Social Media at Conferences: Happening? Not Happening?

Ah, conference! Whether you’re new or well-aged, it’s a word that sparks interest, good or bad. Maybe you’re  just an observer at this one, but at the next one, you’re a presenter. Throw in that exhibitor badge too – you have the spirit of a phoenix: living, dying, and resurrecting one conference at a time.

Hypothesis: Social media at conferences is over-hyped and underperforming – most of the time. I think the SXSW festivals and CES probably do it best in my communications/marketing world, but in my science and preparedness world, not as much. Sure, it takes a village, but volume is one thing and scale is another.

Disclaimer: Please be inspired by my bouts of complaining below.


Let’s investigate some of the supposed truths:

1) Everyone’s too busy at conferences to read email, let alone check social media. 

Rebuttal: So then why do most people have their laptops, tablets, and mobiles open and illuminated? Point is, if you want to spur action at a conference, do it. If you aren’t seeing the action, ignite it. Very few people have the attention span to really focus for more than what, 2-3 minutes? I find that live-tweeting and searching for others’ tweets, Insta posts, and news articles on the conference keep me engaged while looking at the bigger picture. Most of this happens during talks – and before you get “judgy”, remember that people live-tweet even during the President’s talks, and it enhances and democratizes the experience.

2) QR codes, Snapcodes, and Twitter codes are useful. 

Rebuttal: NO. N.O. NO! There aren’t droves of people scanning codes. Few have a QR code scanner downloaded or even know that Snapchat and Twitter apps let you scan codes, well – codes that only allow a person to follow you. No one cares about this feature and never has and never will. In the age of customizable short links, mobile phone cameras that can take pictures of links/usernames, or just in general – mobile phones – who needs this?

I dare you – recount the last time you saw more than 5 people at a conference gleefully scanning away.

Just stop it. Stop it. 


3) Using social media at conferences helps you find new connections. 

Rebuttal: Certainly, if you are looking for them. Most social media platforms have a search engine – plug in the conference hashtag and maybe a keyword you’re interested in, and expand your network. I have found a few peers this way, an excellent opportunity to expound upon sessions/talks together!

4) I probably shouldn’t be one of those people who takes photos and videos during a talk. 

Rebuttal: you really should be one of those people. AP photojournalists and videographers are some of the best trained and highly rewarded because they know that anything can happen, and only few will have the perfect shot. Plus, no one is judging you – unless you’re recording video in portrait (disclaimer: I’m on the fence about live-streaming in portrait or landscape. The audience doesn’t seem to care as much, and Facebook, Twitter, and Periscope seem to push portrait more than landscape. Look at Facebook’s “Facebook Live” Facebook Live tips page, for example.)

5) I manage a conference – already have enough to do.

Rebuttal: it takes about 15 minutes to produce a simple “Use #ThisConference While Here” poster you can have an intern post around the sites, at the very least. And then you’re done. BUT if you do have a few more minutes, think about having someone organize a social media get-together in the lobby or another open area and have a TweetChat or live-stream around a certain topic. This brings great attention to your event with minimal effort! And if you have loads of time and money, get an Instagram box or have your own step-and-repeat up with a few signs around encouraging photos/videos.


Here are some simple tips for effective conference social media plans via Tint.

Now go have fun, whether you are a conference attendee or manager!


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