How to make your conference social part 3: realtime trends

Angela Dunn

FirstWord Dossier

Continued from How to make your conference social part 2: the bloggers’ hub.

As social permeates ever aspect of business, the tapestry of the traditional conference is unravelling.

What used to be a didactic structure with a revered presenter and note-taking apostles is evolving into a true knowledge and idea exchange. Not only are views from the physical attendants being incorporated, but views from the virtual audience are now an expected part of a conference discourse.

According to a survey by Weber Shandwick, conference organizers are now planning more time for Q&amp,A (72% more vs. three years ago), more interactive sessions between speaker and audience (70%), and more panel sessions (64%). At the same time, they plan fewer keynote sessions (30%) than three years ago.

“…why shouldn’t you be able to make things more interesting when they start to slump…”

Panel discussions

More panel discussions are becoming part of conference programs. For the upcoming panel discussion on The “Meaningful Use” of Social Media by Physicians at the Stanford Medicine 2.0 Conference, September 16-18, Dr. Brian McGowan PhD and his team of researchers have opened up their data for review prior to the conference. By sharing the data in advance and allowing an examination of the findings, McGowan hopes to have a richer discussion during his panel at the conference. (You can participate in the conference with the #med2 hashtag on Twitter.)

The “unconference”

Another trend is the “unconference”, now 18 percent of conferences, where even the program is loosely defined and crowdsourced by participants. Consultant Andrew Spong is part of a team organizing the Healthcare Social Media Global Camp, an unconference taking place in London, September 12th. According to Spong, “Unconference formats stimulate conversation. They don’t proscribe discourse and make it fit into a previously defined agenda.” Because unconferences are more fluid he says they offer the opportunity to change tack if necessarily, but not just on a whim, “A lot of people come a long way to attend conferences, and why shouldn’t you be able to make things more interesting when they start to slump especially with all these influencers, thought leaders, intelligent people and subject matter experts in the room. Delegates are vital to its success.”

When more than one hashtag may work

In Part One of this series on making your conference social, we discussed the importance of a clearly defined hashtag, but another trend is multiple hashtags if they serve a distinct purpose. The main hashtag for Healthcare Social Media Global Camp is #hcsmgbc. However, there will be three separate tracks which will each have their own hashtag and a camera streaming live from each room: #hcsmgbc1 #hcsmgbc2 and #hcsmgbc3.

“Some organizers also set up a separate hashtag specifically for questions from the virtual audience…”

Some organizers also set up a separate hashtag specifically for questions from the virtual audience, and employ a Chairperson to monitor these questions and bring them to the speaker. For example, if a conference hashtag was #xyz, the hashtag for questions may be #xyzQ.

Live streaming a conference

Live streaming a conference is also becoming more and more popular, and many organizers feel it is a great way to extend the experience to a wider audience that may not be able to attend physically. However, nothing will take the place of networking in real life and bonding face-to-face. Attending physically and virtually are simply two different types of experiences. Healthcare Social Media Global Camp will be streamed live via Vimeo on it own microsite at Services such as USTREAM and are other options..


Many events and companies i.e., Pfizer are adopting tools like PollDaddy to get a pulse on what constituents find interesting or valuable. An event organizer may poll attendees prior to an event to gauge interest on choice of topics, or after an event to gauge success. The poll may also be part of a landing page specifically designed as a social hub microsite for the event.

Social event landing page

Social event organizers are organizing the realtime content for events on specially created microsites that may house a live stream of a Twitter feed like Feedlytics, blogs, Flickr photos, and speaker presentations.

Social media center

Creating a physical space dedicated to social media at a conference and hosting social Tweetups where attendees who may only know each other virtually can meet in real life are now critical parts of a social conference experience. The HIMSS healthcare technology conference recently received great reviews for the HIMSS Social Media Center for its 2011 Conference. In addition to being a networking hub, the center provided 12 educational sessions related to social media for its attendees.

Mobile apps

Many conferences looking to make their conference more social are also looking to mobile apps. Digital Pharma West and East employed Eveo to create an app to assist attendees with details of the conference program and networking. New app-based payment systems, like Square, allow payments to be made via mobile. On conference floors, you may see speakers collecting payments for their books via Square.

“Many conferences looking to make their conference more social are also looking to mobile apps.”

If you are attending a conference, you may want to make sure your smartphone or tablet is stocked with these apps:

Yelp for finding a late night restaurant,

Evernote to keep track of conference notes,

Bump to collect contact information, and

• one of many QR Code readers.

About the author:

Angela Dunn aka “blogbrevity” is a consultant in social business innovation, a writer in healthcare technology, and a pharma analyst on digital and social trends for FirstWord Dossier.

Dunn’s latest published report is “Digital Marketing Talent: Who is Pharma Hiring?

Dunn also covers innovation and healthcare conferences as an official conference blogger, and is a speaker who recently presented at the #RLTM conference in NYC on “Curating Content for Thought Leadership.” She is the founder of #ideachat, a monthly Twitter Chat on ideas.

You can connect with Dunn on LinkedIn, Twitter or via Google+.

What interesting conference trends have you noted and what would you like to see in the future?