Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Social Conference Tools - Expect Poor Results

I saw a post by David Warlick - Reaching Out With Your Conference where he suggests that conference organizers should:
  • Consider a social network for your conference. Although I remain skeptical about social networks, social networking is essential, and a few conferences have made brilliant use of them.
  • Give presenters a wiki page to spread out their session descriptions, post presentation commercials, and generate discussion through the commenting feature.
  • Give exhibitors a wiki page to spread out their description and to add special offers, schedules of booth presentations, and codes for door prizes.
  • Establish and CLEARLY advertise conference tags for bloggers and photographers.
  • Either aggregate photos and blog entries, or set up a conference page on Hitchhikr and link to that. (I’m considering doing a major rebuild of Hitchhikr.)
  • Generate a tag cloud that represents the conversation that is the conference.
  • If you have a social network or are connecting to profiles in some other way, ask attendees (physical & virtual) what’s on their radar, and post that, perhaps as a tag cloud.
  • Keep the conference web site going. Continue to maintain it. Post videos and audio podcasts of sessions. It’s good for your community, and good advertising for your conference.
A lot of these I think are really good ideas in theory and I'm constantly waiting for them to take off. Actually, I'm continually trying to figure out how to make conferences more effective use of time. And I've actually talked about this quite in posts such as:
I think there are some really good ideas in David's post and in some of these other posts. And, I've been happy to see various conferences about some of these practices - and I encourage them to keep it up.

However, ...

My basic feeling is that there's a fundamental flaw in all of these ideas that lead to poor results. The flaw is that it appears that people are quite willing to attend conferences without any up-front effort, back-end effort and probably the minimum effort during the conference. I posted how to Be an Insanely Great Professional Conference Attendee, but the requirement is to do some work to figure out what you really are trying to get out of the conference. It takes some time (but not a lot). Do attendees do this? It's rare.

In addition to the lack of effort, there's another big problem - lack of skills and experience. I've questioned before Conference Networking Tools - Do They Work?
and the answer is that most of these tools are not very good. I've recently tried to use the one associated with the ASTD conference. It's not going to help me connect with people. I feel I'm relatively adept at networking via online tools, and have talked about how I use tools ahead of events Secret for Networking at Events - Prenetworking it's still really tough.

Based on what I've seen, I question whether it makes much sense for organizers to spend time on these things.

Let me try to summarize - these ideas are great, but they are social solutions that require participation and we don't get participation because of lack of effort and lack of skills.

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