Should conferences allow or encourage attendees to live tweet sessions? 

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In 2017 the American Diabetes Association held its conference and posted tweets asking attendees to delete tweets that contained photographs from sessions:

Eric Topol, the healthcare thought leader, responded with this below, saying it’s 2017:

From what I saw on Twitter many attendees did delete the tweet that they were asked to delete. But a lot of similar messages to Eric Topol’s were posted as well questioning the decision.

The only additional information I could find from the association was this below:

Our policy is in place because presentation slides may include unpublished data and are intellectual property-thanks for understanding.

Personally, I can’t even remember the last conference where I wasn’t allowed to tweet at free will. In fact I’ve had organizations fly me out for the sole purpose of live tweeting and blogging from their conference.

➡️ Find out how to hire me to live tweet your conference here ⬅️

When I’m speaking at conferences I actually encourage and even ask attendees of my sessions to tweet. One time during a session in Miami, I, for the first time, released my workflow on how I turned my blog into a book. The workflow I’ve done twice now.

I actually told them that I will be giving away five copies of my book to five people who posted a quote and a picture from the session, of course also using the correct hashtag and tagging me.

That worked really well for a number of reasons:

  • It made sure that attendees were actually paying attention. In fact some of them ended up literally taking notes on Twitter.
  • It was a bit of a game. Who could pick the winning quotes and take the winning pictures?
  • It’s also a marketing tool. When there are 200 people in a session and 80 of them participate in the live tweeting competition, my message and strategies surrounding how to tell better organizational stories spread farther.

Related: How I ended up trending in two cities on two continents 

Being a trending topic helps you share your story. And it is actually my goal to help everyone tell better organizational stories and of course also make a living while doing it.

But realistically I personally won’t be working with every single organization out there when it comes to organizational and authentic storytelling. So one way to make a bigger impact is to have other people spread my story and tips and techniques through social media. Another one of course is to sell the book. Speaking at conferences is another tool and of course working with clients.

So I see the value in all those channels. But on the other hand you have organizations that don’t necessarily want things shared for one reason or another. So it comes back to the goal of the conference or really any project.

Is the goal to spread a specific message or to educate people or something that has a wider community impact? For example, some of the conferences that hire me to attend and live tweet their conference the ultimately are selling a product. The product might help us be better at our job or healthier or whatever. But the goal of the conference is to spread awareness around a thing or a cause or a technique.

Now maybe speakers at the American Diabetes Association conference asked that photography would not be allowed. I don’t know. I asked the association if they wanted to share more information on here and I’d be happy to publish that if and when they do.

But reasonable restrictions on how some content can be shared does somewhat fit into the pillars of authentic storytelling. For example, I’m completely in charge of my own story and I can share it. But when I share other people’s private stories I likely need to get their permission. For example when I want to share my family’s stories or my coworkers’ stories I always ask for permission.

So let’s translate that to a conference. As a speaker makes a comment, I listen to the comment and then I tweet my own thoughts  to what they just said. Or maybe a comment made reminds me of something else that happened and I share that story instead. Those are my personal stories. I can share them without anybody’s permission.

On the other hand is the reality of things that once your message is in front of many people what level of privacy really exist anymore? One time I remember speaking to a chief executive officer who was considering blogging. The question was whether the blog should be public or just internal. Given that this organization has about 10,000 employees even an internal blog would likely not be internal when that many people see it.

So it’s a balance. Think about the goal of the conference, think about current standards and then think about how the community overall will take decisions.

One example that comes to mind: every time I start an organizational storytelling project with a new client, I tell the leaders in the organization how to give feedback to people when they share stories. It’s a very fine line to be helpful, enforce policy and then also move the project forward. For example, I remember leaders who would literally just go up to employees and say I don’t think you should’ve posted that, please delete it. In cases like that it was really hard for those employees to continue to participate in the program. They now  had an internal barrier that was hard to overcome to continue to share stories.

Like most everything in digital marketing there’s no black or white answer and it all depends on our goals. We live in a world of “it depends.”

Turns out that not all conferences encourage attendees to post social media, according to this 2018 Meetings Today survey. Personally, I wouldn’t have thought that number would be almost 40 percent.

This article was first written in June 2017 and updated in January 2018.

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