Using Twitter, Ustream, a blog, Slideshare, an iPhone and a laptop, I was able to broadcast and record workshops, engage in online discussions with live and remote viewers, report on the event and post speaker decks and handouts.
Although DrakeCo has used some of these social media tactics at other client events, we've never combined all of them at one event. And it was a tough sell. We had a lot of comments and concern from the organizing committee about how live streaming workshops would take away from attendance (the event had a record number of registrations and exhibitors). We also discussed return on investment -- what would the conference get by using social media? Would attendees feel slighted because they are paying for content they could have watched online for free?
These are legitimate questions. Here's how we approached naysayers:
- It'll take away from attendance! The goal of the social media strategy for Ag Media Summit was to expose a larger audience to the content. We only streamed a limited number of presentations (six out of 18 or 24), none of the general session and none of the networking events. Broadcasting streaming video of a handful of conference presentation is like going to a bakery and only getting a smell. So little of a conference like Ag Media Summit happens in the workshops. Much more activity happens in the hallways, at dinner and on the tradeshow floor. You can't replicate that experience with streaming video and Twitter.
- ROI. ROI. ROI. You're hearing that chant right now... Return on investment is the naysayers way of avoiding social media. What's the ROI of the signage? Social media is just another tool in the arsenal to make the conference more appealing to attendees. We believe the tasty smells from the bakery will translate to more purchases each time someone walks by. And if we turn on a fan to blow the smell of baking cookies out the door, won't more people come in? In the case of AMS, many of the viewers were people who've attended in the past, and will attend in the future. My hope is that by teasing them with the video -- reminding them about the value of the conference -- they will make them come to the next conference, not the next one that's within driving distance.
- People are paying, and you're giving it away for free. Participants are paying for the cookies, not the smells. Live attendees are getting the networking events, booze cruise, tradeshow, fancy lunches and full access to any workshop on the program. That's a lot of value added above a few free live streaming workshops. The people who attend know the difference between paying to be there in person versus watching it at their desk.
We discussed using a third-party vendor to shoot the video and stream it. In the end, we used a web cam and a laptop (total out-of-pocket: ~$80). The production quality wasn't great. We had minor issues with audio and lighting, and one blue-screen of death that forced a switch to the ustream.tv broadcaster app on my iPhone.
Recommendations for hybrid conference on the cheap:
- Use free tools unless necessity calls for higher-end services. If you're doing live streaming as a means to promote your conference's content to members or non-members, there is little justification for spending $1,000 to $5,000/day on a third-party vendor.
- Dedicate at least one person (volunteer or staff) to run the camera and monitor the online discussion
- Test first. Don't go live without a trial run.
- Have a table, chair and power accessible for your computer and webcam.
- Get close. Especially when using a webcam with an omni-directional microphone, the closer you are to the speaker, the better the video and sound.
- Using free services like Ustream often means participants can't follow PowerPoint slides via the streaming video (webcams can't handle the contrast). Provide slides ahead of time via Slideshare.net. Tweet the link to the slides and discuss them during the online chat.
- Bring headphones. Knowing what your audience is hearing is far more important than listening to the session live. Headphones will help you monitor the ambient sound and stay quiet yourself.
- Repeat or type up questions. The viewing audience can't hear what the live audience can. Repeat any questions.
- Give online participants opportunity to ask questions. Relay those questions to the speaker or moderator.
484 Followers (we added about 120 new followers)
39 Lists (added to peoples "lists")
260 Tweets (257 from June 1 through July 28)
Posted four documents/presentations from live streaming events.
Total views (Since July 26): 427 views
Other than one glitch -- my computer crashed during the morning session on Tuesday -- this went pretty well. Usage was limited, but several of the people watching were engaged in the Twitter backchannel, as well. My impression of those who viewed the sessions was that they would have attended if the meeting was geographically closer. There was considerable chatter from those users about how they "wished they could be there." Content was valuable to them, though, and they appreciated being able to watch streaming video, which is an important side note -- typically, content produced for AMS is only available and absorbed by conference attendees. With live streaming and archived video, there is now extended life to the content.
Total viewers: 305
Unique viewers: 182
Avg. viewers: 12-18/session
Recorded videos: 145 views since July 25.
4 Blog followers
57.12% bounce rate (which is pretty good)
We will be using these and other social media tactics with future client meetings for a couple of reasons: 1.) Members will demand it. 2.) The barriers to stream live video from your events are so low, there are few good reasons to avoid it.