Along with other members of the Communications Network -- communications professionals working in and with philanthropies--I've been invited to join its 2009 Gorilla Engagement Squad at the group's annual conference in October. I was among a group of ad hoc live-tweeters at last year's conference, and had some great experiences--including watching a fellow Twitterer check out my web page two rows ahead of me, and hearing on Twitter from members who couldn't attend, but were grateful for the chance to glimpse what was going on. It was my first try at live-tweeting, and it sold me on the process.
This time around, the Network's asking for applications, and a commitment to cover a certain number of sessions, as well as to participate in some conference calls during the weeks before the conference. Tweets, blog posts and video are being requested. Here's what Communications Network executive director Bruce Trachtenberg has to say about why the group's eliciting live-tweets and blogging:
The more appropriate question is "why not?" I've always maintained that one of the reasons the Communications Network exist is to remind members that we're all part of something larger than what we do individually. And, as professional communicators in philanthropy, we have an obligation to ourselves, our organizations, and to the larger sector to share what we're learning to help improve practice. Our conferences are a piece of that larger effort. We want to use the social media tools availalble to us to help form greater connections among those who will be in NYC, as well as others who will be "looking" and "listening in" from wherever they are so that everybody, everywhere -- whether in the conference meeting rooms or checking in from their computers or handhelds -- can be connected to share with, and learn from each other.And here are some of my early observations about what you can take away from this experiment:
One of the first people to respond to our recruiting call said it best about why this matters. She wrote that when she's at conferences she "often has new thoughts and great ideas" that she collects in a conference binder. Adding that while "I might talk to someone at lunch or dinner about them, there usually isn’t a chance to really reach out to my peers and share and talk and discuss." What we are planning for the conference, she says, "will allow attendees to connect in ways we don’t usually get to and will also allow us to keep the discussions alive after the conference is over.
- Listen to your attendees. Network members started asking for social media sessions at the conference two years ago, and the organization responded not just with sessions and speakers, but with participatory options: Everyone was invited to join a Facebook group in 2007, tweeters were thanked in 2008 and their tweets went into a live-stream on the conference blog. If you have people already posting in and about your meetings, there's a good chance they (and others) will want to see more, not less.
- Focus on engagement. As I read the invitation, the gorilla squad's there to engage--with the wider Twitter community, with absent members who can't attend and with attendees in the room. That's the appropriate focus for a conference. You set up receptions, sessions, lunch-and-learns, awards ceremonies--why not set up other ways to get your attendees engaged so they can "connect in ways we don't usually get to."
- Examine this model versus a press room. The Network's a smaller conference with limited attendance and doesn't include a press operation. But this model--eliciting Twitter and blog coverage, ensuring a system for thorough coverage, and doing some advance discussion to answer questions and set goals--has great potential for ensuring that your next meeting, workshop or conference gets even more thorough coverage than you might from press reports. And who better to indicate what's of interest to attendees than attendees?
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