How can you make a conference reach around the world?

Actionable strategic insights from #IABC18 – for participants – and event and conference organisers…

This year IABC’s World Conference got its mojo back. In-person participation was at a five-year high and a new record was set for virtual participation. Well done Team IABC.

Now what might we learn from this that can be used to help you make your next event or conference reach around the world? This brief article breaks down the numbers, and shares strategic actionable insights – and good practice ideas from a range of global voices.

It’ll help your hard work reach further, create more connection and help set you up for deeper post-event insights and results. And it’ll also help you invite more diverse voices to participate – both in and beyond the room.

“Develop diversity and inclusion as a core strength. We know that diverse companies are more profitable and deliver stronger business results…”  – Ginger D Homan, IABC Chair

#IABC18 in numbers

This analysis is based on a Tweetbinder data set (5946 tweets) from the week of the 2018 IABC World Conference.

Some 800+ retweeted others, replied to – or even better – crafted an original tweet. Some did all of the above. These tweets reached thousands around the world.

If you want to dig into the who’s who, then here’s a thread:

A quick footnote on the ‘impressions’ – don’t get caught up in those too much… they’re a bit like when people used to brag about how many HITS their website had in the 90s. [HITS of course stands for ‘How Idiots Track Success’].

Now, beyond the rankings, let’s dig a bit more. Let’s explore the insight and results. Things we can learn from, and act on.

From our total data set, it quickly becomes clear that it is a small minority who create most of the action.

In fact, the distribution conforms to the Pareto principle (80/20):

~80% (4768) tweets came from ~20% of the participants (164 people).

And within that 20% there’s a hockey-stick thing going. More about these super users later.

Some readers may be familiar with what a research company called Forrester used to call the Social Technographics Ladder. Well, looking at our data we can fit the participants into a slightly modified, shortened and simplified version of that:

  1. Passive Audience – those counted as impressions – nice, but not actionable as such at this point
  2. Joiners – those who sent between 1-6 tweets
  3. Repeaters – the 20% who sent between 7 and 100 tweets – many of the retweets
  4. Creators – the top 9 people who shared between 100 and 360 tweets each

Now these groups are separated by quantity of content rather than quality of content.

Some would argue that the focus should be on the much vaunted ‘influencer’. That unicorn-like person who brings 10,000 or even 100,000 people to the party.

I’d argue that that is an arbitrary, inflated term. And if you want to keep this open, participative and fun, focus on those who are inclined to contribute, whether they have 10 or 10,000 followers. Because it all runs through the same hashtag.

And besides, as Sun Zu reminds us:

“[S/]He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.”

And to be clear: winning here means real people sharing hard facts, diverse insights – and creating connection. In professional terms, it is a bit like core principles from Open Space – except the space is virtual – and it can follow the sun.

These two principles are particularly applicable:

Whenever it starts = the right time – and that might be weeks before-hand real-time or with some delay, even the next days, weeks and months.

Whoever comes = the right people – and that includes people on the other side of the world – who in turn will bring others if encouraged, leading to a deeper and more inclusive discussion.

How can you make a conference reach around the world – in real time, and over time?

Start with the Creators – they’ll be the engine room that’ll draw others in.

In my experience, these people want to be busy, have fun, help out – and be acknowledged.

2018 #IABC18 Creator Hockeystick Chart - based on data from a Tweetbinder report
2018 #IABC18 Creator Hockeystick Chart – based on data from a Tweetbinder report

As there most likely will only be 10 of them, reach out to them 1:1 well in advance to make sure they have:

  • Conference materials, graphics, photos and whatnot – and the correct hashtag
  • Access to relevant Brand Guidelines, Tone of Voice, Values etc. – if an IABC conference, that’s all here.
  • An opportunity to have a chat with a real human about shared aims and aspirations

How might you find these people?

Analyse earlier events – including from other organisations – you’ll quickly see the people who stand out (and they can in turn help you find others). That said, be sure to look beyond the usual suspects. Spin the globe and look for people on the other side of the world who are interested in your conference / event topic and want to participate virtually. Some might even be inspired to travel and take part in person!

They’ll help you inspire the Repeaters, Joiners – and entertain the Passive Audience. With a bit of luck, it’ll take a on a life of its own. Let’s take a brief look at what the Repeaters can do for you if you have a strong core of Creators.

Practical ideas: helping the next 100-1000 participate

I crowdsourced some ideas – from Twitter – and from IABC’s new Hub. Here’s a round-up. Be sure to RT/like if you find them useful.

Expand the thread to see more, including an idea from @gbraud:

“When people in the audience tweet a quote or about your session, reply with probing follow-up questions. […] ask them how your tip applies to their business.”

And from the Hub:

“I like to live tweet sessions and will use the conference hashtag.” — @focuscom

“I had success at World Conference by Tweeting questions in advance related to the content of my presentation. First to answer correctly AND show up to my session, won a prize (free book). It was so much more engaging than the old, “Hey, come to my session at 10:30 in Room 219b and learn a lot of stuff!”

It was fun, and had me checking Twitter right up to the event to find the right winner.” — @RobBiesenbach

“Just because you can use 280 characters doesn’t mean you have to. Writing a shorter tweet takes more work, but it’s worth it if you can save people time and still get your message understood. And of course, increase your reach with a great image or short video.” — @CyrusMavalwala

Some also had more ambitious ideas:

“It would be great to see short 30 sec videos of people before and after and in between sessions, with short statements on what they are getting out of #IABC18, I think that would be engaging.” — @MNordNL

“Use live Periscope video shoots to get to the top of the feed. Do a quick preview or summary of a session. Ask delegates questions voxpop style. Periscope will take to to the top of people’s Twitterfeeds and will help your message to be heard above the rest.” – @sherrilynne


Five actionable steps to help you reach around the world

1) Establish the purpose 

Tie it to your organisation’s vision, mission and values.

2) Find the Creators 

Get ideas, discuss opportunities and help them align – well in advance. Go beyond the usual suspects, check out the other continents. It’ll be a richer exchange.

3) Educate wider participants

Use the hashtag all day every day and everywhere relevant.

4) Support throughout

Think like a DJ. People need a reason to get onto the dance floor: encouragement, enthusiasm and a good beat. And a good DJ / Community Manager can set the pace and help make that happen.

5) Have an eye on the future

Reinforce the hashtag even after the event. It is that magic bit of glue which makes things findable today, tomorrow – and in ten years.

Let me know how you get on.


Post-script: a brief note on separating the organising principle from the tool

Despite the 2009 headline: ‘Two Out of Three Communication Professionals Don’t Think Twitter’s Popularity Will Last‘ it is still here, and it looks set to stay. And whilst it is by no means the only tool used to share insights from conferences, it is the dominant one. That said, what this article is mainly about the humble hashtag, without which none of this analysis would be possible. Nor would the conference have been able to transcend the walls of the Palais des congrès de Montréal – on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Slack and also Google.

Which is a different way of saying: this article focuses on an organising principle for information, rather than a specific software tool at a given point in time.

Librarians have been using systems to organise content for as long as there have been libraries. In recent centuries a range of competing approaches have been refined: Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress etc. and what they all have in common is that they generally have been centrally driven. A hashtag on the other hand is radical, in that anybody can come up with one. And if you use it constructively it can lead you to things you might otherwise never have found.