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.
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.