Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is MPI’s Social Media Guru Program A Winning Idea?

Many events industry folks, this weekend, are headed to Vancouver, BC for the MPI (Meeting Professionals International) 2010 World Education Congress (WEC).  As with last year’s event, I will unfortunately not be there.

However, I am attending WEC 2010 digitally , at MPI’s invitation, via an experimental virtual world interface, created by Fusion productions.  I will write more about this experience post-event.  I am intrigued by the concept of linking a virtual world to an industry event, and look forward to participating in this alternative Hybrid adventure.

MPI is clearly determined to integrate a variety of social media programs, into their events.  As with anything new, there is always a learning curve, and mistakes are made along the way.  What I respect is MPI’s willingness to experiment, acknowledging the attendant risk.

Social Media Guru (SMG) Program

Speaking of new things MPI implemented a “Social Media Guru program” for this years WEC.  The core idea was to select a group of (5) “elite” social technology users to provide real-time new media coverage for the event.  In my opinion this is a great concept!

“Kristen Kouk and I developed this program as a first step towards validating the impact that key social media players have in driving coverage and conversation about live events. By establishing this benchmark we will have future proof to treat legitimate social media bloggers and writers equally to the traditional press. But in business, if you don’t have the case study or statistics to back up your claim, you don’t have a strong position at the table.” —Theresa Davis, Director of Strategic Communications, MPI

People interested in participating in this program were required to complete an application.  (click here to preview the actual application)  In considering potential candidates for the Guru program, MPI looked for Social Media users with the following traits:

  • Regular blog postings with strong following
  • High follower ratio on Twitter
  • Advanced knowledge of industry
  • History of fair and balanced coverage including trends and topics

SMG Benefits

In exchange for their efforts the selected Social Media Gurus are  receiving the following, for WEC:

  • Discounted registration fee
  • Preferential seating for general sessions and knowledge sessions
  • Onsite press office access and complimentary wireless internet access during event
  • Select press invitations (not sure what this means exactly)

“Fair &  Balanced” Coverage — What is that?

MPI was very clear, within their communications, that they expect the Gurus to be “Fair and balanced” in their media coverage.  What does that mean exactly? How does a journalist, who is typically full of strong opinions and thoughts not express them?  Opinions, by their very nature are biased, not balanced.  Confusing…

Jeff Hurt published a blog article yesterday that voiced this same concern.  While his message was somewhat on the “edgy” side, his points of concern were valid.  Jeff and I both agree there is a trust issue at play here.  Many organizations, not just MPI, are a little apprehensive about turning people loose to “tell it like it is” for fear that some irreparable, damaging statement will be made.

Reality is these types of concerns are ill-founded, as Social Networks are self-policing.  Users that post inflammatory, or destructive remarks are usually not taken seriously by other users, and oftentimes ignored.  In fact, a reporter using this type of messaging will usually lose followers, lots of them.

Some of the SMG’s selected for this program have also expressed some concerns about their role.  Vanessa LaClair is one of them.  Vanessa wrote an article series for Engage 365 enttitled “Being an MPI Social Media Guru Isn’t Without Its Challenges.” You should check it out!

“Where do we draw the line between following MPI’s lead and voicing our own opinions of the days’ activities? As paying participants of this congress, we cannot compromise our independence. And although we are all HUGE supporters of MPI, will it be okay to report on all aspects of the conference, even if the feedback is negative?”Vanessa LaClair, MPI 2010 WEC Social Media Guru

So, my recommendation, for the future, to MPI, or any organization choosing to implement an SMG program, is to select people, based upon their reputation and credibility, as writers, and then trust them to express themselves openly and with integrity, as journalists should.

Congratulations to both Theresa Davis, and Kristin Kouk, of MPI, for doing what they can to be Social Media leaders for MPI.  It is by no means an easy street, as the social media world is really a vast learning lab.

Question:  What are your thoughts regarding the SMG program?  Do you think it was a good idea?  Do you see something like it fitting into your organization’s events?  What would you do differently?  Do Tell.

Follow Michael McCurry on Twitter

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenise Fryatt July 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Thanks for this excellent post and for another opportunity to weigh in on this issue. When I was employed as a journalist, I was offered free, I repeat, FREE access to countless events and was asked for nothing in exchange. As a journalist, I was free to write whatever I felt moved to write, as long as my editor agreed to it. Was this fair? Well, considering the kind of impact a news story, review or column (written by an uninterested party) can have on any business, I believe such freebies are a wise investment. Even with the possibility of a bad review, the benefits far out way the potential risks.

I’m not sure I agree that a case study needs to be done to establish the effectiveness of extending this practice to bloggers. Any organization that is active on social media can readily establish the impact that leading bloggers are having on their industry. For the events industry, all you have to do is follow the #eventprofs Twitter stream to see what topics are hot and what thought leaders are being retweeted most. In fact, I’m sure I’m not the only one who checks new events industry blog posts first thing every morning and rarely, if ever, reads an industry magazine in print. Any coverage I read about WEC10, I will read on blogs.

I agree with you, Mike, that MPI should be commended on its willingness to try new things and it’s efforts to embrace the social media community. I also agree that mistakes will be made in the process and no one should be flogged. But I do hope that MPI will take note of the conversation that is taking place about the Social Media Gurus. Social media is NOT on unknown quantity. It’s well established and may actually be a key factor in pulling the events industry out of this difficult economy.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP July 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Hi Jenise,

You really made some excellent points in your comments.

Its funny how people get defensive about criticism, when in fact constructive comments lead to productive conversation and shared learning. This article is a continuation of what is going on Engage 365 and Midcourse Corrections. I love all the dialogue. I just wish people would not take it so personally.

Your point about a case study not being needed is interesting. I would love to hear Theresa’s feedback on that one. I do agree that social media is well established and inevitably will be a catalyst to pull this industry out of its slump.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

Mike

Reply

Ruud Janssen July 26, 2010 at 12:51 pm

The social media Guru program at MPI ‘s WEC revolves around the idea of near realtime reporting. For the first time, I feel by having competent bloggers and microbloggers teamed up and organized about the way they involve the hybrid audience in the messaging put’s off the “pressure” on other bloggers at the event to keep the hybrid audience abreast. 5 people in a crowd of 2500 is a small ratio and I read some comments yesterday on the tweets about “tweet tiredness”. reporters are feeling the strain of keeping the hybrid audience up to speed and I wonder how much it “distracts” from the fully immersive onsite experience of this team. I will follow this post closely and want to thank you Mike for writing this informative article. Your overview is the way the future of meetings will grow in the direction of the questions that we ask. On that note, can you give me some insights (or could I ask you to track) how much attention (in time) do you place on this stream and which stream is most effective for you and other hybrid audience attendees? (between Pathable / the virtual stream the Fusion Productions put in place / an enriched hub (http://www.twubs.com/wec10 ) or other hashtag driven aggregators.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP July 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Ruud, thanks for your thoughtful insights and comments!

I agree the SMG program is a good one. MPI just needs to bring more of them onboard in the future. I have been impressed with both the volume and quality of the tweets posted. Since I am not a registered attendee I am not able to view Pathable, but I would imagine the traffic there is much lighter than Twitter.

My client app of choice for Twitter is and has been Tweetdeck. I have used Twubs in the past, but not regularly. The Twitter interface with the Fusion platform does not allow for posting tweets so did not find that very helpful. The chat window, however is pretty functional. For Hashtag aggregators, I like Tweetchat, because it is simple and easy to navigate. I also find value with WTHashtag.com which is great for stats and also for generating a transcript of tweets during a specific time period.

Thanks for contributing and I hope you find this additional perspective helpful!

Mike

Reply

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