Thursday, March 10, 2011

Guest post: How Twitter helped revitalize a conference lineup

(Editor's note: Tim Nekritz is the associate director of public affairs at SUNY Oswego, where he also directs web communications. This post caught my eye because it's a great case study and a unique angle on how Twitter can help your conference or event. Nekritz writes the blog Inside Tim's Head, on which this post first appeared; he has graciously granted permission for us to reprint it here.) 

About three years ago, almost no one outside New York state had heard of the annual SUNYCUAD Conference. Last month, some of the top experts in their fields were celebrating, via social media, being accepted to speak at SUNYCUAD.

So what happened? In large part, Twitter. Not entirely, but the microblogging community really created much more buzz — and, moreover, real-life connections — than before.

The first SUNYCUAD conference I attended years ago featured many vendors speaking. “If you buy our service, this is what you can do,” spilled from a few sessions, and others just didn’t give much in the way of takeaways . Even though I love the organization — for development and communicators throughout the State University of New York system — and the event itself, the conference was watered down with too many tracks and not enough fresh speakers or ideas.

When I first joined the programming arm of this group, we already had good speakers, sure, but too many of them, and often the usual suspects over and over. So we compressed the tracks, favoring quality of speakers over quantity. But then a funny thing happened in 2009. We started live-tweeting some of our awesome speakers, and people all over North America said: “I have no idea what SUNYCUAD is, but sounds great!”

Last year we added a panel of top experts we termed our faculty-in-residence, starting with a panel presentation to set the conference tone. I’m proud to say that this year’s conference faculty will include Mark Greenfield, a headline-level speaker around the world and SUNY employee, whom I would not know well (nor have asked to speak) if not for Twitter.

We’ve created a call for presenters, and perhaps the most successful method of distribution was via Twitter … either the @SUNYCUAD account or various retweeters. Among those who applied and we selected as speakers, many were folks I wouldn’t have known without Twitter, many wouldn’t know SUNYCUAD existed if not for Twitter and some wouldn’t have applied if not for the Twitter announcement of the call for speakers.

So whenever people pooh-pooh the prospect of Twitter building brand or business, I can point to a pretty cool conference in Saratoga Springs this June as proof it works. If you can’t make it, expect to see some pretty cool live tweets!

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