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Is Live Tweeting & Blogging Ruining Search Marketing Conferences?

24 May 2011 BY

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.

AUTHORED BY:
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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.
  • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Barry Adams

    Great post Kelvin, and you ask a very solid question. But I disagree with you somewhat. As someone who speaks occasionally (though nowhere near as often as you) and lectures regularly, I am always eager to hear feedback. What did i do right? Where do I need to improve?

    I also realise that sometimes that feedback will be made clear in a less-than-constructive tone. I think that’s OK, because often it’s still valid criticism and I myself sometimes tend to be somewhat less than polite in my criticism – and I feel that if I can dish it out, I should be able to take it.

    Simply stated, if you don’t like to get criticised, be it anonymously on Twitter, face to face, or on a feedback form, you probably shouldn’t be a public speaker.

    I’d also like to add that being a popular and successful public speaker does not reflect a person’s skills in their profession – I know some great SEOs that would never take to a stage at a conference, and I know some popular speakers whose skills in actually getting SEO done are somewhat suspect. (No worries, you’re in neither category :)).

  • http://seoforums.org Martin Macdonald

    Another problem is mis-representation of topic content, due to the limitations of twitter. This was particularly relevant to my session at the distilled linkbuilding conference….

    While my talk was purely around learning from the lateral thinking that the blackhatters employ, some enterprising sole tweeted that it was a black hat talk how-to instructional session.

    Then someone that wasnt there then wrote a review, based on the twitter stream alone, and pointed fingers.

    The review then went viral and we all had to explain our actual viewpoints ad nauseum for the next few days.

    To give some idea of scale, probably 300-400 people saw the presentation live, and over 2,500 watched it on my blog the following day.

    Had the dolt who thought he could get away with reviewing something based on the twitter stream thought through his plan a bit better, the furor would never have happend.

    Further to the point, if people stopped giving 140 character blow by blow accounts, it never would have happened.

    Moral of the story?

    GO TO THE CONFERENCES.

    TWEET, IF YOU MUST, BUT BLOGGING IS BETTER.

    DONT MIS REPRESENT THE SPEAKERS!

  • http://www.sitevisibility.co.uk/ Kelvin Newman

    Do you not think it makes for a more distracted audience Barry?

    No question feedback is good, but insults that have nothing to do with the talk? surely that’s why some people are in the ‘never get up on stage group’

    • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Barry Adams

      In an ideal world a public person would never get insulted anonymously, and all criticism would be polite and constructive. Alas, that’s not how people are wired. So yes, take the good with the bad, and develop a thick skin. If you find you can’t handle the heat, don’t get on stage – or avoid it altogether in the fist place. Public speaking isn’t for everyone, nor should it be.

      As for a distracted audience, I think that an audience that is taking notes – be that on paper or trying to distil your message to 140 characters or less – is an engaged audience. I’d rather see 100 tops of heads as people type tweets during my talk, than 100 zoned out zombie faces. I think the former audience will have a higher degree of absorption than the latter.

      And yes, as per Martin’s point, sometimes your talk will be misinterpreted in second-hand signals on twitter. You know what? That’s a clear sign you need to improve your talk so that the next time that doesn’t happen.

  • http:/www.holisticsearch.co.uk Peter Young

    As a conference organiser like you Kelvin, I have to say that the coverage of the events is a fundamental part of the promotion picture if you ask me – and can often be the difference between sustained conference success and failure.

    Whilst I can see your point from a speaker perspective, I can’t help feeling that the feedback that comes from sources such as Twitter and blogging helps build an idea in peoples mind that may not be attending as to the viability of a conference for future attendance. Further to that the immediacy that channels such as Twitter provide can often provide secondary vehicles for both individual panels themselves and subsequent sessions.

    Where I would draw the line is having the live twitter walls within eyeshot of any speaking engagement (One only has to use the SOS incident at Sascon as an example there – albeit that was light hearted) – as that can be a distraction.

    That said I am very much in the fore category for encouraging such coverage at conferences. Yes there are some drawbacks but ultimately I can’t help thinking the pros far outweigh the cons…..

    • http://www.sitevisibility.co.uk/ Kelvin Newman

      Very good points there Pete, In fact I don’t disagree with any of them, I really want to question the fact the assumption that all live coverage is great, which I don’t think is true.

  • http://www.undercoveroctopus.com channel5

    I’m with Pete Young on this one, but from the persepective of a conference attender rather than speaker or organiser.

    I both attend search conferences in person and also follow many of them on Twitter if I can’t make it to them, I’ll also judge the quality of a conference based on the tweets coming out of it. It’s easy to spot from the tweet stream which conferences I should mark down to attend in the future and which to drop in the “forget” list.

    Even at conferences I attend its impossible to make every session and the tweets help me keep up with what I’m missing in other sessions and to keep an eye out for anything I should be quizzing fellow attendees about.

    A conference without the tweets would be a poorer place from my perspective.

  • http://www.upliftmedia.co.uk John Callaghan

    I’m going to have to agree with the points Pete Young made too.

    I’ll also add that tweets that misrepresent what a speaker is actually saying can be turned around into a positive. Tweets that are made out of context will ignite discussion in the public domain and the initial intent of the speaker will come to the fore. All this discussion and debate will be documented and freely available to anyone searching for the subject matter in the future.

    In regards to the unfair sniping and remarks, they are something even the best speakers have to learn to live with at some point. Perhaps it’s just as well they are made in the public domain, if they’re valid the speaker can take note for future events and when they’re unfair other attendees can quickly respond with positive feedback. And of course, more often that not it will be the latter.

  • http://alexmcathur.com Alex McArthur

    There are positives and negatives. Just the fact that more people can be involved outweighs the negatives in my opinion.

  • http://www.internationalsearchsummit.com Gemma Birch

    I’d have to say that in general I think that live coverage is good for events (again speaking as an organiser) as it allows people who aren’t there in person to still engage with the content, speakers and attendees – and it is also a valuable promotional tool for the event.

    I also think if someone wants to be negative about a speaker/session, they will find a way to do so, whether its through Twitter or another means – but those people are usually pretty quickly silenced by the positive which almost always outweighs the negative.

    Twitter has quickly become an integral part of conference culture…and something that I don’t think we could change, even if we wanted to.

  • http://www.sitevisibility.co.uk/ Kelvin Newman

    I think we all agree there are huge positives to the coverage. In fact as an event organiser that existed as a hashtag more than a website I can see where everyone is coming from.

    However I do find it a bit depressing that we seem to accept that unjustified anonymous personal insults are inevitable. I’d hope we could do a bit better than that…

  • http://www.brandalert.co.uk Nigel Sarbutts

    Glad someone has said it.

    Live tweeting isn’t feedback, it’s parroting what has just been said and often turning insight into cliche.

    Seeing a big conference # is a good reason to come off twitter for a while: “John Smith up next, can’t wait” “John Smith takes the stage, this should be good” then what follows is the utter bollocks of tweets like “John Smith: now is the time to grasp the big picture opportunities” or “(Insert name of new technology) will change everything we know about the internet”
    All of which is meaningless without the context so has no value to someone outside the room and clearly has no value to anyone in the room who has just heard it said.
    It’s another example of twitter being used by people with self-esteem issues to re-confirm their existence to no-one in particular.

    • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Barry Adams

      “It’s another example of twitter being used by people with self-esteem issues to re-confirm their existence to no-one in particular.”

      I get the impression you’re not a big fan of Twitter, Nigel. Which is ironic, as your website seems to be for a social media company. ;)

      • http://www.brandalert.co.uk Nigel Sarbutts

        Not quite sure how you reach that conclusion Barry, my beef is with people tweeting meaningless guff.

  • http://www.dantheseo.com Dan Alderson

    I admit that I am one of those people who sits in the conference crowd and tweets facts about what is being said probably a bit too much. Although I do think it is useful as it helps share key points with those who didn’t make the confrence, it can turn into a big distraction when people then retweet what you have said, or you retweet others (although social sharing is good!) and then check what else is being said on whatever the hashtag is for the event.

    To use an example from last week at SAScon I sat in the sessions with my iPhone in hand but I was also taking notes (on paper!! one day I’ll buy an iPad) so I can blog about it later and yes I did miss some things that was said as I got distracted on Twitter

    To do a conference where phones/laptops/tablets were banned would be interesting but we would then miss out on live bloggers and round-up blog posts afterwards, which usually contain some positive feedback to the speaker (and links!).

    Those who slate an event or speaker for whatever reason should just STFU, we have all been to some where we havn’t enjoyed it or disagreed but it just doesn’t help anyone.

    • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Barry Adams

      Hi Dan, I agree with the blogging & tweeting, it’s extra exposure for the event and also a good way for attendees to connect with each other.

      However I disagree on this point: “we have all been to some where we havn’t enjoyed it or disagreed but it just doesn’t help anyone.” – I think criticism is important, otherwise an event will never improve. And sometimes criticism will take the form of non-polite negative comments. That too is something we’ll need to live with.

      • http://www.sitevisibility.co.uk/ Kelvin Newman

        But should we Barry? Everytime we let it slide we make it more acceptable to make those types of comments. I’m certainly seeing more of it recently.

      • http://www.dantheseo.com Dan Alderson

        Barry, I agree that constructive criticism can help people when done on a feedback form or in the form of a 1on1 be it a DM, email etc, but when it is done publicly it may just cause others to follow (like in Kelvin’s example of people setting up new Twitter accounts to slate an event) causing what could be something minor to escalate into something much larger.

  • http://em-360.net Edward

    @kelvinnewman I would first like to mention I enjoyed your article and added your blog to my rss. Regarding your take on live-tweeting and blogging at conferences or tweet-ups, I think it’s a double edged sword. You can for one gauge the success of the event based on the feedback of the live-tweets but at the same time like you said when you’re on stage and everyone is buried in their device it makes presenting a little awkward. Conferences can always ban live-tweeting at events similar to how the New York Yankee’s did the other day but how can you really ban everyone from tweeting? lol! We can’t control everything so I guess we’ll just have to deal with this growing trend. I myself find it it cool to be the first to post a key point from the conf but at the same time I miss 2 to 3 points while I’m tweeting the 1st. The money we shell out to go to these events has made me close my tweetdeck and pay attention to the speaker more.

  • http://Www.userble.co.uk Matthew

    I think that it’s easy in his day and age of technology to live tweet or blog from an event, rather than to actually concentrate on what’s actually being said.

    Rather like moaning that a band weren’t very good after you’ve spent all evening filming the performance on your phone, instead of blaming the band, blame yourself for not paying attention.

  • http://kellyvandever.wordpress.com Kelly Vandever

    I agree with Barry Adams and the assertion that more feedback is better. As a speaker, it’s important to know if my information is resonating. If I’ve done a good job of understanding my audience BEFORE I speak, then it makes it easier to connect with them while speaking.

    Being able to see the tweet is like glimpsing inside the mind of an audience member while I’m speaking. How cool is that? How POWERFUL is that?!

    If I’m misquoted, then I learn when I’m not as clear as I should be or how something I said is heard differently through another’s lens.

    I love looking for ways to engage an audience using Twitter during a presentation to give them a voice and to keep the conversation going after an event is over.

    Twitter has become my default note taking method of choice now too as an attendee.

    Audiences have always wanted to be engage. With Twitter, they have a tool. And once the experienced has been released, there’s no going back. And I think it will give us and make us better presenters!

  • Pingback: Talking the Talk—Are Simultaneous Conversations A Good Thing? | Council of Public Relations Firms

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