As I head out to my first conference of 2012 (aka Content Strategy Applied 2012), I’ve been spending a little time thinking about what I want to get out of the experience — partly because I’m schlepping across the pond to London (not that I’m complaining) and feel like I need to justify the expense and time required to do this.
But it’s also partly because I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences in 2011 — my “year of conferences,” in which I transported myself to IxDA, SxSW and Confab within a few months’ span, culminating with an emotional meltdown in a hotel room in Minneapolis that played out in real time on Facebook.
After many years attending conferences for the healthcare and financial industries on behalf of my employers and clients, these conferences were a wakeup call. Attending digital conferences alongside several thousand of the most highly creative, high-energy and well-spoken people in the country – not to mention some of the most social media-savvy – puts a whole new set of pressures on you to produce a steady flow of outgoing content from the conference. For example:
- Live-tweeting with the accurate hashtag is essential (because if you spell it wrong, somebody will tweet-harass you). In this case, #CSA12.
- Three people will inevitably be back in the hotel room recapping the day’s sessions before you’ve even had a chance to take off your conference badge (which is weird, because didn’t you just see them at the happy hour?).
- You will start to recognize people by their Twitter avatars and realize that you earlier laughed at one of their jokes (I’ve made good friends this way) or that they’ve been sitting right beside you all day and you didn’t notice before. Either way, you may start to realize you’ve spent more time staring at your smartphone and iPad than at the speaker and the people around you.
If you’re like me – easily deflated by a day of being around too many people and absorbing too much information – the pace of the output can spin your head and cause you to feel a little defeated.
How to become a successful conference “reporter”
Even though it can seem a little overwhelming, social media output can be very beneficial to you — helping you connect with new people, add your voice and build recognition in the community, and increase traffic to your website. Links to some of the recaps I wrote at Confab in 2011 and Content Strategy Forum in 2010 are still some of the highest traffic drivers to the Suite Seven website today, and those pages also generate a great deal of search engine traffic.
Here are a few tips to plan out your social media approach so you can get the most benefit out of your time at the conference.
1. Think about your conference goals.
What are some of the specific things that you personally want to get out of the conference? Questions you want to answer? Things you hope to learn? People you’ve been dying to meet IRL? Jot them down before you get there. They’ll make you more in tune with which sessions to pick, help you listen for the information you need to hear, and allow you to get more out of your hallway conversations or chats at the evening mixers.
2. Find a comfortable way to take notes – and use that as your platform for creating content across channels.
I love to live-tweet talks. But my problem is that I’m clumsy with the smartphone, so when trying to quote the speaker, remember the speaker’s handle, plug in the hashtag and minimize the characters — I am so focused on tweeting that I tune out what the speaker is saying next. On the other hand, I can type at roadrunner speed on my laptop. So I take thorough notes on my computer, then keep TweetDeck open to copy and paste passages onto various channels. This also helps me more easily write blog posts later on because I have good notes to work with.
3. Tweet soundbites. Blog substance.
My experience has been that I get a lot of retweets when I am able to pick out some of the biggest a-ha’s in a talk and tweet them as “soundbites.” My journalism training has taught me how to do that, so it’s what I listen for. But there’s nothing more disappointing than a blog recap of a speech that just plays back soundbites. I’ve found that the most successful blog recaps are ones that summarize, and even expand upon, clear concepts and practical tips offered in a session.
4. Get the recap up before the devil knows you’re dead.
I have a huge problem with procrastination. That means that sometimes I wait, ahem, four or five weeks to post a blog recap from a conference. Even though I still get a fair number of reposts, links and nice comments from people, it’s way too late and starts to become irrelevant.
I’m trying to take a page from my journalist days when I would cover conference sessions at trade shows and then immediately head up to the press room to “file” the story. While it’s not always easy to do this between sessions, I am committing myself to at least writing a short summary right after the session is over so that the point of it is still fresh in my mind. Then, getting the recap up that night (as long as the after-party doesn’t go too late) or first thing next morning, along with a link to it on Facebook and Twitter (with the conference hashtag of course), is my goal. Expediency is importance to get others to notice and share your recaps while they’re still in the conference “space” and eager to share experiences.
If you simply can’t bring yourself to blog from the conference, however, fear not: sometimes the stragglers (such as myself) get recognition just because they’re the only voice still talking about the conference. As people think back fondly on their experience weeks later, you could be the person providing them with the fond memories they want to retweet.
5. Think about visual content.
What you’re sharing online is more than just the educational content from the conference. It’s about the conference experience as well. At IxDA Interaction11 last year in Boulder, I was surrounded by star-struck interaction designers who were rabidly snapping pictures of human-factors pioneer Bill Verplank sketching his keynote speech on an overhead projector. Photos of those captivating sketches circulated all over the Internet that day — and opened my eyes to why sharing visual experiences is just as important as written summaries. They’re also a great way to share what you’re doing on more visual social media platforms such as Pinterest, Flickr and Facebook.
Thinking ahead about visuals to illustrate your recaps is also important, if only because coming up with the right illustration can sometimes slow down your ability to post prolifically. Because I like to use accompanying images with all my blog entries, this year I’m going to try creating a template conference image that can be customized easily for each session, so that every blog entry has a distinctive image but still visually links that post with the conference.
6. Share the fun stuff too.
As many fond memories came from witnessing the moment that four content strategists spontaneously invented a content strategy rap to the tune of “Ice, Ice, Baby” on the back patio of a Minneapolis bar as they did from highbrow talks about “empathy for our materials” at the conferences I attended last year. Don’t discount the social stuff: that’s where the magic happens. Take pictures, share soundbites, and have fun. After all, there’s a reason you traveled so far away from home for this conference – enjoy, and make yourself part of it by documenting it and sharing it.
As I finish up this article, I’m fighting off jet lag and preparing for a conference starting tomorrow. Follow my blog updates about Content Strategy Applied 2012 as well as my tweets from the sessions at www.twitter.com/staceykgordon.