Sunday, August 23, 2009

Creating a "Socially-Enabled", Non-Techie Conference

Last month, The HSUS held their annual "Taking Action for Animals" Conference (TAFA) which brings together animal advocates all over the country. We've always done search ads, blogger outreach, and posts on our social networking profiles, but this year, I was ready to take it to the next level.

I wanted to make this a social conference. And I wanted to prove that it could be done, even if we weren't SXSW or NTC. Many people think that only "techie" conference attendees will grasp ideas like live-blogging and tweeting. But we proved that if you make people aware of the tools and start early, it can be done!

But the reasoning goes beyond just something that I wanted to do. The great thing about social networking is that it breaks the ice. Attendees want to meet and network at conferences, but they don't know how to get started. Providing an outlet using social media gives them that opportunity. The benefit for us is that we'll know more about our attendees, identify them online, stay connected with them, and tap into their own networks.

Here were the social components of the conference:

Community page on the website - I created a page on the conference website that served as a "home base" for all things social related to the conference. My good friend Jordan did a write up about it on Convio's blog. Here were the elements of the page:
  1. Tweetup widget from TWTvite
  2. Twitter Followers Widget from Widgettropolis
  3. Option to set your Twitter status to tell us who you are
  4. Link to the Facebook event
  5. Link to downloadable conference banners
  6. Widgetbox Widget displaying all tweets from the official conference Twitter feed
  7. Widgetbox Widget displaying all tweets containing the conference hashtag
  8. Flickr slideshow of photos from the conference
  9. YouTube promotional video for the conference
  10. Google map of conference attendees using Zeemaps
  11. Sharing links for Facebook and Twitter
Conference Twitter Feed - the official conference Twitter feed was used to promote the conference ahead of time and keep the momentum going after the conference by staying in touch with attendees.

During the conference, we had someone tweeting "housekeeping" items like schedule changes and reminders via Twittermail. We encouraged people to sign up to get our Twitter updates via SMS during the conference. Any highlights were retweeted to @humanesociety, our main Twitter account.

We followed anyone who mentioned TAFA on Twitter and reached out to our exhibitors, sponsors, presenters, and staff on Twitter and asked for their help in promoting the conference.

Tweetup - This gave those animal advocates on Twitter a chance to meet up in real-life. They talked about everything from the conference sessions to their pets.

Here are my tips for organizing a successful tweetup:

1. Use TWTvite to organize RSVPs and help spread the word on Twitter.
2. Have it during conference downtime, and not on the first day. Ours was right before the opening remarks and I think attendance suffered because of it. Many people's flights didn't come in till later as well.
3. Have someone well-known in your field attending. Our advocates were so happy to meet Mike Markarian, our Chief Operating Officer.
4. Have nametags, and plenty of blank ones for those who did not RSVP.
5. Have signs at the entrance and on the table with the nametags. I remember feeling awkward at the first tweetup I went to because I didn't know anyone and couldn't figure out where they were. Here, I had signs that included the hashtag for the tweetup, which was #tafatweetup.
6. Don't forget to take photos, especially a group photo!

Mashable also has some great suggestions on how to organize a successful tweetup.

Booth in the Exhibit Hall - my department had a booth in the conference exhibit hall that displayed all of our social networking profiles and gave us a chance to talk to attendees about using social media.

This is what our booth contained:
  1. Posters for each social networks showcasing our profiles on each as well as how to fan and follow us via text message, the conference hashtag and twitter feed, and flickr tag.
  2. A display of tweets about the conference projected on the wall using Twittercamp
  3. A computer for monitoring tweets about the conference (backchannel) using Tweetdeck
  4. A raffle for a free Flip Camera when someone participated in our "I'm here because" activity. We asked people to fill out a sheet of paper on why they were at the conference, took their photo and posted it on Flickr, and taped all the papers on the wall at our booth.
  5. Trivia questions and giveaways via our Twitter feed

Cross promotion - making sure these social aspects were included in our usual promotional channels was important because we wanted to start building momentum early. This is where we promoted the community page as well as the Twitter feed and hashtag:
  1. Conference website homepage
  2. Program book
  3. email blasts
  4. organization website
  5. print ads
  6. Google & Facebook ads
  7. Listings on event sites like craigslist, eventbrite, meetup, upcoming, eventful
  8. Blogs on our social networking profiles
  9. signage at conference
  10. flyers and posters
  11. our CEO's blog

Inclusion in conference materials - we had a postcard included in the conference bags that had wireless connection information on one side and the Twitter hashtag and feed on the other. Every attendee received this postcard.

All of this added up to some great success metrics.

  1. # of Tweets: 357
  2. # of contributors: 72
  3. Average tweets per day: 51
  4. % of ReTweets: 17%
  5. % mentions: 43%
  6. #followers post-conference: 401
  7. #followers pre-conference: 304
  8. # people who identified themselves in the community: 101 (22 attendees, 11 exhibitors, 7 staffers, 5 speakers, 56 people who couldn't make it)
  9. exposure from bag insert: 1,000 people
  10. contacts from flip cam raffle: 72
  11. # people RSVPed to the Facebook event: 139 yes, 43 maybe
  12. # views of the promo video on YouTube: 1,505
  13. # Flickr photos: 263
Twitter stats were obtained from What the Hashtag and Twitter Search.

The results were impressive, given that there was no wireless access in the exhibit hall and common areas. That was my #1 recommendation for next year. I'm convinced that it would increase participation drastically.

Because we made these tools available, afterwards we were able to take advantage of that “post-conference glow” many attendees have, when they’re jazzed up about what they learned. They have a place to talk about it, and we're able to gather their feedback on the event. Sure, there were plenty of people there that do not use social media, but they either saw the conversations and became interested, or simply ignored it. Our goal was to create a "cool factor" for those who were interested, and I think we succeeded!

Please feel free to share your thoughts, particularly if you've had experience with using social media at an event.


Kelly said...

Great blog Carie!

Jon Dunn said...

Good stuff C-Lew. Doing some of this at our conference again this year, but as per the usual you are like a million miles ahead.

You are a frickin' rockstar.

P.S. I am stealing a bunch of this :P

Emily Dorr said...

Love the post. I like how you have shown the successes. Great job. And you are right I guarantee you will have more participation next year with wi-fi access in exhibit hall.

Jaki Levy said...

This is fantastic! Nice job compiling these stats. Would be great to see how this changes next time you do an event.

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