Is Live Tweeting & Blogging Ruining Search Marketing Conferences?

First up I need declare a bunch of caveats, I’ve spoken at loads of search marketing events, I arrange one and have attended absolutely loads of them. So take my following opinion and bias with a pinch of salt…but I’m really starting to wonder whether live blogging and particularly live tweeting is making the digital marketing conference a worse experience.

People not at the conference may really appreciate the play by play coverage but I think the whole phenomenon isn’t helping anyone, especially those who have paid—in many cases—hundreds of pounds to attend.

Playing to the Crowd
Now I must confess, I’m one of the worst culprits in this regard. People tweeting points from your presentations is pretty addictive; the first thing any speaker does after any session is fire up their phone and see what people have tweeted, the more there are the better job I’ve done right?

It doesn’t take long for this type of pattern to influence your behaviour. When constructing presentations you start to think ‘how Tweetable is this?’ and given that pesky character limit, this can’t be doing complex and advanced thinking any favours.

It’s often these multi-layered complicated presentations that have the most value for attendees, but if you start judging the success of your presentation based on the tweets you receive you’re going to miss the point—something I have to often remind myself.

Nobody’s Paying Attention
As an attendee of a conference you’ll always find me with phone, laptop or iPad in hand. I kid myself that this is because I’m covering the event live, when really it’s just a distraction. I don’t kid myself when I’m up on stage that I’m due everyone’s full attention, but it’s a lot harder to earn that focus when there’s an internet full of lolcats and failblog to distract the attendees.

So much of a presentation’s success is based on responding to the audience. It’s much harder to pick up that nonverbal communication if the whole crowd is hidden behind glowing apple logos. And without that kind of feedback the quality of talks will suffer: if you don’t know, right then and there, you’re doing a bad job how do you improve? Or if you are doing something right when do you know to do more of the same.

Despite the structure of a PowerPoint, every presentation is an improvisational performance, which is hard to deliver, with any kind of success, if most people are distracted and you can’t read their body language.

Critics Putting Off New Speakers
One of the good things about a Twitter back channel is it helps organisers get honest feedback on events, even if the parameters of the feedback are slightly off. That can only be a good thing right?

At a recent event the crowd turned on the presenter and even a few people set up false accounts to slate the event. (First up,)If you’re prepared to criticise someone who’s got the balls to stand up in front of a few hundred people do it under your own name. If you’re not brave enough to use your own name then send some private feedback to the conference organiser.

During the same event, I sat through what was an amazing debut speech from a great young talent. The feedback on the back-channel was almost universally great, the content was new and relevant, it was delivered professionally with a great laid back approach, but one person, just one, wasn’t so generous. Of course not everyone will like every talk–but that’s got to dent a promising prospect’s confidence.

If I wasn’t such a show-off and attention fiend, seeing the often unfair snipping and insulting personal remarks made on the back channel would put me off speaking. Some of you would probably think that was a good thing! But there are dozens of great but shy speakers out there who must see these types of accounts or comments and decide not to put themselves forward. That can’t do the audience any favours in the long run.

I’ll admit it: this post is pretty self-centred. “Oh you poor speaker –it’s a tough life,” but I genuinely think this kind of behaviour is destructive: rather than improving conferences with constructive feedback, it is having the opposite influence.

So what do you think, does the good outweigh the bad? I’m not convinced.

About Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman is Creative Director at SiteVisibility and specialises in achieving natural search results and producing link-worthy online content, working with a variety of brands including the RSPCA & uSwitch.