Friday, August 28, 2009

Twitter Chats — Should They Have a Voice?

A common perception emerging in the business world these days is the notion business people must be receptive to experimenting with new business methodologies, concepts & technologies.  In a rapidly changing world, with a highly competitive business environment and customers with dynamic needs I agree wholeheartedly.twitter bird chat

Since March, I have been actively participating in a twice-weekly Twitter Chat group marked by the hashtag #eventprofs.  For context, this group is comprised of forward-thinking meetings and events professionals from around the world with a variety of backgrounds and experience.  Our common thread is a passion for social media, creativity and collaboration.

The chat experience has consistently been engaging, energetic and thought provoking!  In fact much of what I have learned about social media is linked at some level to interaction with this group.  Clearly, these are individuals for whom I harbor a great deal of respect!

StorytellingFrom time to time our Eventprofs group experiments with alternative formats for our chat sessions.  This week we attempted something new… to integrate our normal Twitter chat session with a live audio conference.

The concept, spearheaded by Robert Swanwick (aka “Swan”) was to enable storytelling, with participants sharing real customer service success stories via the audio feed.  The Twitter feed would be used as a “back channel” to field peripheral questions, comments and feedback.  In theory, the idea was solid, especially since it is nearly impossible to tell a story in a tweet.  (140 characters)

Leading up to the session there was skepticism expressed by some Eventprofs members, myself included, that this approach to our chat sessions would not be successful, in fact a step back from what we have been experiencing.  Yet, in the spirit of trying something new I attended the session with an open mind.  Unfortunately, the Twitter feed was not functioning properly so that piece of the session was largely missing.

Here are my thoughts from the event:

Positives:

  • Innovation — we tried something new and the spirit behind that is awesome!  Kudos to Robert Swanwick for being the thought leader to roll out a new idea for exploration!!!
  • Voice Connection — the participants were able to connect on a “real voice” level versus typed chat adding a personal touch to the event.
  • Story Telling — This approach did allow for more extended comments as we were not limited to 140 characters.
  • Emotional Connection — clear understanding of the spirit behind the comments.
  • Chat Backup — An audio conference may be a viable solution for the situation where the Twitter stream is not functioning.  Eventprofs has had multiple occurrences of this challenge in the past.

Negatives:

  • Limited Interaction — Audio connection alllowed only for single “one to many” conversation whereas Twitter allows for multiple “many to many” discussions.
  • Telephone cost Limitations — International Participants were not able to join call due to Long distance fees.
  • Lower Energy Level — By nature a Twitter chat creates excitement because of it’s “multiple threads.”  A participant must pay close attention to keep track of all that is occurring.  That dynamic was sorely missing in this conversation.
  • Attention Span — Personally I was not engaged in the dialogue at times, and therefore became distracted and began multitasking.  That would never happen in a Twitter Chat.. too much activity going on.
  • Inhibited Conversation — People seemed to hold back from contributing, including myself.  In a typed chat environment people seem to be less hesitant to say what they are thinking…. a Twitter chat seems to closely resemble a brainstorm session in that lots of information is hitting the session simultaneously.

Clearly, our experience with the audio format was tainted by the lack of the Twitter “back channel” so I believe we ought to try this again sometime working both components together.  I firmly believe, however, that the power of Twitter chat sessions lies in the ability to have multiple discussions occurring in tandem.  This ultimately leads, oftentimes, to new thoughts and ideas, evolving from the other discussions.  It is what draws me to these events!

Question:  What do you view as the greatest benefit derived from Twitter chat sessions?  Do you see other ways to combine the session dynamic of these events with another mode of communication to create even greater value.  Please share your ideas and feedback with us.



Follow Michael McCurry on Twitter

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Swan August 28, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Thx so much for the kudos Mike. Excellent analysis of the experience. Although, as you point out, some people did not like the experiment, it was certainly done with the best of intentions.

As for your questions:
I think that there are several great benefits. Tops for me are 1. getting to know some people with very interesting ideas who are (like me) very future focused. 2. Being able to bounce around ideas.

I personally think that Lara’s idea to mix in a professional speaker every now and then is a great idea. I have found that Twitter Chats can become echo chambers. Injecting in externally validated ideas and discussing around those ideas, would be a great addition.

Lara (@ready2spark) has created a poll so that the community can democratically direct itself. http://twtpoll.com/r/ybk4qk

Swan

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Michael M McCurry CMP August 28, 2009 at 7:45 pm

@Swan,

Hey Swan, while this may not have been an action filled experience (the audio chat) I still appreciate the spirit behind what you proposed.

I have to agree with Jeff that having a professional speaker do a “presentation” to us is not really something I am too interested in within the context of our weekly chats.

I personally am a strong advocate of boucing around ideas and that dynamic has been one of the drawing cards for me to the Eventprofs groupl…. I hope that will continue.

Thanks again for responding to my article and hope the conversation continues

Mike

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Jeff Hurt August 28, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Michael (& Swan)

I agree with you in theory. Here’s a different spin on things:

1) Experimenting with new business technologies depends entirely on the level of experience of the business’ leaders and whether they’ve tried it in the past.
Did we really think people have never done an audio call with chat engagement? Been there, done that, have a webinar every week for my audience that has visual, audio and chat function. Would we have been willing to do just an audio call for eventprofs? A Webinar? How about just a blog post? Doubtful it would fulfill same needs as a moderated chat that’s networked and social in the terms of Web 2.0 world. Next time, vote and crowdsource the idea or you have a split in the group.

2) I respectfully disagree that it was innovative. Different than usual, yes. Innovative, no.
I think calling it innovative, which means groundbreaking, pioneering, original or new is an incorrect use of the term. Sorry Swan, I know the motives were good, just don’t think the concept was original. Audio conference calls with chat functions have been around for at least seven years, ask any eLearning professional.

3) What is Eventprofs, really?
You started your post saying “…a common practice in business world is,” which is a little misleading that eventprofs is a business endeavor. Eventprofs is a social group; at least I thought it was a social group. It was my assumption, based on what is on the Eventprofs front page wiki, that Eventprofs is a Twitter chat for meeting and event professionals. Not an organization or business for meeting and event professionals to experiment with different things. Not that experimenting is a bad idea just different from my expectations and what is stated.

4) Nowhere else within the meetings and events industry do I have the ability to chat, online, at a set time, with other colleagues in the industry. Eventprofs filled a need for me personally and some others as well.

5) Any time any organization moves into the content delivery system, it’s not going to meet the entire audience’s needs. If Eventprofs chooses to start sharing presentations, then they’ve set themselves up as a content provider and will have to address whether the content is for novice, intermediate or advanced planners. This is where I suggest that evenprofs cross-pollinate with #edchat and #lrnchat to understand the andragogy of presentations, how the brain learns, and the research on new learning strategies. And be prepared for some brutal criticism.

6) To Swan’s point about echo chambers
I disagree. I don’t want another presentation. I had 15 free Webinars and live streaming events offered to me this week alone. ENOUGH! And as a meeting professional, I watch hundreds of speaker presentations every year. I don’t think suppliers such as Swan do that because they don’t plan conferences or events.

However, I would love the chance to pick a content expert’s brain in a chat. I’ve seen other chats do that and they are an interesting experience. Listen to them present-not so much.

Yes, I applaud Swan for wanting to do something different. Selfishly, I wanted something different from what was provided.

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Michael M McCurry CMP August 28, 2009 at 7:42 pm

@Jeff Hurt,

Jeff thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts on this subject. I can always count on you for a honest well thought out opinion! :)

That being said I have a couple of thoughts to share with you in response:

Point # 1: I think you missed the point here… while the concept of an audio conference accompanied by a chat is nothing new in the world it was something new for Eventprofs. As far as I know we have never attempted this with this chat group. Please correct me if I am wrong!

That being said your point that “Next time, vote and crowdsource the idea or you have a split in the group” is a good one. In the past Lara has conducted a twt poll to receive feedback from folks prior to making topic decisions… thanks for calling that out.

Point #2: Jeff, once again I think you are taking this out of context. While this format may not have been innovation for the world, as a whole, it was innovation for Eventprofs, so once again I have to respectfully disagree with you. See above comments.

Point #3: First you misquoted me… I said “common perception emerging in the business world” and made no reference to that being the operating philosophy of Eventprofs, or any other organization or entity.

The only reference I made to Eventprofs specifically is “this group is forward-thinking meetings and events professionals from around the world with a variety of backgrounds and experience. Our common thread is a passion for social media, creativity and collaboration.”

I stand by that statement, and if you feel I am out of line I would love to hear why.

The rest of your comment is your interpretation of what I said… not a problem.

Point #4 & #5 — I Agree, I don’t believe we should morph these chat sessions into presentations given by “professional speakers” as I love the open honest “on the fly” dialogue that takes place.

Point #6 — I really don’t understand Swan’s reference here, so I would like more clarification as to what he is inferring.

I would also love it if other thought leaders in the industry, including pro speakers, would engage with us in our chats. It would make things interesting and enhance the “knowledge/experience sharing” process.

Jeff, thanks again for your comments and I look forward to further discussions on this topic!

@michaelmccurry

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Jeff Hurt August 28, 2009 at 8:47 pm

We’ll agree to disagree on points #1 & #2.

I don’t use the term innovation for just anything new. I see innovation as totally groundbreaking and never been done before by anyone. Just my opinion though.

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Swan August 29, 2009 at 11:50 am

Well, somebody was on the debate team in college! :)

I will try to keep my 2cents short.

re: audio w/chat is old news -> Though the end tech might be the same, the direction from which you approach it might be different which creates a different experience. Most audio w/chat comes from the direction of audio. We were coming from chat. Thus, I expected the chat to be much richer than one would expect from a normal audio w/chat

re: the speakers. The idea was always just to do occasional speaker presentations. Certainly not shift the normal format of #eventprofs

re: the echo chamber. Due to nature of the format(advanced use of Twitter) and the fact that it is voluntary time out of people’s day, the people who attend #eventprofs are of a certain type. Almost all of us are SM savvy and almost all of us are proactive thinkers. My point is that this leads to some one-sided discussions. In order to be as effective as we can be, I think we should strive to see other viewpoints.

@spkrinteractive

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Swan August 29, 2009 at 11:54 am

Just a few more comments:

I completely agree that we should have stuck with the polling. It is a lot of work to run a community and the idea generation followed by the polling seems to have gone by the wayside and been replaced by anybody sign-up and moderate whatever topic they like. Not sure what we do about that.

Though I am personally a fan of speakers presenting, I understand to maintain the purity/specialness of #eventprofs chat. I agree that having SME’s on the chat is a good way to accomplish the goal I was envisioning. I have also experienced it on chats and it works out very well.

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