Forrester conference and Twitter: Does live tweeting help engage conference delegates?

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2008/04/11 · 20 comments 1 views

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Does live tweeting add value to your conference experience or is it just another distraction?
Will tomorrow’s conference require us to check in the gun – pardon mobile devices to assure that the audience stays focused?
Some have argued that all this microblogging is helping us to become less effective

In the past we believed that having coffee (tea if you prefer) together may help collaboration, networking, and cross-fertilization. These days many of us spend enormous time online with such tools as Twitter. In fact, your boss might be wondering right now, why you did not join the conversation around the coffee machine. Of course, reason was that you tried to stay connected reading various tweets during your break instead of talking to your colleagues.

Incidentally, Twitter is a free social messaging utility for staying connected in real-time. Some experts also describe it as kind of a micro blogging platform that allows you to publish short messages. For us in Europe, the 140 characters limit it imposes on your writing is similar to writing an SMS on our mobile phones. However, the difference is that one can use Twitter through the web, instant messaging or one’s mobile phone. As well, depending on how many follow you, your message could reach thousands of people in an instant.

Conference delegates using Twitter

Recently, ever more conferences offer delegates the opportunity to use an instant messaging system, such as Twitter whilst listening to presentations.

One of the people I follow on Twitter is Jeremiah Owyang. In fact, he is one of my “favourites” because in some of his tweets he shares links to some interesting material I appreciate getting to look at. Recently his employer, a US consulting firm, had a two-day conference entitled:

2008-04-09 – Forrester Marketing Conference Day 2: Understanding Your Customers through Engagement

I got curious, when Jeremiah sent this tweet:
Jeremiah jowyang Who else is live tweeting the event? @nickhuhn @Rumford and watch the aggregation here

Therefore, I analyzed the tweets from the 2-day conference. Particularly, I tried to figure what was happening whilst watching the online feed offered during this conference.

For starters, I felt many people took advantage of the opportunity to tweet about the conference. Interestingly enough, some tweets had little or nothing to do with the presentation that was happening right at the time in the room they sat in.

Twitter gave people following the conference through the video feed the opportunity to participate. For instance, one could ask a question. In turn, somebody in the audience might pick it up and subsequently ask the presenter. That I thought was a great way to use Twitter.

Nevertheless, I dared to put up a post about the aggregate tweets I found from the conference here:

ComMetrics ComMetrics Searched Tweet Scan for: forrmarketing08 I am just not sure if this chatter adds any beef

I have gotten some interesting feedback from people about how they felt having everybody using Twitter while a presentation was going on. Most of the feedback raised the issue that people felt it was not easy to keep focusing on the presentation. In particular, they felt the technology distracted them from focusing on what was happening in the room itself.

Nonetheless, last night I went again through all the tweets from the conference. I found some real gems, such as:
Weave : The unspoken issue with engagemt is affinity. The idea is not to engage w/everyone, just folks with affinity 4 ur brand. #forrmarketing08


MichelleBB : How do you adjust for fact that delivery service buyer (price sensitive ) is very different from user (service oriented). #forrmarketing08

However, one had to look to find a few gems amongst many. Not all material was much on the topic. Not all posts contained special insights the writer was willing to share with us via Twitter.

Other messages were somewhat private. In turn, they did not improve ones comprehension of what was happening on the floor or what the presenter was trying to convey to the audience. One case illustrating this was this tweet:

adamcohen : downscope for the flight home to Boston, enjoy rest of Forrester conference Thank you @forrester @jowyang for hosting #forrmarketing08

Does Twitter improve your conference experience?

If you got 200 or more people in a room with wireless connectivity and an aggregate feed from a tool like Twitter, people will tweet away for sure.

The difficulty for both, delegates in the room and those watching the video stream from afar, is how to stay focused in-midst of all these attempts to stay ‘connected.’ For instance, personal messages go back and forth addressing such earth shaking issues as why somebody was happy or disappointed when getting his coffee at Starbuck’s upstairs (i.e. in the conference venue). I am not sure that we cared much sitting over here at night in front of our computers watching :-).

During these two days, tweets came in fast and furious. They did distract me from focusing on what the presenter was saying and what came in through the video stream.

I believe what delegates might have forgotten when they used Twitter to chat is that the ‘whole’ world was reading their messages or tweets. In short, yes, Twitter adds some value but one has to work hard to find the gems in-midst of all the chatter.

If you have a different opinion or a suggestion on how we can use Twitter more effectively at the next conference? Let us know, inquiring minds want to know. Until then I will continue to use Twitter only in instances where I have something to contribute to the conversation.

also of interest:
4 Lessons we can Learn from Mercedes-Benz, AOL and Wells Fargo Google, and Twitter: Why such Drive-By Traffic is of Little Value
Going Solo – Ropes to Skip getting your corporate blog noticed – pretending not to care

PS.Apart from the fact that Twitter raises some serious InfoSec and privacy concerns (we will talk about these later), there are also some regulatory and compliance issues one should not forget when using Twitter (stay tuned – I will talk about them).

  • Weave

    Hi, Urs! Just found your post through Tweetscan and the link back to your blog.

    Great commentary on the Forrester conference tweeting experience. I was sitting in the front with Jeremiah and crew, tweeting commentary when it felt right. Glad you liked my comment on affinity!

    Your post triggered a couple of thoughts.

    First, those of us there tweeting were doing so for different reasons. Some were using Twitter as a note-taking mechanism, some to share gems with followers. Some were using it to connect with others at the conference, and some with colleagues who couldn’t attend. The great thing about Twitter is that interested parties can sift through these tweets to find good stuff. But I would encourage people to link back to tweeters’ blogs for the real “meat”. It’s hard to continually craft gems in 140 characters or less. :)

    The other thing that may or may not have been apparent is that there was a lot of socializing going on at the conference and Twitter became a backchannel for some of that too. For those who didn’t attend, that makes it necessary to sift through the chatter, but realize that our primary goal often wasn’t to share but to document, joke, and connect with fellow attendees. There was even ANOTHER channel of chatter going on with the Meebo room on the Forrester forum blog.

    It was a great conference and I’d encourage you to come next year, even if it’s the only event you attend all year.

  • Urs E. Gattiker

    Salue Weave

    thanks for adding these important points of information. When I read your comment I started thinking, so we need a channel for:

    1) conference delegates – on the topic
    2) conference delegates – staying in touch with others at the confererence,
    3) people tuning in – on the topic

    Would make it easier for the third group to stay on top of the issues that are being addressed while the video is streamed. Nevertheless, Twitter is such an interesting tool that we have to play a bit more until we will be more comfortable with it.

    Until then, let us see what happens.

    PS1. I never got an invite to attend this conference :-) How about getting me an invite for next year, maybe you have a connection to the powers to be…. Would be great to talk to delegates face-to-face and using Twitter – especially about benchmarking and ranking social marketing efforts. That would be fun AND inspiring.

    PS2. In the meantime, we are refining our tools for benchmarking social marketing.

    If you want to know more or beta test one of the ComMetrics tools, just send me msg on Twitter or send me an “old-style e-mail.”

  • Erich Wäber

    Ahh, my friend, if only I was important enough to get an invite. You have to pay, just like me and everyone else! :) It’s expensive but, in my opinion, it was well worth it.

    Übrigens ist meine Familie kommt urspruenglich von Oberdorf, im Kanton Basel. Sie verliessen die Schweiz, um nach Amerika im 1700s zu kommen. Schoene Gruesse von Seattle.

    ====== sub-comment

    Roots in Switerland, nice surprise :-) says WebUrs
    Thanks Erich

  • Adam Cohen

    Hi Urs,
    I saw your post on Forrester’s Marketing Forum blog and I think your insight is very helpful. While some of the “tweets” were not always on topic, I would suggest we are all still learning about Twitter and it’s usefulness in these situations. From the dictated notes from keynotes, to saying “thank you” to the organizers, to “where are you sitting?” tweets – the tag helped keep focus in one place on the conversations related to the conference. (example: see

    The beauty of twitter is that it is real time. I for one would have loved your feedback during the time it was happening – most of the folks live-tweeting were sitting next to each other and we could have tried to adapt or at least addressed your concerns.

    This was my first time doing a live twitter stream. For me personally, I think it helped me focus much more during the sessions on the speaker content. Many folks have been to conferences and sat in the back falling asleep. I almost felt like a reporter, and was able to relate the topics back to my firm this week in better fashion because of my experience. Please also note that the folks twittering were not “officially” sanctioned by Forrester – we were all (other than @jowyang) attendees at the conference. I like your suggestion of a more “official” twitter stream.

    Thanks again for the suggestions, and as I said – this has been a great learning experience about the value of twitter.

  • MichelleBB

    I agree with @weave. The value of Twitter at the event went far beyond the tweets that went back and forth between attendees. As a result of my Twitter activity, I met several folks (e.g., @adamcohen @worleygirl) in person and got to engage with so many more. I credit Jeremiah and his web cam for most of it.

    That said, I understand how it must’ve looked to an outside “watcher”. The price of the conference ($$) conferred exclusivity and Twitter offered us a way to share the experience with others in the group. But as you mentioned in your post, Twitter is a public forum and open to all who dare enter.
    Perhaps we could’ve done a better job tagging relevant posts? Perhaps Forrester could’ve asked that tags be limited to conference-focused material or value-added comments on speaker presentations?

    But make no mistake, those who participated (even when I went on my Starbucks rant) enjoyed the level of engagement with others this medium afforded. I think we all see this year’s Forum as an opportunity to learn how to better leverage tools like Twitter to enhance the value of conferences for attendees and watchers alike.

  • Warren Sukernek

    Twitter at conferences has numerous benefits:

    – Makes the conference more collaborative via usage of the backchannel, so that it becomes a we event.

    – enables the twitterer to take notes and stay more focused/engaged

    – Provides those not at the conference with live on-going updates.

    There have been numerous examples of the value of Twitter at conferences like SXSW and #ocbf2008 that is going on now.

  • Amy Worley

    Like Weave, I’m one of the folks who was sitting up front with Jeremiah and crew and live-tweeting the event (I’m @worleygirl on Twitter).
    I am a notoriously zealous note taker and I did use Twitter as a sort of documentation vehicle. Knowing that others would be reading those notes encouraged me to focus on the content. So, as a conference participant, twitter enhanced my experience.
    I absolutely agree that the use of the official conference tag should have been limited to presentation content and thoughts on that content vs. interpersonal communications. I’m sure that I was guilty of muddying things up myself.
    I didn’t realize that other participants were distracted by the twittering. Was it because they were receiving the tweets or because people around them were typing? The former seems easy to turn off. If it’s the latter, would it be different if I were just typing notes?
    This topic is very interesting in the context of twitter and “noise” in general. There are a lot of conversations going on right now related to how many people a person can feasibly follow on twitter before it becomes unproductive. Right now I think we’re each finding our own way to get the most out of it.

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  •*/*/*/CEO/top100 Urs E. Gattiker


    Regarding the best 50 UK fashion blogs posted on ComMetrics.

    Jake or @MediaJake:twitter from @CisionUK:twitter and I have had a discussion about how Cision arrives at its top fashion blogs and other blog rankings it provides (PS. I refer to their ranking also in the above blog posts about the top US fashion blogs).

    The discussion reveals that Cision is not willing to share how they measure this difficult concept of influence. Jake reveals some interesting insights but leaves a few things unclear.

    If you want to read what important things he shared about CISION’s algorithm (i.e. rules they use to arrive at a measure of blog influence), visit here:

    Jake O’Neill – Cision UK – replying – how we measure fashion blogs’ influence (click to view Jake’s series of comments and my replies to him)

    Hop this is useful to you. Have a great day!
    Urs @CyTRAP #BlogRank

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