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Monday, April 28, 2008

Reframing Conference Social Tool Participation

Through my recent post: Social Conference Tools - Expect Poor Results I've received a bit of feedback on being such a pessimist (Dave Ferguson) and a great comment from Sue Waters that made me realize I needed to reframe the problem. I've been disappointed by the low participation rates and generally haven't seen that much value from these tools. But, most of the tools provided are aimed at trying to get everyone in the conference to use the tools.

Instead, if we believe the 90-9-1 Rule, then the real questions should be:
  • How can we create systems that when they are adopted by 1% of the population, we can provide value for the rest of the conference attendees and appropriately reward the 1%ers?
  • What can we provide for the 9%ers so they can make lightweight contributions that add value?
  • How can we effectively integrate the 90%ers so they get value from the 9%ers and the 1%ers?
I'm not sure I have answers here, but at least it gets me to think about the problem differently, and I'm more hopeful to find answers to these questions than trying to get greater participation among the entire conference audience.

One warning about this ... I'm not sure I can count every conference attendee as even a 90%er. Are they even going to enroll in the collaborative system? So, for a conference with 1,000 attendees, how many participants can you realistically expect. There will be anomalies (e.g., a Web 2.0 conference).

30 comments:

Guy Boulet said...

This is no more different than face-to-face conferencing. In a room of 100 participants, a handfull will raise their hands and interact with the presenter and one or two will do it more actively than the others.

Nobody seems to question the value of F2F conferences for passive participants. Lurkers, for various reasons, do not feel the need to interact. Sometimes because they are just there by curiosity, in some instances the content may just make sense to them and they do not have any questions, or maybe the other 10% (9+1) asked the questions they were afraid to ask.

In any case, the fact they do not directly interact does not mean they do not benefit.

bill7tx said...

Most (90%, at least) human beings don't know about online social tools (other than maybe Facebook). We who use these tools (including weblogs) tend to forget that we are early adopters, and that the adoption curve (see Crossing the Chasm) is long. Not every app succeeds in crossing the chasm, either, not even ones that are much beloved by the early adopters.

Tony Karrer said...

Guy - that's a good point. And certainly, you design and facilitate interaction during live sessions in a way that you hope achieves value in the face of 90-9-1.

However, I've not really thought about the tools and systems that conferences provide (outside of sessions) based on this thinking.

For example, providing a broad-spectrum matching system as is often seen - that might not make much sense. But, having a means of people creating targeted discussions almost on the fly and having meeting rooms around them - much like an unconference - might make a lot of sense. The 9+1 folks would be those who likely create these. The 90%ers may not even attend. But you get an interesting effect.

Bill - I hear you and I think that conference designers face this as they look at it. Still, my gut tells me - and my experience online via blogging - and my experience with Beer and Bloggers - all collectively tell me that there's considerable value being left on the table at conferences.

Sue Waters said...

Okay what we are talking about here in a sense is several different things. Social tools for conferences isn't about that time, place or the f2f conference participants. Its so totally more than this.

What is important is how we use these tools to increase the conversations before, during and after conferences. Take a traditional conference session where you sit there, minimal interaction and no reflection of the learning once you leave compared to what you can achieve with social tools.

Introduce social tools and the conference is global and spaced across time; spread across the Internet and the conversation is ongoing. Here is just one of my pages on mlearn (not totally finished off but is enough).

If we look at mlearn did the number of conference participants fit the 90:9:1 % rule -- no way. Of any conference I would expect mlearn participants to have high skills levels. This wasn't the case and no way was it anywhere close to 1% but that doesn't matter cause you only need a few to make a difference at a conference.

And regardless if you don't achieve the 1% it doesn't matter because of the longevity of the material generated by the people who can use the tools.

Social collaboration at conferences should be no different from any other form of social networking. People choose whether they do or don't buy in and participate. Conferences need to understand those principles and realise that they need to provide the mechanisms ie. the wireless Internet and hope for the best.

Tony Karrer said...

Sue - completely agree that part of the purpose is increasing conversation before, during and after. Also, as you say, and leaving residual value.

I think we are on the same page here - the question is not getting X%. The question is how to appropriately opportunity and value for increasing learning, conversation, resulting information sources, etc. given low participation levels.

Your mLearn resource page is fantastic! You did this completely on your own? Did the conference point to you? Did they help you in any way? As a participant did I know about it? Did I have a way to contribute to it?

Your summary worries me. It reads like: provide wireless and hope.

Gosh I hope that we could provide a little more guidance than that.

Mick Leyden said...

Sue is right people will choose whether or not they will participate, our trick is to give them a reason to get excited about the opportunities to extend the conference and learn through the social network.

I'm looking at creating something like Sue's mLearn page for one of our upcoming conferences. One of the one of the key aspects of our conference social networking strategy is contribution from presenters. This ensures that the network provides value not only in the form of delegate to delegate communication but also provides delegate to presenter communication.

I'm hoping this will also provide presenters with a useful insight when preparing their presentations.

...now I just to convince our presenters to get on board! :-)

Tony Karrer said...

Mick - as a presenter, I'm very much willing to get on-board these things, but often at the expense of being disappointed.

If you could help me to engage with participants before a session or after, that would be great. If you got a few of them to ask me questions ahead of the session, that's great.

Alternatively, give me a good way to find people who want to get together to discuss something interesting.

Mick Leyden said...

Disappointed users is a big risk - they don't come back! Providing our delegates and opportunity to be heard and a channel to chat with presenters will hopefully provide a carrot to come in and have a look.

That said no one is going to log in unless the marketing and promotion is right. I have noticed that in many cases these types of tools appear to be an after-thought, not really visible and sometimes difficult to find or use. If we're going to have any chance of success it's got to be easy to find and even easier to use!

My experience with some of these types of social networks has been very similar to yours, hopefully with the appropriate carrot and promotion we can generate some useful discussion.

Sue Waters said...

mLearn was interesting because I would have expected skills levels with technology (including social networking tools) to be higher than it was.

Let me work through your questions:

"Your mLearn resource page is fantastic!" Thanks. These pages (as there were a few on mlearn) are similar to the post you wrote about why you blog. Primary goal was for my personal learning, secondary was to share my learning with my network that could be there. In terms of my page on mLearn my notes - I decided that I didn't want to live blog because I don't like to read most of these types of blog posts. However I wanted a mechanism that allowed me to record my learning but provided me the flexibility to write and provide the information how I wanted to maximise my learning. If I'm going away from my family for a week I want to make sure I'm learning. In terms of my blog - instead of writing posts about what I was learning in terms of content at mlearning (which would have only interested part of my blog audience) and wasn't needed for my own learning I wrote a post series of tips for better presentations because as a presenter myself that was helpful for my own learning. Looking at all the posts I should have tagged mlearn2007 since there is more than just those posts (also included some cools ones like Help wanted for the most disorganised traveler and Forget The Gossip! What Did You Learn? Oh well that is another job - to fix up the tags.

You did this completely on your own? Yep. And at this point you may be wondering if I missed out on the f2f. Nope I still went out socialising each night but at the end of the night, or the early morning, when others were in bed I was doing my stuff (that's normal for me). The only thing I didn't do was the crazy late night excessive drinking that some did.

Did the conference point to you? Yes and no if that makes sense. Just prior to the conference I convinced them to set up a twitter account and there was a notice near the desk about twitter (unbelievable people into mlearning not using twitter??) My effort compared to my mates doesn't even compare as he recorded all sessions and podcast them on his site. The conference did help him but I'm sure they won't have appreciated that amount of work involved in running between all the sessions with the recording devices or all the editing etc to get it online.

Did they help you in any way? Only in terms of the twitter account.

As a participant did I know about it? Tried my best however for it to work well the conference really needs to let participants know about the social networking opportunities as part of their conference promotion. A good model would definitely how they have done the AG08 Live page. A challenge faced is conference organisers often don't understand social networking - the best thing an organiser could do is bring someone like me on board early in the planning process so that the mechanisms are set up from the beginning to maximise any potential gain from social networking.

Did I have a way to contribute to it? Sure through my blog, tagging, twitter. As I've said if it was set up from day one of conference planning you probably would have had more people contributing and it's effect would have been greater.

Sorry "provide wireless and hope". What can I say :) . We've now reached a point with the educators that there are really highly skilled social networkers that means that you don't even need hope it will happen (they can't help themselves). So remove the hope and add in incorporate mechanisms for social networking from day 1 of conference planning. With time you will see the shift change and greater participation as people get it.

PS yes - all these comments would be better as blog posts.But time is an issue at the moment as I'm full on organising a very large Blogging Comment Challenge.

Mick Leyden said...

"for it to work well the conference really needs to let participants know about the social networking opportunities as part of their conference promotion."

Interesting you say this, I was thinking about this post last night and pulled together some ideas.

Sue Waters said...

Hey Mick it's a great post and I will comment on it later. But you've probably explained somewhere what is the conference you are organising? As that gives me more ideas of your success with social networking.

Also you are in Melbourne and I'm in Perth so assume that we must also be networking with similar people.

Tony Karrer said...

Sue - those are some great thoughts. I'm not sure I'm getting how to inspire someone like you to be active with a particular conference. I would think that the organizer would definitely welcome your participation (and other like you).

Mick - did you have something like that on your list?

Are you actively recruiting the people who will be the 1% folks to get them engaged now so you can get agreement on what you will do and how you will help promote their activity?

To me that sounds like a great first step.

Several other steps you mention are great - I definitely agree with the help the social networkers meet f2f - and I can say that's been very successful for me with Beer and Bloggers.

Hope we keep this discussion going as I'm sure there are lots of ideas to be had.

Mick Leyden said...

Sue - We're in the finance world. I don't like to put brand names on my blogging stuff as I feel I can talk more openly if I keep it generic. Drop me an email at micktleyden at gmail . com.

Tony - I hadn't thought about that actually, it's a very good idea. Potentially the 1%ers could act as community mentors? I guess we also would like to encourage them to talk up the conference network on their own networks or blogs.

Sue Waters said...

@Tony well as I said before you probably have to experience it in action to see how it could happen. Always happy for you to hang out with me for a bit of time one day (my night) me so I can show you it all in action. But it will get back to the type of conferences as to you will get the participants to engage.

@Mick sent you an email :)

Michael Glazer said...

I think the basic question is something like "if collaborative tools work for public communities why aren't they working for communities of conference attendees?" I had a similar concern when I built a collaborative virtual campus for one of our company's learning programs. What I found out is that what the community looks like offline has an impact on how the online community is likely to (or not) take shape.

With the exception of online dating sites, people go to social sites to connect first with others they know. If you map out the relationships online, you typically see nodes of people, and most modes have "connectors" who act as a person who bridges different nodes together.

If the attendees of a conference aren't already organized into nodes beforehand, it's really tough to motivate people to start to form a digital community with strangers, even if they share a professional interest. My own experience is that trying to connect digitally first with people I don't already know through my existing network feels a little fake or forced, so I usually don't do it.

On the other hand, if I went to a conference with coworkers or colleagues I already knew and had personal relationships with, I'd be very likely to use, for example, Twitter during the conference to socialize, learn and have fun during the sessions I attend. That is much more natural to me. Then, as each of my coworkers meet new people at the conference and those new people join our digital node, it would feel more natural to start to include them in my own digital community.

By the way, Tony, I just moved from the 90%ers to the 9%ers on your blog!

V Yonkers said...

This is very interesting as I have had my class develop an online conference on Nanotechnology (a specialty at our university, but a topic none of my students were familiar with) using new communication technologies (pageflakes, facebook, wikis, blogs, cell phones, video conferencing, interactive websites, online visuals, LMS's, etc...). The purpose was to see how using these tools might effect the communication within an organization. Your discussion is the discussions we have had in class.

I would say, however, based on my students' experience (the next generation of workers) that there might be the possibility to engage participants up to the point of the conference (my own experience is no more than 3 weeks before otherwise it peeters out before the conference can begin), the beginning of the conference, but then very little will happen after the conference unless there is another event that is coming up in a short period of time.

While we might want to continue the discussion, time commitments (usually due to participating in the conference and having work pile up) make it difficult.

You will notice that this is the model that George Sieman's conferences use (successfully I believe).

Related to Mick's comment, I have found out about online conferences or preconference discussions usually via e-mail from a colleague at work or blogs that I read regularly.

V Yonkers said...

Sorry, my programming skills are elementary and I got part of the code into the url address. The conference pageflake is at
here . This is what the next generation is interested in using as this was totally generated by my class (I did not give them any guidelines).

Tony Karrer said...

Mick - I'd be a bit careful when you approach people looking for the 1%ers - especially bloggers. We get a fair amount of requests that are clearly just trying to use us to get into our blog. And, I would suggest that there likely could be good 1%ers who may not be bloggers.

In my experience, almost anyone who gets a request that is a sincere - I'd like you to help me understand X - will help you. Thus, I'd really recommend just asking people to help you with the ideas - and let them know that if interesting ideas come out of it - then you are quite okay for them to blog about it.

Actually, I have an idea ... :)

Tony Karrer said...

Sue - let's connect and set up a time to talk. My email is: akarrer@techempower.com

Tony Karrer said...

Michael - that's a great part of the question here. And I agree that it would be much easier to be successful with existing communities with many ties.

However, many conferences don't really have that. Or only parts of the audience are connected in any real way. If that's the case, is there anything you can / should do as an organizer? Or are we just saying that participation rates will vary based on connectedness and skills of the audience?

Tony Karrer said...

Virginia - great point about the atrophy effect. I worked with George to pull together one of his conferences. And, I must say that I don't think we did a very good job from a collaboration standpoint. It was okay, but it seemed to fizzle very quickly. Or maybe that's just my missed expectations.

Of course, George, from Canada, didn't realize he was scheduling right at Thanksgiving in the US. Everyone was gone right after.

One thing this discussion is making me realize is that I measure success quite differently than other people do. I'm mostly looking at how many interesting connections do I establish? How many interesting conversations do I get into? How many existing connections do I get to enhance through f2f?

V Yonkers said...

But what about the long distance connections you make through the online interaction? All of the regular bloggers I subscribe to have come from George's conferences. While the conference itself is over (and the conference space might not be active) the connections are just as real as participating in a face to face conference. I don't see that it is any different than the connections you make in a face to face class compared to the connections made in an online class. The main difference is the mode of communication. However, had I not participated in the online conference, I would not have connected with people like you, Karyn Romeis, Vicky Davis, or Christy Tucker. Not only that, but I would never have connected with any of you as I doubt we would be going to the same conference.

I look at the type of participation that Sue described as a "blended learning" conference participation so those that prefer the personal interaction can make the contacts. However, the post conference participation will be different than in a traditional conference.

Brent Schlenker said...

@Sue - Thanks for the kudos on AG|08 Live! We were very happy with the response we had. We've learned a lot from the experience and are gearing up for DevLearn08 Live!
I'll make sure you are #1 in the TWITTER stream ;-)
Cheers!
Brent

Tony Karrer said...

Virginia - I completely agree about the value of networking from blogging / commenting activities. You definitely form valuable connections.

And conferences are a good way for all of us to get together.

Sue Waters said...

Brent - Come on you have to be joking? Surely you aren't going to do that to the participants at DevLearn08 Live?

Besides I know you dumped me at AG|08 Live (feeling unloved now). That must have been on when I was on vacation so my tweets than would have been hilarious at a conference as I was ranting a bit about men who can't catch fish, rain and crappy accommodation.

In all seriousness I'm not the person to add to a conference twitter stream because I mix the mundane with the getting work done tweets (which is important in twitter for making that personal connection).

AG|08 Live is an excellent model of how to show participants how to connect.

Michael - you have hit the bulls eye. You're correct the connectors are really important. Trouble is not all industry areas will have the connectors.

Virgina - we all use twitter as our notification system for online events.

Tony - sent the email. I think "Or are we just saying that participation rates will vary based on connectedness and skills of the audience?" is correct. But we are seeing change happen in the general populations. Almost everyone has FB accounts. And what I'm seeing here is main stream media is talking about these tools which is increasing public awareness. However some tools will appeal more to the masses than others (lets hope they leave twitter alone).

This is a really interesting conversation Tony and it's a shame I don't have time to blog about it.

Mick Leyden said...

This really has evolved into a fantastic conversation, and has been quite an Ah ha moment for me (I feel another blog post coming on). I've often read about the power of the comment function but had not experienced it until now!

Tony - that's true I don't want to cheese off the people who I'm hoping will be my biggest fans!

Michael - I absolutely agree. It is interesting that we have talked about allowing online networkers to meet face to face, I guess we need to make it just as easy for face to face networkers to meet online.

V- It's interesting that you raise the longevity of the network after the conference. I (like Tony by the sounds of it) have had hopes of 'extending' the life of the conference.

Would it be worth scheduling online events after the conference? Perhaps live Q+A type sessions?

V Yonkers said...

The post conference event (Q & A) would be a good idea, but must be coordinated at the conference (e-mail addresses, followed up with reminders either through twitter--as Sue mentions they use--or an e-mail). I'm not sure about the timing as it must be late enough to let people reflect and get caught up with their work, but not too long so they forget about it.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi everyone, just loving this conversation. I have been grinding my teeth in frustration trying to get across to my profession in health about making conferences more accessible. Living in New Zealand I miss out on a lot of great stuff going on, particularly in the UK and USA. I have written I don't know how many emails to people who are organising events to record and publish speakers presentations. If I am lucky (having begged and begged) I might get a copy of a PowerPoint presentation. As for making a recording, you'd think I'd asked them to chop off a limb. I guess the only way to change attitudes and practice in this context is to keep on drip, dripping ideas and suggestions to conference organizers.

V Yonkers said...

Sarah, that makes me wonder. Do you think that is because they just don't understand the potential, they really don't want to open the "club" up to others outside the organization, or they don't really understand the needs of their members? I am surprised because much of the healthcare industry in the US has really embraced e-learning as a means of keeping up professional qualifications (many of my students are instructional designers for healthcare and medical universities).

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi V Yonkers, I don't think there is an intentional desire to exclude people its just a general unawareness and lack of knowledge of the potential of social networking. We not anywhere down the road of e-learning in Europe and Australasia as you are in the US. I also think there is a degree of suspicion of web 2.0 etc in my area - that is what those of us who see its value need to address.