Conference Call

Chain Reaction 2009

Originally uploaded by chainreaction2008.

In the past month, I’ve attended two conference-type events. Nothing unusual about that, other than they were the first events in the UK I’d covered as a journalist for more than a year.

In the eleven months up to August, I was out of the country and on my return to active service I noticed big changes to the events I attended. Previously, organisers had attempted some sort of interactivity, but it often felt token and meaningless. Both events were more successful in promoting interaction from delegates than previously – one reason for this must be the popularity of social networking.

The social change forum Chain Reaction demonstrated the most success in promoting interaction of the two. It was attended by a range of delegates, from young volunteers to cabinet and shadow cabinet members. All were invited to have their say on post-it notes, on cards that were stuck on the wall around the conference hall and by tweeting. All tweets with the hashtag #cr09 were displayed on a screen beside the stage.

The purpose of the event was to explore ways of achieving social change. But the use of social media to direct the responses of people both inside and outside the conference hall was among the reasons for its success.

For those delegates who were unfamiliar with this medium or who wanted to learn more, there was a social media surgery. And delegates who use Twitter were able to get together afterwards at a Tweet Up. I didn’t attend, but I’m sure it would have been worthwhile.

Chain Reaction was the second event that I live blogged through Twitter and its interactive native made it perfect for tweeting. At the end of the event, I realised Twitter would help people make sure that the good intentions from the event would be followed up. Hashtags and Twitter lists are perfect for doing that.

I suppose what I experienced at Chain Reaction owed something to the concept of an unconference, a participant-driven event centered around a theme or purpose. These type of events are often popular with social networking fanatics, but judging from the account of Sarah Hartley about the recent #1pound40 event, the unconference format does not always hit the spot.

The event was billed as a chance to explore issues raised by social media, but Sarah says she didn’t feel that she learned anything by the end of the event. She contrasts this even with an event the previous evening in Leeds, which followed the social media surgery format.

Sarah’s comments on why the the Leeds event succeeded where the London one failed suggest that the Leeds gathering had a clearer aim.

In this setting, the social media tools were just that – tools to be utilised as part of a wider aim.

It seems that Leeds might be the place to be at the moment for social media enthusiasts. Another blogger, Stuart Childs, posted about his impressions of the Breakfast with AudioBoo event, held as part of Digital Week 09. He has his own idea about what helps to make a good event – a modest charge.

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