Twitter for Meeting Planners: How to Make It Work for You

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First, ground rules…

The purpose of this blog post is not to answer the question: “What is Twitter?” (Wikipedia offers a pretty good introduction, if that’s what you’re looking for. Also, check out Chris Brogan’s “Newbies Guide to Twitter.”)

Rather, the purpose of this post is to answer the question, “Does Twitter work for meeting planners?” (Yes.) And if so, how? I am by no means a social media guru (that’s Brogan, above), but having worked with meeting planners for nearly 10 years and being a Web 2.0 enthusiast, I’m happy to offer some insights into how you can benefit from including this popular tool in your event management toolbox.

Before getting to the “Does Twitter work for meeting planners?” question, maybe you’re asking a broader question: “Does Twitter work for business?” The answer to that, I believe, is in this BusinessWeek feature that highlights some top CEOs who use Twitter – including the likes of Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson, and Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems – and this list of some huge brands using Twitter for business – including Dell, Starbucks, JetBlue and Ford, among others. These are just the early adopters.

To really evaluate how (or whether) you can use Twitter to your advantage, first think of it for what it is at its core: a tool for communication. How important is communication in the meetings industry? You need to communicate with your attendees leading up to a program. You communicate with your attendees at the program. Your attendees communicate with one another at the program. Communication is key.

Then, the question becomes, is your communication system working effectively, or is there room for improvement? If so, then we come to the critical question: Is Twitter is a viable means of communication for my audience? (So we actually don’t need to ask if Twitter works for “meeting planners” or for “business”  after all. It’s all about your unique audience. Twitter is not right for everyone, but its reach is likely greater than you think… and it’s growing.)

If you decide Twitter might be right for your audience, then there are five general objectives that can be pursued for any social media (including Twitter), according to the authors of the book, Groundswell:

  1. Listening (use formal or informal observation to better understand your audience base)
  2. Talking (share messages with your audience base)
  3. Energizing (similar to talking, but aim especially for enthusiastic supporters and fuel word of mouth)
  4. Supporting (help your audience base, and help them help one another)
  5. Embracing (act as a facilitator to help members of your audience base engage together to improve your events)

With those five objectives in mind, here are nine specific ideas of how you can utilize Twitter in the meetings world:

  1. Gain “followers.” Again, this is not a Twitter tutorial post, but you do need “followers” if you want to “talk.” On Twitter, your “followers” are your audience. Promote your Twitter address through your web site, newsletter or other existing forms of communication to get started.
  2. Announce your event registration details and share a link to your registration page. You can even schedule “tweets” in advance using the TweetLater tool (http://www.tweetlater.com/), so you can set announcements to show up at predetermined times leading up to your event – i.e. “Early registration ends this Friday.” (talk)
  3. Ask prospective attendees for their input on site selection, or what kinds of content they’re interested in, or other details of your event. (listen/embrace)
  4. Share updates about your event with attendees. For example: highlight special activities on the program, announce entertainment/speaker line-up, etc. (talk/energize)
  5. Use Twitter at your venue. One way to do so: John Wilker of 360Conferences said they set up flat screen TVs around their venue with a Twitter wall application running so everyone could see what other attendees are saying, which provides added fun and increases engagement. (supporting)
  6. Search Twitter for topics/issues/concerns that are relevant to you. For example, watch for chatter about your company, meeting, speakers, location, etc. See http://search.twitter.com. (listen)
  7. Follow “experts” who can help you. For example, popular meetings industry consultant Corbin Ball is at http://twitter.com/corbinball.  You can use Twitter’s “Find People” function to search for names or other keywords associated with a person. (listen)
  8. Make your Twitter feed serve as “info central” – at least the quick reference version – for your event and suggest attendees follow it for special announcements, agenda changes, etc.  This will help you attract more followers, as it adds to the value of your feed. (talk)
  9. As an example of how to accomplish #8: Announce known travel alerts, flight delays, etc. on the day(s) your attendees are arriving – and let them know beforehand that you’ll be doing that. (talk/supporting)

The Groundswell authors advise against tackling all of the social media objectives (listening, talking, etc.) at once. Instead, choose just one to start with, make a plan, and have fun with it.

While there are many potential advantages to incorporating Twitter into your plans, remember that the number one reason to use it is to enhance your relationship with your audience (your followers, and those you are following). Let people get to know you (and/or your organization) and further assure them that you have their interests in mind. Doing so can only help you and your events become more successful.

For additional reference on Twitter, here are some helpful/interesting links:

Special thanks to those in the LinkedIn groups who engaged in the Twitter discussions with me.

I hope you’ve found this to be helpful, and good luck in your Twitter adventures! We’d love to hear about your experiences below.

By the way, here is my Twitter link: http://www.twitter.com/shawntsg (Shawn Ellis, founder of The Speakers Group).