Walls have been used for making signs and symbols visible for audiences for many millennia – from the cave paintings of Lascaux to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to the billboards and the concrete and brick walls scattered with graffiti of modern times.
And now there’s the twitterwall, the latest metamorphosis of murals. No doubt, they have changed quite a lot during their evolution. The decreasing sustainability (Lascaux: 17,000 years vs. a tweet with its considerably shorter visibility) being just one of the differences.
Currently, tweets obviously have much more impact than the prehistoric works of art. Most of our readers will have attended (un)conferences, presentations or any other type of event where feedback from and interaction with the audience was enabled by a twitterwall. And many will have had the task or chance to integrate twitterwalls as tool of communication.
Action, Reaction, Distraction
Twitter is like a catapult continuously firing bits of data into a virtual landscape. Some of those bits are useful, e.g. when they help perforate the wall of one’s own ignorance; some are simply fun or provide fresh points of view; others may be criticising, caustic or outright offensive.
Whoever got hit by one of those malicious little tweets knows that even 140 characters (or less) can hurt. This was quite obvious at the World Blogging Forum 2010 (13 November), when a couple of uncivilized tweets, making “fun” of the physical appearances of one of the speakers, were published on a twitterwall and caused quite an uproar within the blogger community (see e.g. “Stirb, Twitterwall, stirb!” [in German] ).
Whenever humans communicate, there will be some who don’t know how to behave. It would be dead wrong, though, to ban twitterwalls, as has been suggested by some.
Don’t blame it on the twitterwall
A twitterwall is a tool, nothing else. Don’t blame the twitterwall for all the stupid things that might appear on it. Used prudently, twitterwalls can add a lot of value to your event, conference etc. And it’s not exactly rocket science to do it right. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Tweet happens. There’s no way to prevent (a constantly growing number of) participants to live tweet from an event. At least none that I’d recommend. Even if you don’t provide Wifi at the conference venue yourself there’s still the internet connection via smartphones. You’d have to use a jamming device to disable mobile phones, but you’d have to say goodbye to your reputation the same moment.
We’ll have to accept the fact, that there will be people in all of our events who not only listen (and believe me, they do listen!) and think, but also – and at the same time – interact with what they have heard and seen, react and reply, get involved.
If this level of communication cannot be avoided, why not use it proactively?
- Tell your speakers. Especially if they are not familiar with bloggers, twitter users or any other type of conference attendants who rather look at the screens of their mobile devices than at PowerBore slides, you better tell them what they’ll be up to. And tell them that it is (probably) nothing personal, if parts of the audience seem to react strangely, giggle or even laugh. Modern audiences no longer consist of passive listeners, they want to take an active part; and they have the means to plug into parallel channels of communication.
You can’t prevent people from using twitter, but you can – and you should – leave it to your speakers and presenter to decide if they want to share the stage with a twitterwall or not.
- Support your speakers. Not all of them are multitaskers. In fact a great majority of them would be overly stressed if they had to present and follow the rapid fire of tweets on a twitterwall (and to be honest, I’m not very good at multitasking myself). It’s advisable to have somebody else follow the twitterstream and deliver a filtered and compact excerpt of tweet contents to the speaker whenever it is feasible.
For the few multitasking speakers you’ll have to put the twitterwall (i.e. a laptop or monitor) in front of them, so that they can react to the tweets whenever they see fit.
- Let the audience decide. That doesn’t mean that you should ask the audience if it wanted a twitterwall or not. But it doesn’t make much sense to go the extra mile to set up a twitterwall for a room filled with CEOs or media tycoons. On the other hand you shouldn’t do without one if you expect a bunch of geeks at you venue.
- A twitterwall without moderation is like playing Russian roulette with a fully loaded revolver. It is your right (and duty) to keep anything off your twitterwall that isn’t on topic. That’s not censorship, and it shouldn’t be. Don’t censor the twitterwall. You should always be aware that the full twitterstream is at the audience’s disposal, so any attempt to censor tweets will be detected immediately. As you can imagine, that’s something you wouldn’t want to experience.
- Inform your audience. Tell them right away how you are going to use the twitterwall and how you’d like the audience to use it. Suggest a little “twitter policy”, like: it will be moderated, keep your tweets on topic, avoid insults etc. Or simply: Tweet wisely.
- The hashtag is yours. Even if you don’t plan to use a twitterwall you should choose a hashtag (i.e. basically a search term with a preceding hash) and communicate it properly. If you don’t, your audience will. You can save a lot of time searching the twitterstream for tweets that deal with your event (your topics, brands etc.). And you wouldn’t do without monitoring, would you?
Integrating a twitterwall into the communication activities isn’t really complicated. Using one’s brain it will inspire dialogue and get people involved, even those who don’t have the chance to participate directly but over their twitter network.