Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
9/17/2009
02:53 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Twitter Succeeds At InformationWeek 500 Conference

I'm back from the InformationWeek 500 Conference, where we integrated Twitter into the proceedings. It's commonplace at other conferences, but it was a bit of a risk for us, because it was the first time we'd tried anything like it, and because the InformationWeek community is just plain not early adopters of social media. But it turned out that Twitter integration was a success, significantly exceeding expectations.

I'm back from the InformationWeek 500 Conference, where we integrated Twitter into the proceedings. It's commonplace at other conferences, but it was a bit of a risk for us, because it was the first time we'd tried anything like it, and because the InformationWeek community is just plain not early adopters of social media. But it turned out that Twitter integration was a success, significantly exceeding expectations.When my colleagues asked me several months ago to work with them on integrating Twitter into the IW500, I jumped at the chance. I've seen how Twitter can be woven into conferences like South by SouthWest and Web 2.0 Expo and Summit. Twitter becomes an electronic extension of the hallway conversations around the conference. People tap out messages on their iPhones and BlackBerries between sessions. During sessions, they sit with their laptops open and comment on the discussion under way. Twitter becomes a "backchannel" discussion for conference participants, and helps bring people who aren't physically at the conference into the discussion.

But as the months went by, we began to see obstacles with the Twitter integration. The chief obstacle: The conference participants just aren't on Twitter. Fewer than 2% are active. You could fit all of us into a hotel elevator and easily have room for a room-service tray-table too.

The InformationWeek 500 community has been slow to adopt Twitter, just as they were not early adopters of blogs and, in the mid-90s, the Internet itself. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. InformationWeek's' core audience is IT managers for big businesses, and the IW500 serves the core of the core--CIO-level IT managers in big companies, and people with ambitions to get to that level. Each of these people are responsible for thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in revenue; they're looking for technology that's proven workable. Twitter is still emerging technology, it's barely on their radar.

So we changed gears. Instead of trying to integrate our Twitter community into the conference, we instead sought to use the IW500 to create a Twitter community for InformationWeek. Or, in other words, to help use the IW500 to promote Twitter, show how the service can be used to build discussions and conversations. We sent out an e-mail in advance encouraging people to sign up for Twitter if they were not already users, we decided on a hashtag, #iw500, to flag discussions of the event, and we posted real-time scrolls of that discussion on the enormous displays on the front of the conference room. We also made sure that several of the staff were ready to tweet about the conference, in order to seed discussion.

But, still, I was nervous. Sunday night, I shared my flop sweat with all of you.

And then the conference got rolling--and the Twitter integration worked. We had a nice, brisk discussion going on. You can find it here. People at the conference said they liked it, even people who'd been skeptical going in. And the people who didn't care for it said it wasn't too distracting.

I hope we do it again next year, and I have a whole list of things I'd do differently. Topmost among them: One of the conference participants said he thought the Twitter stream was useful for people outside the conference--people not attending--but not so much for people at the conference.

I thought about that, and I think he's right. And I think I know why. Mostly, we were reporting on what was being said at the conference. Why would conference participants want to watch a Twitter stream that told them what they just heard? Next year, we'll want to have more discussion and comments and questions. We did have some questions posted to the Twitter stream, but we should have more of that. The Twitter stream should add to the discussion, it shouldn't just repeat it.

Still, overall, the Twitter integration into the IW500 was a success. People were involved and engaged, and they were happy with it. I should never have been nervous. As a matter of fact, I never was nervous. No, no, I was always supremely confident it would go well. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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