Using Twitter for PR events

How should you use Twitter for public relations events?  This is a topic we’ve pondered among the PR Conversations team (Judy Gombita, Markus  Pirchner and Heather Yaxley).  Twitter offers potential for conferences, launches, announcements, stunts and many other PR events – and we’ve seen it used well, and badly.  We’ve used Twitter at events, and participated remotely in real world activities and those that only exist online.  So we thought it would be worthwhile sharing our collective thoughts and observations to start a conversation on the topic.

Let’s start at the beginning; the preparation and planning of an event.  This involves two-way communications:

Capturing information – simple steps such as including a Twitter field in a booking or response form means you can determine the extent to which attendees are engaged in the medium, build a Twitter list,  start to follow attendees and set up a monitoring process from the point of booking.

Providing information – event information should clarify the official @ account to follow for news and establish an event hashtag #.  It can outline how Twitter will be used (eg a live Tweetwall) and make some suggestions for attendee participation, before, during and after the event.

Publicising an event. Start early, but be relevant.  Including the @ account and hashtag # in all promotional material is important.  A QR code can also be created with a link to follow the relevant @ account.  Linkages between all online media used to communicate about an event should be established – whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Google+ and/or a dedicated blog.  Likewise, a sign off can be created for all emails sent about the event and any printed materials that will be used.  If standard or social media releases are being prepared – then details of all the online assets can be included.

Any “build-up” communications can have a social media dimension, although it is important that information is not repetitive (there are only so many “sign up” messages anyone can take before unfollowing).  Any Tweets sent should be written to encourage reTweeting.  Indeed, it can be useful to set up a specific Twitter account for a particular event, which will build its own following, but extend its reach by using other Twitter accounts run by the organization or the PR team to RT.

Hashtags – when choosing a phrase to use for an event, it is important to keep this short, but memorable.  Check if a term is already in use, and research any potential conflicts.  It is not a good idea to use a hashtag that is used already for Twitter chats as this will have built up its own value and an alternate use can be confusing.  Promote the chosen hashtag to all attendees – if you don’t they will be likely to create their own or maybe several.  That means monitoring is complicated and others do not know what to follow.

Embargoes and sensitive information. If your PR event involves a news announcement or communicating sensitive/exclusive information, you need to determine any embargo requirements or other restrictions.  These should be communicated in advance or at the start of any presentations.  Of course you cannot guarantee secrecy – but most people do respect such requests, if they are managed sensibly and appropriately.  Depending on the nature of the PR event, it may be necessary to prohibit live Tweeting.  This should be confirmed in advance to manage expectations.

On arrival – any welcome pack should contain all the relevant social media information relating to @ and # details, relevant LinkedIn or Facebook groups, presenter profiles etc.  Advise of any login information and recheck if anyone is planning to Tweet or blog about the event.  Any guest lists should contain Twitter account names as this can be useful for a Tweetup on the day.  It can also be useful for those using geosocial networking technology to be able to connect on arrival and with others.

Focus on actual attendees. It is important to ensure those attending an event in person are engaged and valued.  Offer a unique experience rather than seeing attendees simply as a conduit of information.  This is vital if people have paid money to attend – their investment must be recognised as superior to those who just follow a hashtag.  Likewise, media in attendance should have opportunities to enhance a story rather than simply Tweet news of it.   Although it is useful to extend the reach of an event using social media, the value for people to meet others and discuss topics in person should be maximised.  It is not conducive to an event if everyone is more focused on their smartphone or tablet device, than on meeting or talking with the people around them.  You could consider establishing a no-phone break during the event, or setting up a phone-free room for real world networking.  Remember, however, the more you engage and connect those attending in person, the less value they may offer to the external Twitter audience.  Ensuring you have an official Twitterer who will provide a wealth of material – without compromising the value for those who are at the event – is important.

Engaging presenters.  Circulate the @ Twitter details of all presenters in advance and engage them in discussing the event as part of its pre-publicity.  You can tease their presentations, link to online biographies, promote relevant blog posts or news items, feature them in your #ff recommendations and so forth.  Have a handout on the day for attendees to confirm the @ Twitter details and include on the first slide of any presentation.  It is helpful for anyone Tweeting about a presenter to be able to connect to them in comments.  Encourage speakers to build short quotes in their presentations, which are suitable for RTing.  Ensure presentations and handouts are available online and Tweet links (using URL shorteners) to promote these and monitor access.  If this cannot be done in advance, then try to upload as soon as possible during or after the event.

Wifi technology. Where possible, ensure wifi is available and tested in advance.  If any login or passwords are needed, these should be set up and advised during registration.  Media on event, especially if working overseas, appreciate wifi during travel time when they can write up reports, upload or use social media.  Check what is available at airports and look to offer wifi on coaches or in any venue used.  If computers are available at a venue for online access, ensure they have been tested on the day and any login information is easy to follow.  If wifi or computer access is not provided, check out mobile phone signals.  Although it can be useful for some confidential meetings to be held in “blackout” rooms, this is irritating for events where people expect to be able to Tweet.  For example, many awards evening are held in the basement ballrooms of grand hotels which means celebrations and news cannot be announced as it breaks.

Live broadcasting. If you are able to live broadcast an event, ensure the content will be interesting.  If not, it is better to edit a succinct video to publish online later.  Promote in advance where and when video (and other materials) will be available and offer an embed option for other sites.

Tweetwall.  As well as deciding whether to allow live Tweeting, you should consider if it is helpful or a distraction to incorporate the online discussion into proceedings via a Tweetwall display.  This can be a major distraction for both presenters and audience, but can be appropriate depending on the topic and audience (a barcamp may be in favour; more regular conference goers may not).  In combination with a live stream (or video projection on large screens – like at the World PR Forum), this can be a fertile feedback channel. For a recurring event or specific audience, you could survey opinion post-event regarding the use of Twitter and make any recommended changes in future.

Monitoring, responding and retweeting.  Dedicate someone to monitor, respond and retweet to all event related Tweets (using a social media dashboard), again before, during and after.  Capture all the tweets generated, analyse these and thank everyone who was active (eg via a series of #ff Tweets).

Capturing Tweets. Research, in advance, a software program that captures a transcript of all live tweets (Twitter chats mostly do this), including statistics of number of tweets, number of participants and number of impressions.  Although many of the measures can be deceptive (confusing “impression” with “view”), it is helpful to have some data to analyse and use as a benchmark for measurement.  Note that Twitter does not retain information for long, but you can search archives using services such as Snapbird. Addendum (08/15/2011 JG) Archivist is a Microsoft-owned platform in alpha, which saves and analyzes tweets. (Expanded information and a sample at the end of this post.)


Moderating discussion. It might be necessary – depending on circumstances/topics/audience – to moderate the Twitterstream.  Establish and communicate a policy in advance regarding the nature of unacceptable Tweets and the process for addressing these.  For example, Tweets that are abusive, offensive or which make personal criticisms of presenters would be justifiably removed.


Managing Q&As. Although it is a good idea to seek questions in advance to use in discussions with presenters or open forum, those in attendance should be given priority for raising questions.  Manage the dynamics of the event as this can suffer if too many people are focused on Tweeting rather than participating.  Those who concentrate on Tweeting are generally interested in capturing Tweetbyte questions and answers rather than discussing points themselves.  Any externally generated questions can be presented via a Twitterwall or monitored and given to individual presenters or a discussion panel/moderator to raise and respond.  If you have engaged with a non-attending audience via Twitter in advance, you should be able to rely on them to participate on the day.  However, it can be useful to have the official Tweeter or other members of the organizing team generating pre-prepared Tweets to keep the debate alive.  Likewise, you may need some in-the-room questions prepared in advance.

Post-event.  There are lots of ways that the reach of an event can be extended using social media.  Use selected Tweets in reports and news releases etc about the event.  For example, the International History of PR conference (#ihprc2011) created a post-event video which gives a high profile to those who tweeted (many of whom are regular PRC conversationalists).  Such people will be likely to promote the video further.  Ensuring presentations and other information generated on the day are available online is useful particularly for those who will produce follow-up reports.  Individuals who live-tweet are perhaps more likely to do a blog write-up, post-event.  On the registration form ask for details of any blogs and whether someone plans to report the event.  Encourage individuals to link or trackback to the official online resources (using prepared  short URLs) to provide a formal mechanism to monitor these.  A follow up report after the event can be sent to attendees advising where they can find additional information, including any blogs or links to online reports.

It is becoming more and more acceptable for people to Tweet and use other social media as part of their lives.  Integrating this into PR events can enhance the experience and extend the reach.  However, it should be remembered that the real experience is gained by connection and interaction among those who have given up their time, and often money, to attend in person.  As such, the physical audience must remain the primary attention and priority of organizers.  Nevertheless, there are things that can be done to engage those unable to attend, and support attendees in reaching their followers, whilst simultaneously ensuring that the event has sufficient appeal that remote attendees will strive to be there in person in future.

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Expanded addendum (08/15/2011 JG) Archivist is a Microsoft-owned platform in alpha, which saves and analyzes tweets. Sample provided here courtesy of Holly Knowlman, Internet and social media content coordinator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, from its recent “A Heart to Art Chat at the AGO” (#agochat) unconference/focus group.

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18 Replies to “Using Twitter for PR events

  1. I attended an event today where the organisers had used this post to help with their Twitter activity and it was a delight to have @ details in advance (about 60% of those attending). I was surprised that few of the presenters had Twitter accounts and that the slide decks won’t be available online for a few days.

    One other little glitch was that although the wifi details had been published in the notebook we were given, the receptionists didn’t point this out when we checked in and so we needlessly asked the organiser for this information. Personally, I like to see wifi details provided in advance or if that’s not possible, then announced publicly to attendees on an opening slide at the start of an event.

    But it was definitely good to see much of the advice in the post was adopted.

  2. The beauty of this is you attend an event with a social media component…and you discover even more cool tools! For example, Archivist, which is a Microsoft-owned platform in alpha, which saves and analyzes tweets. Sample provided here courtesy of Holly Knowlman, Internet and social media content coordinator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, from its recent “A Heart to Art Chat at the AGO” (#agochat) unconference/focus group.

    (By the way, I’ve added this information into the post proper as well.)

  3. Mike,

    You raise valid points. I agree that from an organization’s perspective having an objective for social media is important. This should reflect what it aims to achieve from the event overall, with any SM considered alongside goals for the physical event. In addition, we have to consider the value (purpose) from the perspective of those attending – in person or virtually. If we have decided that the external audience is important, then looking at avoiding the superficial Tweet/RT output is important. Likewise, considering how as organizers we can help with context is useful. Ensuring that the official Twitterer is not simply a junior briefed to RT everything anyone else Tweets would be a start. When at an event, I’ve often tried to address questions raised by those who seek more context to a comment – such as links to background information, further explanation, etc.

    I am not a fan of the “customer feedback form” type of Tweet – but surely that tells us more about the person Tweeting? This would be their general approach, I’m presuming – ie one of the “just had a cup of coffee” sort. Trouble is that if they use the event hashtag, they appear in feeds. If these are covered in the event Tweet policy (which I would suggest they are), then the moderator can filter out from any Tweetwall feed.

    As you say, the real secret to a successful event is the same regardless of whether or not SM is involved. It is the quality of the topic, discussion, people present, presenters and so on. That’s why your point about engaging with the presenter is key. Mind you, I think that is it incumbant on any speaker to think about stimulating questions and discussion points by the nature of their presentation. They do this best by their personality coming over rather than a boring “death by powerpoint” presentation or reading from a script. At the IHPRC there was one person who didn’t get any questions (to be fair they were jetlagged and read a script), but as the next presenter was setting up, they asked a question of the previous speaker. This lit them up and we then had 15 minutes of great discussion.

    I did actually discuss with one fellow Tweeterer at that event why we found we Tweeted more from some presentations than others. Apart from some giving us better “soundbites”, some were too engaging for us to Tweet about, and others just too dull.

  4. All your points and tips are valid and often overlooked.

    Ultimately, though, the real question you have to ask yourself or the organizers begging you to ensure a Twitter presence is “why?”.

    Reading tweets and multiple re-tweets of a few salient points doesn’t do much for me if I’m there in person. If I’m not there and following the stream a never-ending series of re-tweets get fairly boring. In 140 characters it is often hard to get any context so often the original tweet kind of sits there begging for more and subsequent re-tweets simply fill space.

    Tweets about a cold room, bad coffee, or great lunch don’t do anything for the non-attendee and if you are there in person and numerous comments along those lines are going up on the tweet wall, then not much is being accomplished for the work that went into establishing the set-up.

    If the event and the participants are going to add some context, further discussion, raise some points beyond what is being said, presented, or announced, then I’m interested whether I’m attending or following along.

    If you can answer the ‘why’ with something better than ‘why not’ , then your list is a must-do.

    Finally, it can be a bit sad to see a roomfull of people, head down, tweeting away when the speaker finishes and asks if there are any questions or points to be discussed, and all they get is a wall of silence. We often get so hung up on ‘sharing’ or networking during the breaks that we forget there are often some pretty dynamite speakers at the front of the room and that discussion is more valuable than a gigabye of tweets.


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