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Keep your event social channels open

June 13, 2011
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I just got back from managing the social media activities for my biggest event yet. The event was much bigger than last year, and not surprisingly, so was the volume of Twitter chatter. Of those thousands of tweets last week, there’s one that still sticks with me.

I’ve been working with this event team for two years now and have been extremely lucky that there’s very little hesitance to keep all of our social channels open. Frankly, I see no point in highlighting or promoting any social channel if you’re not going to display it without filter. First, that goes against the very nature of social media—filters remove that social aspect. Second, because of that implicit social aspect, any filter will likely be noticed and publicly called out, often to the detriment of the filtering party.

Even beyond those two pragmatic reasons, I advocate open channels for the principle of it. If you’re not going to embrace your social community, why bother? I’d much rather facilitate open social sharing and watch a few zingers come through, than close off a digital conversation that is inherently open.

I believe letting that conversation take its natural course benefits consumers and brands alike. Consumers are able to freely share opinions and ask questions without feeling fettered by risk averse or metric-minded brand managers. This is particularly important in industries where consumers feel ignored or easily disenfranchised. As an event planner, I appreciate this open conversation for the gems of insight that come from uninhibited access and contribution to the community stream of consciousness.

So how do you put this principle in action? First, you must appreciate the heartburn this will likely cause your executives, and therefore your self. Set the expectation up front that you (and the entire community) might see snark, sarcasm, outright condemnation, and even cussing. After more than two years working on social media for events, I can tell you to definitely expect snark and sarcasm, and most likely off-color humor. You will also likely take some potshots—every company and product has its lovers and haters. Some of those potshots you’ll want to respond to, some you won’t. But overall, my experience has been mostly positive.

Then, decide where your comfort zone and support are. We embed Twitter streams on our web sites, encourage photo sharing, and commenting on our Facebook page. But I also make sure that someone is on site to monitor and contribute to each of those channels. I want my brand/event represented in the stream, but I also want to monitor it for any flare-ups or required followup. Just because it’s open doesn’t mean I don’t keep my eye on it!

Finally, be sure to report the conversations back to your stakeholders. I like to provide daily snapshot reports that show volume as well as general sentiment. Show the good and the bad—provide your stakeholders with the fruit of the open conversation. If you have a product launch at the event, share the launch-related buzz with that product team. At events, you’ll inevitably see feedback on the event itself, so be sure to pass that on to the event planners. Use the content of that open conversation to influence improvement and growth in your programs.

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