TWEETWALLS: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE "YO MAMA IS SOOO UGLY…"

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you: The Tweetwall – the hottest new accessory for events in the digital age.

If you haven’t seen one yet, give it time. They’re quickly becoming ubiquitous.

(How ubiquitous? How about the fact that you can now tweet prayers to appear in an aggregated feed for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?)

For those of you who are new to the concept, a Tweetwall is a projection of an aggregated; auto-refreshing conversational feed, that’s often occurring simultaneously as a real-time event or gathering.

As an events tool, Tweetwalls make a lot of sense.

Increasingly events have “back channel” conversations that are equally as compelling as the “front channel” ones. Incorporating a Tweetwall into the experience allows you to marry these on-line and offline conversations and connections.

Additionally, live streaming, social networking and virtual reality have begun to blur the distinction between being virtually present at an events and actually being there in the flesh. A Tweetwall is an excellent way to give your virtual friends a seat at the table too.

But, like any other technology advancement, there is a wrong and a right way to use a Tweetwall.

Before you jump in, here are some tips to help you avoid making any rookie mistakes.

Tweeters + Speakers = Not a Match Made in Heaven

The first exposure most of us have with Tweetwalls are at conferences or workshops where the feed is being projected behind a live presenter.

At first glance, this seems like a natural and smart move.

But as one who’s coordinated, watched and presented in front of Tweetwalls for over a year, let me be explicitly clear on one thing. In my opinion…

Tweetwalls do not belong behind presenters.

Never.

Never ever.

It’s an ineffective logistics choice from many perspectives:

  • If you have one presenter competing for focus with a wall of moving images, the wall will win every time. The images effectively neuter the presenter and dim the volume on any words that come out of their mouth.
  • By giving the audience play-by-play equal standing as the presenter’s words, you are creating an environment that nurtures a horde of armchair Simon Cowells – each one free to lob critiques at a “performer” who has no idea they are being publicly judged and no ability to defend themselves (as the comments are often appearing literally, behind their back.)
  • Presenters – especially solo presenters — can’t talk, and read your real-time feedback on their talk, simultaneously. And increasingly they are facing rooms full of people who are looking down and typing, so it’s impossible for them to distinguish who is unhappy with the presentation and who is just IMing their friend. If you hate the session, be a grown-up and just walk out. That’s a clue that every presenter can understand.
  • Even if your audience is professional about their tweets, all it takes is for one person to highjack your hashtag and say something inappropriate on your big screen (such as “you suck, get your fat ass off the stage.”*) for you to have a PR nightmare on your hands. Sadly, anonymity tends to breed brutishness in audiences, and a cutting remark never remains alone in a feed for long.
  • Even if a presenter stinks, we should honor the fact that it takes connections to land the gig, time and skills to build the presentation and guts to get up on stage. Any presenter, whether they are good or bad, deserves the time and space to present their materials without a wall of “co-presenters” metaphorically jumping in to add their comments very 10 seconds.

Good Places for a Tweetwall

Make no mistake, I think that Tweetwalls belong at events…just not behind the speakers.

So what’s a better way to use them?

  • Place Tweetwalls within other areas of your event space so they can be accessed without pulling focus from your programming (such as hallways and lounge spaces).
  • Tweetwalls are a great feature for events where there is no formal programming (like an open house or party). In these cases, the wall provides a natural and dynamic center of attention and hub for on and off line conversation.
  • Get away from the “wall” concept and focus on creating other forums where you can aggregate event conversations. For instance, dedicate a page of your event website to the feed or create a conference-specific mobile app that will allow people to observe and engage wherever they are.

No matter what format you choose, just make sure your Tweetwall strategy is a solid one:

  • Your Tweetwall should be set up to auto refresh, so it is self-maintaining.
  • Your Tweetwall can (and should) be visually branded to match your company or event. (It is a communications tools like any other you would employ.)
  • Your Tweetwall feed should be monitored, (essentially you are inviting people to participate in a dialogue within your brand space – you don’t have to moderate the conversation, but it’s good business sense to at least know what it consisted of.)

You don’t have to do all this leg work yourselves. My friends at Clockwork Active Media Systems recently build a new tool called tweetwally that can do a lot of this work for you. I highly recommend checking it out.

Don’t Forget: Tweetwalls Never Die

It’s tempting to think of Tweetwalls in one-off terms: you build it, post it and then shut it down when the event is over.

But the reality is that your Tweetwall feed is full of valuable content that will continue to live online long after your event has been put to pasture.

So give some thought to how you can mine and capitalize on this content:

  • Are you reviewing the feed post-event and following back anyone who chimed in the conversation whom you didn’t already know?
  • Are you capturing quotes from the feed that you could use for future marketing purposes?
  • Are you following up with anyone who made disgruntled comments to let them know that their voices were heard?
  • Are you generating any post-event blog posts to address the “uber” dialogue that you see running through the feed?
  • Are you pulling out constructive criticism from the feed and relaying it back to your presenter(s) in a format that will help them to improve their presenting skills?
  • Are you shifting the conversation over to a future event’s hashtag so you can effectively end this conversation and begin another?

Tweetwalls are undeniably cool. And I believe they signal the beginning of a natural evolution to a future where events will have indistinguishable on and offline experience.

Just be sure to use them strategically.

Virtual sticks and stones also break no bones, but a mismanaged Tweetwall can certainly hurt you.

*Sadly, this is an actual tweet I saw displayed during someone’s presentation.

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12 Responses to TWEETWALLS: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE "YO MAMA IS SOOO UGLY…"

  1. Nancy Lyons says:

    I agree completely, Jen. I think Tweetwalls should be well-planned, strategic additions to any event or presentation. I also think event planners can and should reserve the right to remove offensive content that can be distracting, or off-topic, or hurtful to presenters or the audience. That censorship argument doesn’t fly with me. Sure, you can tweet whatever the heck you want. But I am NOT obligated to display it on my giant wall. Tweetwalls have their place, and that’s what we were thinking when we decided to make an easy accessible tool like Tweetwally. But, as with any social media broadcasting tool, douchebags can spoil all the fun. The geek girls are constantly reminding people that if you have problems with some of the content people decide to post–on your facebook page, in your tweetstream, whatever — the problem is not with the tool or application – the problem is with those people that are misusing it. Unfortunately, the world is full of jackasses that are perfectly fine adding pointless criticism and hurtful commentary to any conversation. We can’t control the jackasses. But we CAN and SHOULD control our tweetwalls. And if you are a jackass – remember your tweetstream paints a picture of you that might matter some day. Be decent to your fellow humans.

  2. Agree Agree Agree!

    I think after seeing many conferences virutally via the hashtag,livestream, and wbesites I think if more and more presenters have a twitterhosts and a specific tweetwall for their session and presentation inside the larger conf hashtag could really engage the audience in your before, during, and after. The twitterhost would be responsible for communicating link to tweetwally and encourage people to use this for a specific presentation inside the larger conf.

    This all takes management, planning, and execution! But I would agree behind presenter you are you playing with twire! Thanks Jen! Great post and perspective!

    psst we had one at #smbmsp 21 and people acted like adults on ours! expect presenters said they kept seeing people looking to the right….

  3. Jeff Hurt says:

    Wow, did you mean for that to come across as harsh?

    I’m going to respectfully disagree with you that the Twitter Wall should never, never, never be behind the presenter.

    The presentation is about the attendee, not the speaker. Let’s put the focus where the focus should be—on the attendee. And if the attendee is engaged with the presenter’s content, their tweets will be positive.

    There are many conference and event professionals, myself included, that have had huge success with image magnification of Twitter stream behind the presenter. I’ve done it successfully for three years with crowds of 350-1500 people. Let’s not broad stroke all experiences and acknowledge that there are ways to do it appropriately and successfully.

    Here’s a tip, I provide monitors on the floor of the stage for the presenter to check, as they want. I recruit another attendee to tag questions that might need to be addressed later.

    Fearing hashtag ambush or negative comments is the wrong tactic to take. People complain about poor speakers in the hallways and during the event anyway. Trying to hide those comments or moderate them shows you’re still trying to control the image, the message and the content. Come on, that’s very old school. You can’t control it so stop trying. And, if negative tweets happen, watch the crowd self-police…unless the negative tweets are well-deserved.

    BTW, Olivia Mitchell just released a free eBook on how to use Twitter during presentations. I suggest speaker (and conference organizers) download it and read it. http://www.speakingaboutpresenting.com/wp-content/uploads/Twitter.pdf

    • I meant for it to come across as my opinion, which it is. And I totally respect your disagreeing with it. Sounds like you’re a pretty savvy presenter, so this 101 stuff likely won’t resonate with you. More hoping to pass along some hard learned lessons to people who are new to the technology and approach.

  4. Jennifer, I agree with your post. A Twitter Wall behind a presenter is just bad logistics – unfair to the presenter *AND* the majority of attendees. Back channels should stay back channels, or aggregated elsewhere. I attend events to focus on the presenters and their content. If I want to check out what other conversations are happening in the back channels, I can check my iPhone for the hashtag.

  5. Minnesota Monday – Communications Bloggers Posts From Last Week…

    Interesting posts from Minnesota communications bloggers for the week ending 11/29/09. Culled from the Minnesota Social Media Bloggers FriendFeed room. ……

  6. Mack Collier says:

    Agree completely Jen, it’s a terrible idea that doesn’t benefit the speaker OR the audience. If I’m an attendee, I didn’t come to the event to watch the twitter-stream, I could do that from home. If I’m a speaker, the problem is if I start watching the twitter stream, I could be reading criticism that’s coming from someone that’s not even at the event. And yes, you can address this problem by setting up a wall just for attendees, but I still think it’s a bad idea.

  7. Sean Duffy says:

    Jennifer, Excellent post. I’ll never look at a TweetWall the same. Thanks for the insights and advice. – Sean

  8. Jason Keath says:

    This is the best post on this subject I have seen. I run a series of social media conferences and I abhor the back channel screens so pervasive at other events. I do not use them and you illustrated the exact reasons why above.

    To me it is a gimmick that adds a little splash to presentations. I would rather have a badass speaker or an amazing case study than a wall of confusion.

    That said, I agree that they are perfect for other settings. I use them specifically at networking happy hours before or after my event and in our networking lounge during the event.

  9. Olivia Mitchell says:

    There’s a place for a tweetwall – and that’s under the presenter’s control. Most of the time I agree with you that the backchannel shouldn’t be displayed behind the presenter.

    But there are times when it’s really useful. For example, during Q&A, the presenter can display the backchannel and point to the question they’re going to answer.

    Olivia

    • I agree with you. The focus of a presentation should be, first and foremost, on what the presenter needs/thinks is best for them. The post was mostly in response to the many overzealous event producers I’m seeing lately who are slapping Tweetwalls up left and right just for the “cool factor” without giving any thought to any sort of strategy or repercussions.

  10. Joe McCarthy says:

    Projecting prayer requests is one of the most (and only) compelling examples of a Tweetwall I’ve come across – and it has a business model ($9.90 per reqeuest). When I followed the link to the, I couldn’t find any information about where the tweeted prayer requests are projected. – do you have any additional information, e.g., do know whether this application conforms to the excellent guidelines you outlined here?

    FWIW, I compiled a number of examples of the negative impact of Twitter at conferences – some of which included a tweetwall – in a blog post on the dark side of digital backchannels in shared physical spaces. I’m happy to see some constructive guidelines on appropriate contexts (and controls) where bringing the backchannel into the frontchannel can yield benefits.

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