The Sarah Best Strategy team is in Orlando, Florida this week, doing live social media for the 66th Annual IWCS Cable & Connectivity Symposium Conference.
We've done live social media executions for many conferences, fundraising events, and theater festivals. Live social media can help drive key business results, such as generating millions of impressions, improving customer experience, and promptly addressing (and containing) negative feedback. Capturing the energy of a live event is also an incredibly powerful way to share the story of a brand.
Here are some keys for success that we've picked up through our work.
1. Pre-schedule as much as possible
What does doing live social media at a conference or other large event entail? Spreadsheets! Spreadsheets! Spreadsheets!
Before we leave for a conference, we obtain a copy of the conference program and pre-write as much content as possible. We pre-schedule reminders about key conference events.
Having a solid layer of content in place before the event allows us to focus on live storytelling - whether we're sharing key quotes from speakers, photography from the floor of an exhibition, or wrapping up what's happened each day.
2. Pre-research as much as possible
Also before we leave for the conference, we spend time looking up the Twitter handles of conference speakers and exhibiting companies ahead of time.
For very large conferences, we gather some intel on what events are high priority from the conferences organizers—typically good candidates include events that tell the story of the conference, showcase a particularly strong offering, or events which might need a little extra help.
3. Know what channels work best for live events
Where pre-conference or pre-festival content may focus on channels like Facebook or LinkedIn (depending on the conference's focus), the best channels for live content are Twitter, Instagram, and potentially Snapchat. There are two reasons for this.
1) Lag: When you do a Facebook post, there can be a lag in between when you post the event, and when it shows up in the newsfeed, making it less ideal for truly timely information.
2) Cadence: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ accommodate a lower cadence of posts that channels that are constantly refreshing. In other words, you'll annoy people if you post too much.
Twitter and Instagram's constantly refreshing stream of content is a boon in this case. While both platforms still use an algorithm to highlight content a reader may have missed, it's still more likely that people will see live content, and use these channels to keep tabs on what's happening at an event as it's happening.
4. Get great photography and make sure your tech is up to date
I can't emphasize this enough—good photography is critical to telling the story of an event, whether you're talking about a corporate conference, a nonprofit fundraiser, or an arts festival.
At live social media executions, we typically work closely with a professional photographer to outline what types of shots that we think will work best. Particularly if there is an opportunity to get those shots retweeted by a partner with a large number of followers.
For other events, we shoot photos and take short videos ourselves with our phones, and often train other staff on how to take compelling photos so that we have "eyes" in many places at once. It's important to make sure everyone has phones with decent cameras (a recent smartphone should suffice).
Photos below courtesy IWCS / John Disney.
5. Pre-write answers to common questions
For large conferences, you may get a high volume of inquiries from conference or event-goers. For our work at the Institute of Food Technologists, for example, we received hundreds of inquiries per hour through Twitter.
A best practice here is to have the answers to common questions pre-written ahead of time, so that you can promptly respond to people with common questions about parking, registration, tickets, schedules, etc.
6. Have a cell phone chain
Hey, stuff happens. It's not uncommon for unexpected issues to crop up at an event, such as sound bleed between two rooms or someone having a problem locating a parking lot.
For customer feedback that requires some follow up (such as a complaint), it's important to know what the chain of command is for a particular event, and to have contact information (cell phone numbers are best) so that you can reach the person who can address or respond to a problem as quickly as possible.
For some events we've worked at, the phone numbers of key staff were written on the back of our staff badges so we always had cell phone numbers handy.
7. Take external battery packs
If you're producing social media for an event, having your phone, laptop, or other device run out of juice can mean the difference between capturing an important moment and just being out of luck. We often travel with three external battery packs and a fresh set of USB cords so we can stay charged up at all times.
Other people we know travel with portable wifi hotspots, in case the conference internet is bad (which is often the case). Have a gameplan for what to do if your connection is unsteady.
8. If you're waiting to figure out a hashtag the day of the event it's too late.
So for people who are not familiar with how hashtags work, it's common for conferences and events to use a branded hashtag (like #IWCS2017) to denote any content related to the event. This also gives attendees the opportunity to share their thoughts and photos too.
Because hashtags are searchable on Twitter and Instagram, this is a great way to find content that you can repost or retweet.
But if you've waited to set a conference or event hashtag until the day of, it's too late. Like any sort of branding, hashtags work when they are clear, easy to type, are used consistently (ideally on ALL content, pre-conference and day-of) and repeatedly.
The events that I work at print the hashtag on collateral materials, programs, signs, so that people know to use them. We work hard to raise awareness of the hashtag year-round if not in the months leading up to the event itself.
9. Most importantly, have fun!
Doing live social media can be really exciting—there's no better feeling than capturing a critical takeaway, photographing a moment that really tells a brand's story, or amplifying what's happening at a live event out to much broader audiences. If you're energized by a dynamic live event, chances are your content will communicate a certain energy, too.
By having a solid plan in place ahead of time, you'll be well-poised to go with the flow, tell rich stories, and provide immediate feedback to attendees who need help or want to share your feedback.
Learn more about our live social media services.