Attn. Planners: It’s High Time You Embraced Social Media
Selling meeting professionals on the value of social media may not be easy –– many appear seriously reluctant. But smart planners will overcome their resistance and start finding ways to engage in the online social sphere.
That’s according to social media advocate Erica St. Angel, vice president of marketing for Sonic Foundry in Madison, Wisc.
Erica St. Angel
St. Angel discovered that many meeting planners still have difficulties wrapping their arms around social media when she moderated a panel on social media and the future of meetings at Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress earlier this year.
“It eroded into a discussion of why some in the audience hated Twitter. One attendee said she simply didn’t get it,” said St. Angel, whose firm produces webcasts and works on hybrid events.
In this second part of a Travel Market Report series on the future of meetings, we asked St. Angel to make the case for social media in meetings.
You talk about the ‘mirror effect’ of social media and meetings. Can you explain that?
St. Angel: The dual benefits of being onsite are: first, hearing what’s being said in formal presentations, and second, one-to-one conversations. Those conversations can reinforce learning, and that’s what might bring you back to an event.
That same mirror effect takes place with social media. People in the room have a dialogue with each other and with people not onsite.
Say more about how social media enhances a meeting.
St. Angel: Social media is all about amplifying the impact of your event. It’s not about getting more registrants to an onsite meeting. It’s about carrying the conversations forward beyond the three or four days of the meeting.
One takeaway is that social media is simply a way to listen to what is being said about you. The person at the podium is not necessarily the smartest person in the room. If planners are mindful of that, they can harness all the knowledge in that room.
Will social media be central to all meetings in the future?
St. Angel: Social media will be an important layer of hybrid meetings. That should not only mean putting content online, but continuing to interact both with people who were at the meeting and those who weren’t.
During our session, we had a large Twitter screen behind the panelists so the audience could Tweet. That’s fine when an event calls for it. You have to analyze that in advance. Planners should buy into social media but should have a reason for doing that.
You recommend community portals. Why is that?
St. Angel: My hypothesis is that community portals will be the way for planners to go. That would create communities within which all social media –– Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc. –– can be aggregated.
Within that big portal, the community members can choose where to go. They can split off and discuss a particular meeting or a particular issue but stay under that portal umbrella. That keeps conversation going, but allows individual choices.
There are sites like Ning (www.ning.com) where for something like $500 you can create a community portal.
Can’t you do that on Facebook?
St. Angel: Of course you can, but many companies block Facebook for business uses, and there are other issues with it. People have to decide, in general, about blending their social and business lives; it can get messy.
Everything in social media is so splintered and difficult to manage. If you flip it on its head and say, ‘Here’s where my presence will be on that community portal,’ people can bring in other social media streams.
That will also help with developing analytics, which is crucial. With a community portal, you can figure out what people are sharing and aggregate that information. There are automated tools to help you do that.
How can planners start moving toward that future?
St. Angel: The first practical step is to pay attention. Listen, monitor, then engage. Go to Google and Twitter –– search your conference name and see what people are saying about it.
There will be a community of people talking about your event. It might be as simple as posting on that group’s wall just to begin.
People are fearful that social media will take over their lives. But just begin with this kind of audit and it will grow from there
Twitter is simply like a bar where two people are talking about you. Don’t you want to introduce yourself? It’s up to you to engage or just listen.
For more on the future of meetings, see “Making Meetings Better – by Design,” Nov. 3, 2011.