David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 2, Issue 4

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Thoughts On Strategy: Back Channels and Event Management

Back channel communications among event attendees, primarily using Twitter, is rapidly becoming common at association industry events. Every ASAE event this year has had a back channel, with traffic and usage increasing. This is likely to impact meetings and events more broadly throughout this year and going forward.

A definition:

  • A conference backchannel is a communication channel where attendees, and anyone else who wants to follow along, can exchange messages via mobile devices and laptops.
  • The most popular way to do this today is to use Twitter. Updates to Twitter intended for the back channel will include a hash tag. ASAE’s Marketing & Membership Conference, kicking off today, is using a hash tag that looks like this: #mmcon09.
  • Searching for the hash tag on Twitter will show you all the messages with that tag. Here is a search result for #mmcon09.
  • Attendees use the channel to share ideas as well as general commentary on the event. It’s also often used to organize happy hour meetings, which should be no surprise!
  • Back channels will often include negative comments as well. Speakers who are overly commercial or boring will get razzed live as they speak. Run out of coffee when attendees are running low on energy? You’ll hear about it in the back channel.

The strategic impact for event management:

There are several things to consider for managing your events with a back channel:

  • You cannot prevent one from forming. Sorry.
  • You can choose to engage with your attendees via the back channel. If so, make sure you have staff monitoring it and acting as needed.
  • Speakers should be educated about the back channel. One tip when you do have a back channel going: ask an audience member who is following the comments to share questions and feedback for the speaker to discuss.
  • A back channel can be a live testimonial for the value of your conference for all those who are following along online.
  • Leading the creation and promotion of a back channel will help you to maximize the positive benefits of the channel for your meeting.

The bottom line:

I think this is something meeting planners and association executives have to get up to speed on quickly and get out in front of with their events. Twitter is growing fast and is often monitored by media and other opinion setters. Full engagement with a back channel can create great buzz and you want to avoid being surprised by a back channel you didn’t know existed!

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Case Study: Flu Crisis Response

Associations are grappling with how to respond to the emergent issue of the Swine Flu that is spreading from Mexico. Health organizations in particular have been ramping up their communications. The Massachusetts Medical Society web site provides an excellent example this week.

MMS recently redesigned their site and have a feature position on the home page that can easily be dedicated to specific topics. Frank Fortin, who leads the web team at MMS, had his team create a custom graphic that leads to a clearinghouse of information on the flu for members and patients.

MMS Home Page

There are three things that enable MMS or any organization to use their home page flexibly and quickly like this.

Process: They have a defined management process in place for identifying emergent issues and how to decide when they should be featured. This doesn’t have to be very formal or detailed but you do need to know who has to be part of the discussion and who will make the call.

People: Not only do you need to know who the decision maker is and have access to them, you also need to know what technical or design talent you will need in such a case and how you will access them. Who will you use to design the graphic and how quickly can you access them and get something done? This is more critical when you rely on outside vendors for your web design.

Technology: Your web template must make it easy to pop in a feature like MMS did for their home page. Your content management system should also make it easy to put this kind of alert into place.

If you don’t have a handle on those three factors in advance and how they relate to crisis communication you’ll be behind the news on your home page just when everyone expects you to be out front.

Frank provides more details on their approach to the flu on his blog.

High Geekery: LinkedIn Applications

LinkedIn is rapidly evolving as they play catch up with the interactivity offered by sites such as Facebook and Twitter without losing their original business-friendly roots. One such innovation is the rollout of LinkedIn applications that add more dynamic content to your profile. This page lists all the available applications.

If you or your organization publishes a blog, you can use one of several applications to add your recent blog posts to your profile. The WordPress Application can actually be used to link to any blog that provides an RSS feed. There are other applications for specific blogging tools as well.

SlideShare has released an application for LinkedIn that allows you to display your slide shows on their service as part of your profile. If you have a slideshow that summarizes your professional experience or the offerings of your company or organization, this may be a good addition for you.

Check out the applications and add those that will help you achieve the goals you have for LinkedIn.

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