Working Smarter

Beyond the Hashtag

Matching your Twitter strategy to your attendees.

At the 2011 Dublin Web Summit, held at the Royal Dublin Society in October, energy company Electric Ireland created a buzz — both at the conference and in the blogosphere — with its Twitter-powered Tweet Café. Attendees could choose from one of 24 treat options, which were displayed behind clear plastic doors labeled with numbers. To order something, attendees tweeted the hashtag #tweetcafe, along with the number of the treat they wanted; their Twitter handle was then displayed on a screen when their order was ready.

“The whole principle was to engage tech-based people on their own terms by using Twitter,” Electric Ireland’s Edel McCarthy told a reporter from The Next Web.

“It was a great idea,” Trevor Roald, mobile-technology evangelist at Quick-mobile in Vancouver, said. But what really made it work wasn’t just that it was imaginative, but that it was a good fit for the conference. “It worked very well for that audience, but some audiences could be turned off by it, or even be intimidated,” Roald said. “The advice I would have for meeting planners — get a sense of who your audience is.”

That said, it’s not always easy to judge attendees’ interest in Twitter by their current or past behavior. “I think that more people are understanding how to use Twitter, and we are seeing greater use of it at meetings,” said Jessica Levin, president of Seven Degrees Communication and a frequent speaker about social media. “People are getting used to seeking out the conference hashtag and joining the conversation on their own and before they arrive.

“We are seeing that a lot of people have already created Twitter accounts, even if they have never used them, so there is one less step in the on-boarding process. However, there is still a learning curve, and many people still need assistance in getting started.”
Social-media strategist Jenise Fryatt is a proponent of taking a proactive approach to engaging attendees with Twitter. At a corporate meeting for 8,000 attendees held in Las Vegas in March, Fryatt was part of a team of “social-media concierges” who, armed with iPads, stationed themselves at strategic intersections throughout the meeting. “And we just talked to people,” Fryatt said, “asking them if they used Twitter, or were interested in learning more about it.”

The goal was not just to get attendees to be active in social-media channels at the conference, but also to provide them with a service. It was a different approach than trumpeting the conference hashtag and urging people to use it. As Fryatt explained to attendees: “Facebook and LinkedIn are great for connecting with people you know, but Twitter is for connecting with people you don’t already know.”

“Once [attendees] understood that,” Fryatt said, “they were really keen to use Twitter.” The team made it easy for new users to get started right away, offering small rewards such as food certificates to attendees who engaged in social media by tweeting with the conference hashtag or posting a picture to Facebook. “When I talked to them about how it could help with career advancement and business opportunities,” Fryatt said, “you should have seen their eyes light up.”

At this point, “most planners have figured out that having the tweets behind the presenter is distracting,” social-media expert Jessica Levin said, “but that there are other ways to display them so that everyone can view the conversation.” On her to-try list are Twitterfall, Wiffiti, Visible Tweets, and TodaysMeet, which creates a backchannel similar to Twitter, but is private. “This solution is perfect for meetings that have sensitive or confidential content,” Levin said, “but can be enhanced with additional conversation.”

Hashcaster, a platform that organizes the “fire hose” of event-based Twitter streams, has published a white paper about Twitter and event marketing, available at

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.