How Twitter Has Changed the Concept of Live Event Coverage
— Jack Dorsey (@jack) March 21, 2006
Happy eighth birthday, Twitter! It’s hard to believe, but on March 21, 2006, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey broadcast his first Tweet. In the beginning, it was just a little more than a message board with individuals and companies trying to figure out what to do with this thing. Three years ago, a Twitter user unwittingly revealed some details of an ongoing action of capturing Osama bin Laden. And just a week ago, Ellen DeGeneres broke Twitter with her Oscars’ group selfie by registering some 3.2 million retweets. Twitter’s transformed from a plain message board to a powerful global medium in these short eight years.
As a former news agency editor, I was awestruck by the instant coverage of the Arab Spring, and especially how protesters were using social media to organize themselves. “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world,” one of the protesters was quoted as saying. Another event, whose Twitter coverage broke the mold was the Boston Marathon bombing, which, difficult to believe, will be marking the first anniversary next month. Within nine minutes of the explosions, The Boston Globe sent out the first tweet. What followed is a case study in Twitter reporting, with the onlookers turning into street journalists and providing pictures, comments, and bits of police radio exchanges. Seth Mnookin (@sethmnookin), a local journalist and the Associate Director of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing became a curator of all crucial tweets in those five days. He became the source for the events, both gory and triumphant, and media outlets simply couldn’t keep up so they followed and retweeted him. If you, like me and many other thousands of his followers in those days, watched Seth’s feed, you probably noted how he, in the sea of tweets that were coming from the locals, must’ve weighed each retweet against his educated intuition so, while raw, his reporting of the Boston tragedy’s aftermath was in fact true, professional journalism.
I believe applying the same level of professionalism to tweeting any live event or content programming increases your credibility. Take for example, Manchester City FC’s Twitter feed. Though I’m partial to their sporting, I also objectively think their tweets about the games and club activities are measured, useful, and exciting. Their game tweets answer the questions of who, how, when, and what. They report on all critical plays and junctures, and include the game minute when they occur. They typically only use their own hashtag, #mcfc, or another team’s, so their respective fans can easily locate them. There’s no sensationalism or gossip in their tweets. This is a concerted effort. There’s method to this madness, and it’s about using Twitter like a publisher or a news broadcaster.
I chatted about Twitter coverage of live events with Paul Konikowski, CTS-D, a sole proprietor of PK Audiovisual from Fairfax, CA, who deals with social media and technical marketing of both consumer electronics and professional audio systems. Paul helps AV manufacturers by writing magazine articles, managing their blogs, and improving their social media profiles, posting quality content that others will like and share.
“I find that Twitter coverage of live events is rather random and disconnected, though the Twitter users tend to be forgiving,” says Paul. “Better event promoters will publish an official event hashtag well in advance of the event using social media as well as email marketing, so the attendees and manufacturers are all tweeting to a common thread, instead of three or more versions of the same hashtag.”
A number of vendors that provide real-time tweet displays for live events have emerged in recent years. Paul thinks that Tweetdeck or Hootsuite feeds he’s seen on the flat panel displays in some trade show social media lounges are too small and that this fact needs to be figured into the lounge design.
“Twitter aggregators like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are great for the marketing people who use desktops and consumers who use mobile devices, but they do not translate to public information displays,” Paul says, adding that promoters need to become more aware of third-party applications like visibletweets.com that are much easier to read and ten times more engaging.
Paul believes the best approach to tweeting during a live event is a hybrid event, “where roughly half of the audience is physically in the space and the other half is online.”
Explaining further this hybrid event concept, Paul says that if “the online audience is listening and watching a live video stream on YouTube or a similar site, both audiences can submit questions via Twitter using a single event hashtag.” After the event, he adds, “the online audience can contact the presenters (or bands if it’s a music event) using email or direct messages.”
So what is the key to success for such an event?
“For a hybrid event like this or any effective social media marketing during an event to succeed, you have to have a qualified person or team dedicated to the social feeds, who are constantly scanning the Twitterverse for mentions and can respond instantly to direct messages, bridging the gap between real life and virtual reality,” recommends Paul.
What’s your experience been with Twitter coverage of live events and how do you think they affect a live event customer in this new marketing era?