Last week I attended the American Bankers Association‘s National Conference for Community Bankers. I had missed the opening reception due to fight delays, but thought I would check to see what I was missing via Twitter. While I was stuck in the airport in Atlanta, I searched for mentions of ABA and NCCB on Twitter in hopes of finding the conference hashtag, but my searches returned nothing. In doing some additional searching, I came to the conclusion that there was no Twitter hashtag for the conference and I decided to start using #abanccb to start some conversation.
After attending the ABA Marketing Conference in September, where the tag #abamc was established (and a live Twitter feed for the tag was placed on the conference’s webpage), I was surprised to learn that there wasn’t a tag for the National Conference for Community Bankers. Several people used the tag during the Marketing Conference, which promoted a good deal of conversation before, during, and after the conference among both attendees and people following along from home. The absence of a tag for the NCCB was a missed opportunity for these online conversations.
In looking online, I found a good article on Mashable.com called How to get the most out of Twitter hashtags. In discussion about conferences and events, Ben Parr, the author tells us that “It’s become standard to track the conversation regarding speakers and afterparties via a hashtag.” I agree, and think that the conversation using hashtags enhances the conference experience. Parr offers three simple, but practical points of advice for organizing hashtags for an event or conference:
- Choose a single hashtag early
- Remind attendees of the hashtag constantly
- Provide a website widget
While not everyone in attendance at a banking conference will use Twitter (or have an account), here are five reasons banking conference organizers should use Twitter hashtags:
1. Generate Awareness about an Event
Establishing and using an appropriate hashtag in advance of a conference can help generate awareness about an event. This might help an organizer distribute news, session topics, and important dates about the event. It could help them reach a different audience than they may reach through other outreach; and it allows others to easily promote the event through online conversations using the same hashtag.
Networking is one of the primary reasons people attend conferences. And while conferences are a great place to participate in traditional social networking, encouraging online social networking can greatly enhance the networking experience. This allows attendees to engage with one another, and with the conference organizers differently than they have in the past (which for many, has been limited to face to face conversations). As a result, people are able to make meaningful connections with more people during the event – whether through online, offline, or a combination of both interactions.
3. Promote Discussion About Session Topics
Conference organizers work hard to pack as much good content into their conference sessions as possible. In many cases, this means that attendees need to pick between certain concurrent sessions. And often times, speakers are working with limited timeframes allowing little time for questions and discussion after the session content is covered. Opening the conversation to Twitter allows attendees to share real-time information from various sessions, ask questions, and continue the conversation long after the session has ended.
4. Engage Non-Attendees
While Twitter hashtags work to engage conference attendees, they also create an avenue for non-attendees to join the conversation. Tags allow information about the conference happenings and sessions to be broadcast to a much larger audience. As a result, non-attendees can follow along and contribute to the conversation, and in some cases be made aware of an event they may have otherwise not known about.
5. Extend the Life of an Event
Most conferences last a few days. With all the work that goes into planning the event, using online social media like Twitter or blogs can work to extend the life of an event well-beyond the few organized formal conference days. Using a Twitter hashtag before a conference can help get people engaged early; using the hashtag afterwards can allow the conversations to continue for weeks after the conference concludes. These continued conversations could help remind attendees of key conference takeaways. For the event organizers, it keeps the event top of mind for a longer period of time.
As a conference attendee, I’m starting to expect that conference organizers establish a hashtag for their events. For the reasons I’ve discussed above, I’m hoping to see more organizers using tags for future events. And as we’ve seen attendance at many conferences decline in recent months, this is one important way associations can keep people engaged and bring value to members who may not be able to travel for an event.
While the Twitter conversation may have been limited at this year’s ABA National Conference for Community Bankers, it was encouraging to see that people did participate in the conversation once it was started. And, it was great to be at the ABA conference in Hollywood, FL and follow the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference happening at the same time in Washington, DC via that conference’s Twitter tag. I’m looking forward to Twitter gaining traction among banking conference attendees, as it opens doors to conversations and introductions that may otherwise never happen.