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The Tweet Wall: Good or Bad for Your Event?

November 30, 2009

A Tweet Wall is a large screen set up behind/next to a stage, showing, in real time, what folks in the room are tweeting as speakers give their presentations. This monitoring tool is often present at conferences and luncheons, where people are on the lookout for sound bites that can easily fit into 120-ish characters (don’t forget, the conference #hashtag itself usually takes up quite a few characters). The Tweet Wall aggregates the comments, allowing everyone to easily see what people in the room are saying. It sounds like a good idea… in theory.

Last year, I attended the Social Commerce Summit put on by Bazaarvoice, which is a fantastic conference (and not just because I get to go to Austin for it). Overall, this is one of my favorite yearly events. It was at SCS ’09 that I encountered my first Tweet Wall. For the most part, this thing was innocuous, only slightly annoying or distracting, and generally no big deal. In some sessions, it was fun to participate.

Until Peter Kim’s panel, “How Social Powers Traditional Marketing.”

He moderated a panel of some of the bright minds of the agency world: Joey Wilson, Vice President, Marketing Strategy, Sapient and Gargi Patel, Director of Social Media at Rosetta, to name a few. I thought I’d be getting some great insider industry tips on how to marry social media marketing with the things we were already doing, but what ensued was nothing I could have expected.

Peter ripped the panel to shreds. He challenged the very need for social media agencies and threw them some unhittable curve balls. Hell, he threw them spitballs.

The moderation itself wasn’t the surreal part, it was the presence of real-time updates flying behind their heads, further unnerving the panel and leaving the audience wide-eyed.

Watching agencies talk about themselves is like watching a snake chew its tail,” read one tweet.

Of course, I can’t remember what any of the speakers said, but I do remember one panelist becoming visibly upset and frustrated, on the verge of losing her cool. Who could blame her? Even the best speakers in the world would have a hard time presenting under those conditions. It quickly turned sour, and I was glad when the affair was over.

What to take away from this:

  1. Tweet Walls are not good complements to presentations. Sure, they’re amusing (sometimes in a Roman amphitheater kind of way), but they’re not what we paid to see. Set one up where everyone will be having lunch or in a common area.
  2. Okay, yes, some presentations suck, but presenters don’t deserve to be heckled. Until it’s your turn to get up in front of a conference of professionals and try to teach them things they don’t already know, save your comments for the feedback cards.
  3. Tweet Walls are a major distraction from the presenter and the presentation. Even if your speaker is Bill Gates, people tweeting “Bill Gates it G-D” behind him will be a disruption to what he’s trying to accomplish.
  4. As soon as someone hijacks your hashtag, it’s all over. If your conference is big and popular enough, spammers will surely get ahold of it and start tweeting about plastic surgery and porn with #YourTag.

This doesn’t just speak to the nature of how social media has infiltrated so many aspects of our lives, but it speaks to our civility and how we respect (or don’t respect) other people. Even though “it has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity,” to quote Albert Einstein,don’t forget that sometimes it’s, at the very least, more polite to shroud your discontent in the form of an under-the-breath comment to the person sitting next to you.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2009 11:01 am

    Oh wow, I TOTALLY agree with you on this.

    When it comes to project Twitter streams during conferences, I NEVER think it’s appropriate to have monitors visible near a presenter – or even in a presentation room. It’s distracting for the audience and sometimes just downright rude to speakers. Your example makes me squirmy uncomfortable just reading it as a frequent public speaker.

    Having said that, I LOVE!!! having Twitter streams flowing out in the hallways or communal areas to gauge general conference sentiment, see if a speaker is doing well enough for me to trek in to seem them and… okay… to see where the after parties are 🙂

    I do think there is an incredibly important place for Twitter in a presentation room however, just not projected larger than life behind a speaker.

    Twitter is a FANTASTIC way to make sure a panel or presentation is headed in the right direction (I encourage friends and co-workers to monitor the Twitter channels as I’m speaking and flag me if I need to do a serious about-face… my job is to provide value and if I’m not, then I’m being lame… and I hate being lame). All within reason, of course.

    It’s also an easy way to get questions from your audience – whether they are in the room or listening in remotely through live Tweets or video feed. I also dig the fact that through reviewing live Tweets during a presentation, I can later connect with my audience, answer questions for them even after Q&A time is through and continue the dialogue outside of the podium.

    But as for having comments projected behind me on the big screen. Yeeeesh.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      December 21, 2009 4:42 pm

      As always, you have wonderful perspective and always showcase the positive side of every situation 🙂 That being said, you’re not easily shaken, and a fabulous public speaker, so you might be one of those rare people who could come out of a situation like that unscathed!

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