Last night was the fourth Social Media Club Sydney event; excellent presentations by David Meerman Scott and Steven Noble on understanding social personas were followed by a lively debate touching on the topical issues of fake personas, public relations versus media relations and that hoary old chestnut, authenticity.
I think it was certainly the best event yet, but one issue that arose – and has been cited time and again in conferences, panel discussions and social media events – is the practice and etiquette around using and displaying the Twitter backchannel.
The ability to post ‘as it happens’ reportage is one of the main reasons Twitter is so wonderful; it gives people who aren’t present at a conference insight into the discussion, content and a sense of the room, and adds a conversational dimension to a space which, if well managed, can only enrich it.
Fixing the Twittersteam for conferencing is not the knotty problem that some people seem to think – here are my thoughts on how to solve it simply and without bloodshed…
First, block the spammers. Any trending topic is immediately leapt upon by the army of bots who seize upon the hashtag in question with alacrity in the (surely) forlorn hope that someone will accidentally click their link. It’s annoying, it’s disruptive and drowns out event coverage from humans. Use Tweetdeck to create a group that registrants must apply to join in advance – this immediately cuts out the spamtards and potentially adds a sense of responsibility, diminishing the ability of people to lurk and post anonymously. Then assign all API calls to that group to enable real time streaming.
Preventing people giving real time feedback and thoughts on a debate as it unfolds is not the answer, but rather, simply creating a better set-up: having a Twitterstream displayed behind a panel would not be a problem, were the panel also involved in what’s going on.
Having tweets unfurl across a screen behind the subjects of those tweets is a little akin to slapping a ‘kick me’ sign on someone’s back; it encourages irreverence and perhaps a lack of respect, resulting in a schoolyard dynamic. Placing a monitor in front of the panelists neatly removes the ‘us and them’ barrier, becomes conversational, informative and engaging, giving panelists a barometer for the room’s atmosphere to potentially shape the direction of the debate. It’s ok to make jokes; it’s acceptable to engage in banter – we’re social creatures in a social space after all – but spraying a kind of disrespectful virtual graffiti at the expense of people who aren’t able to respond is obviously poor form.
The other issue, of course, is that if you can’t rely on your wifi connection to provide real time tweets, then perhaps you shouldn’t use it at all – scrolling tweets that refer to events that occurred even minutes ago is disruptive, irrelevant and creates a disconnect between audience and panel.
It’s not the medium, it’s the mode.