Social Media for events

By Adam TinworthPosted February 13, 2012

The first events of Like Minds’ contribution to Social Media Week London kicks off, with a discussion about social media for events.

Andrew Gerrard – @andrewgerrard – started off talking about the shift from the era when cameras were taken off you when you attended an event, to the sheer impossibility of doing so today. Yann Gourvennec took a huge team of people to an Orange Business Services event to amplify the event through social media, something that a few people can do today.

The Panel

Peter Kerwood – @pkerwood –  He hosts social media events at Altitude London. Launching a directory of everyone in the events industry on Twitter.

Will Broome – @WillBroome – – becoming more and more interactive because of social media. Got an app called Who’s in the room.

Adrian Swinscoe – @adrianswinscoe – consultant, author and blogger. Wrote a book in 2010 – which was described as a “social object”. Thought that was an interesting idea, so started setting up his own events – a forum for smaller businesses. An experiment that went really well. Brings the DIY perspective.

Tiffany St JamesTiffany St. James – @tiffanystjames – former head of social media for the UK Government. The technology is here to use it effectively for all events. She really wants to help events organisers, sponsors and attendees make the most of it.

Lots of people in the room are involved with running events – but a much smaller number, a handfull really, have social media integrated from the planning stages.

Peter suggests that the first thing you need for a social media rich event is free WiFi, and communicating what the password is makes that work. They have it written everywhere.

Will Broome at the Like Minds Club

Will thinks that social media has changed everything. Last recession, events were canned as a cost saving. This time around, they’re being retained, because face to face meetings are a powerful tool for customer relationships. Range Rover did a month long experiential event at Battersea Power Station rather than a TV campaign.  The best form of social media campaign is organic and user-derived. It allows you to reach a massive audience. And you can measure that reach.

Adrian is worried about balance – is it social media for events, or events for social media? When he ran his event, they focused on the face to face meetings, more than the amplification or the reach. He struggles with events where everyone has their heads down, looking at pieces of technology.

Tiffany thinks that social media allows us real time access to the sentiment of the audience. If you’ve hired a big-name speaker, you can learn quickly if the audience hate him – or think he’s terribly funny and should be at every event. You can start to work with your speakers and your sponsors to make decisions about whom you bring into the room in the first place.

Will brings us back to balance. Social media is great for attracting audience and building anticipation, and for getting the audience to create content. And then people can access that later. But you have to get the balance right at the event itself.

A question from the audience: how do you cut through the social media noise?

Adrian SwinscoeAdrian: Don’t sell to strangers. You need to think about your networks and which people are on them. Don’t focus on the weak ties, focus on the strong ties – the people you know well and that will be relevant to the event. We worked with a tight group. If you’re targeting weak links, you’re just broadcasting.

Tiffany disagrees – she thinks you can sell to strangers. It’s about conversations which become connections, both online and offline. If you great a viable relationship you can explain why they might attend and enjoy the event. Be sentient. Create lists, follow people, find the right bloggers. Build engagement.

Will talks a little bit about branding and personality. He maintains a different “persona” on the London Launch twitter account that he does on his own – it’s a bit quirky, and that creates attention.

Peter suggests that people won’t necessarily use the “right” hashtag – the one you want them to. You need to monitor and help it along.

Adrian thinks that Storify is a useful tool for aggregating social media activity. They had live tweeting, live sketching. Photos on Flickr, presentations on SlideShare… They used Storify to build a narrative of the day, built from the content created during it. You create a legacy for the event.


Peter thinks that resources for social media just need to be in the budget from the start. Will points out that studies suggests that e-mail is becoming obsolete amongst younger people – they’re doing it all through applications like twitter and Facebook. Curating and dealing with social media isn’t really a problem – we’ve had to learn it, but younger people are just used to it. You have to take the rough with the smooth, though. Social media is part of everyday life – and it should be in business, too. It’s virtually free – just a little bit of resource.

Andrew GerrardTiffany – You have to get the tone of voice just right for both the organisation running the event, and for the audience. You need a blend of the two, and to judge the mood of the event. Andrew suggests that the audience online might be very different from the one in the room. Adrian points out that social media also extends the event through time – building it up before hand, and with content and conversations that have a life beyond the event.

Someone from the audience raises the issue of the audience versus the presenters, when there’s major disagreement between the two. Will thinks that its an important point, and something you have to live with, and roll with. Andrew recalls that Twitter walls behind speakers can often be a distraction, and Like Minds made the decision to stop using them.

Tiffany suggests that it was the right decision for Like Minds, but might not be for everyone. There’s a dynamic shift in power, and for some events, an open debate may be more appropriate. There are some cutting edge tools that allow you to see some detailed analytics – she uses Ultraknowledge. You can identify who the key people are and make connections with them.

Tiffany points out that there’s no need for a telephone strategy – and social media should go the same way. It should be integrated into the whole process. There’s plenty of experience and guides out there that should point you to what you need to do. ROI? Look at what you’re trying to achieve, and set metrics based on that. Look at number of fans, but also look at engagement. Do you have an ROI for your whole communications strategy?

Peter KerwoodPeter suggests that we don’t forget emerging social media platforms. Instagram is being heavily used by the fashion industry, and Pinterest is rapidly emerging as a leading social media platform.

Will responds to a question from an attendee wondering how to convert Facebook followers into paying attendees by suggesting that social media is great for creating buzz, but nothing beats picking up the telephone and doing the graft to actually sell tickets.

Tiffany picks up on the Twitter debate on wether social media coverage of an event is a specialist skill or something anyone with an iPhone can do. Her point reflects the way social media spreads through organisations – there may be specialists, but it’s used in different ways by different departments.

Advice for getting going?

  • Register a Twitter account for your event
  • Set a hashtag and promote it from the start
  • Recruit two or three social media skilled attendees to build buzz before the event
  • Look at the Twitter activity and the hashtags around similar events

Closing Thoughts

Tiffany: Make it engaging, valuable and useful to your community.

Adrian: Describe the experience.

Will: Events are a focal point of a much wider campaign. Build up, event, legacy. Social media really allows you to build on that – even if it’s the Christmas party. Having 10 really relevant people – influencers – is far more powerful than 10,000 random followers.

Peter – Social media is a conversation. It’s a cliché, but it is a two way thing.