to build buzz somewhat artificially while still having a practical usefulness of queuing up and selecting (and perhaps even anonymizing) the best questions instead of a random mixture of questions at the end of a speech. In my experience of this technique, the questions turn out to be much more relevant and more people are willing to ask questions because of the easier medium compared to the traditional approach of waving your hand, standing up and waiting for the mic to come to you.
  14. During the intervals in an event, display top tweets on the projector screen to reward positive tweeters and encourage a sense of Twitter participation. At one event recently (On The Edge Marketing, Bristol), a large screen TV was set up in the lobby / drinks area, auto cycling through top tweets from the event’s hashtag.
  15. Live retweet / fav / follow good in-event tweeters. Consider other ways (gamification / leaderboards / rewards) to incentivize active and positive tweeting by attendees during your event.

Further tips: Before the Event

  • Have a timetable of content that you publish in the run-up to the event, related to publicizing the event and its topics for potential attendees. Twitter should be one out of several channels of publicity.
  • In your pre-event publicity, don’t neglect notifications and anticipation-building communications directed at people who have already registered: to make sure they actually attend, and warm them up to the topics covered… while of course reinforcing your or your sponsor’s brands which are probably the whole point of the event.
  • Tweet messages about ticket availability, scarcity, countdown/deadlines, and special offers.
  • Consider pre-event interactive communications on social media (which will spread your buzz) such as question collection for event (or speaker-specific) Q&A, or contests with prizes at (or for) the event.
  • Plan ahead about who is going to live-manage your social media during the event: ideally this should be dedicated with a proper workstation in the event, and not just the MC in between hosting bits on his phone. A designated social media curator for the event will also ensure you can prepare “official” versions of very tweetworthy material to share at exactly the right time, or even live respond to Q&A online which aren’t covered in the event itself.

Further tips: After the Event

  • Continue to use your event hashtag(s) in follow-up social media comments and content publishing.
  • Have an intentional schedule of post-event thanks, shout-outs, highlights, resources to share, and “what’s next” linkage to further events and partners’ events.
  • Storify and the like are good ways of curating highlights of social media reaction/engagement from your event.
  • As well as the public curation of Tweets (etc), have an internal highlights selection and review discussion with relevant decision makers, focusing on problems, complaints, FAQs, and new realizations / ideas about your audience, as well as just the self-congratulatory stuff.
  • Assuming you have an email newsletter list for attendees, use your post-event communications to reward them with follow-up content (which could be as simple as slide decks) and directly encourage them to continue the buzz in Twitter and other social media.

Please retweet this article, tweet me @georgebaily with suggestions, and tag your own recommendations and comments with #TwitterForEvents ;)