How social reporters can help turn old-style conferences into the new convening spaces

I’m delighted to find there’s increasing interest in social reporting around events … which may start with an enquiry about how to capture some video interviews, but can lead to a discussion about how an organisation may network with its members, clients or customers.
Over the past year I’ve had a lot of fun using standard video cameras, mobile phones to stream video to the web, videoboos on a laptop, giving Flips to facilitators, and blogging before, at and after events. You’ll find a series of posts here.
Bev Trayner and I were fortunate to work together last year on a European community of practice and major event in Lisbon which gave us the chance to develop a first-draft socialreporting toolkit, which Bev offers for download here. There’s also a work-in-progress wiki here.

We say:

Social reporting is an emerging role, a set of skills, and a philosophy around how to mix journalism, facilitation and social media to help people develop conversations and stories for collaboration.
While mainstream reporting is usually about capturing surprise, conflict, crisis, and entertainment, and in projecting or broadcasting stories to audiences, social reporters aim to work collaboratively with other people, producing words, pictures and movies together. They may challenge and even provoke, but social reporters are sensitive to the resources and parameters of the group, community or organisation they reporting for. They are insiders rather than outsiders.

We go on to look at how to plan social reporting of an event – thinking about how it may meet the needs of organisers, participants and those not present. Here’s some of our tips:

  • Leave enough time to plan and set up systems … ideally three months for a big event.
  • Decide if one person will have responsibility for “editorial” management of content throughout the preparation, the event, and follow through or if each person will do their own editing.
  • One person needs to be part of the event design team, or to work very closely with them. They need to be familiar with the topics and content to be covered.
  • Organise technical support. The “editor” will need this for setting up and running systems, unless they have these skills.
  • Ensure that you have administrative-level control of the online systems that you use – rather than having to constantly ask for changes or upgrade. A conventional event website is very unlikely to offer the social reporting functions you need, and a technical team running it may not be able easily to add those. Be prepared to set up a separate blog or wiki linked to the main site.
  • In any social networking, lead by example. Get the organising team online “modeling” the type of interactions that you hope to see. Then try and get speakers to contribute.
  • Work closely with someone who has insider knowledge of the event organisers and participants.

This is very much in accord with Clare White, who has produced her own brief guide to social reporting at events, and Paul Henderson who adds his own tips and thoughts. As Clare points out, letting social reporters into your event isn’t risk-free:

The other issue to be aware of is that if you are going to encourage social reporting, you might get blamed if somebody is quoted or photographed without their permission. Social reporting makes a conference space truly public and that might need to be explained to delegates.

Nevertheless, more and more corporate and public sector event organisers are interested in social reporting, not least through the efforts of Dave Briggs, who is a real wizard with different social tools. I must compare notes with Dave on his use of Ning for UKGovCamp09, where all participants get a profile and personal blog with ability to contribute their own photos, videos and forum comments. It is a great environment within which anyone attending an event can become a social reporter, learn about social tools, and develop new relationships online that build from connections made at the event.

What Dave is starting to do, I think, is show a way forward for social reporting as one way in which an organisation can use its events to develop the new convening role that Clay Shirky talked about in his interview with Amy Sample Ward. My analysis here.

I’ve been talking to a number of potential clients about these issues recently, and found it stimulating if challenging to skip from “what sort of voxpops might we capture” to “here’s how you could become a networked organisation”. It can be daunting – and I hope I didn’t put anyone off!

What I’ve tried to emphasise is that it really helps to think where you want to end up – just a conference record … a continuing conversation … a new network – but you can do it in steps. You can just add a blog to your brochure web site and help people use a few simple tools. (I want to look at Buddypress to see if that could offer a way to move from solo blog to social network. Anyone looked at Buddypress vs Ning?)

What I also try and emphasise is that the change from social reporting to network-building is not so much about different tools, but about roles, mindset and time. While an organisation running an event can engage some social reporters – and experiment with a bit of blogging and video on the day – there’s a different order of commitment once you start to convene online in the longer-term. Someone inside the organisation has to adopt the tools, develop online skills, and help colleagues to understand the new ways of doing things. A social reporter might have the skills to do that … but do they remain a social reporter? Sounds too much like a proper job to me.


  • February 15, 2009 - 9:29 pm | Permalink

    David – writing a proper response on my blog but on Buddypress: it looks great but is, I think, a long way from being finished.

    Also it is based on WordPress MU not normal WP, but everyone has their own seperate blog. Does that confuse things? I’m not sure.

  • Pingback: Convening through reporting | DavePress

  • February 17, 2009 - 7:29 pm | Permalink

    David – I’ve been following your blogs on social reporting for a while, following a recommendation from Willie Miller. Your latest post has prompted me to blog about the potential for social reporting in planning and urban design – basically to try and spread the word to a new audience. I hope I haven’t misquoted you! Nick

  • February 17, 2009 - 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Nick – Scotland is sooo well networked! Thanks for picking up socialreporting. Time I made a trip north. Do you know Drew Mackie too?

  • February 25, 2009 - 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I recently organised a social media day conference for charities in York, England. We had 90 delegates and throughout the day about 6 people were Twittering, videoing, taking stills and interacting with participants.

    We used the hashtag: #iofnorth, which if you check out Twittersearch will show the extent to which we reached beyond the 90 people in York.

    There are now several blogs carrying inofrmation from the day and we’re hoping to post MP3s of the presentations in the next week.

    Not bad for a small event, run on a shoestring, trying to push the boundaries. I think we achieved that! ;0)

  • Pingback: Can old-style conferences become new convening spaces? « ICT Champion: South East England

  • February 27, 2009 - 12:07 am | Permalink

    Hi Graham – yes, I saw that stream of tweets! Any thoughts on what you might do next time, in the light of that experience? What worked well, what not so well?

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