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Conference Stalker

(photo originally uploaded to Flickr by alan(ator))

My name is Henry Zonio, and I am a conference stalker.

With the explosion of social media tools like Twitter and blogs and live streaming apps and such, I’ve been able to listen in on a few conferences and even feel like I’m somewhat there and experiencing it. There were three conferences, in particular, that I vicariously attended through the magic of social media in April: Catalyst West Coast, C3 Kids, and Orange. It sounds really sad, I know. I probably need help, but it was an interesting experience.


Twitter was the primary means by which I followed the three conferences. Most conferences have figured out the power of using a hashtag to pull the experiences of those attending and those observing together easily. If you don’t know what a hashtag is, you can check out my beginners’ reference guide to Twitter.

I was able to set up searches for the hashtags used at each conference in a program like Nambu or TweetDeck and follow live the tweets of those at the conference. The neat thing about following the tweets was that people not only tweeted what speakers were saying but they were tweeting things they were doing and experiencing and how they felt about things… people were even tweeting to find each other at the conferences. It was almost as if I had astral projected myself and hovered above the conference attendees listening in on what was being said. (No, I do not practice astral projection… it was the first metaphor that came to mind.)

One result of me not being at the conference and simply being an observer via Twitter, I was able to answer some of the questions people tweeted about which had been answered previously by others tweeting. My most memorable tweet assist was when I had noticed one person was tweeting looking for a free ticket to Catalyst West Coast and an hour later someone tweeted that they had a couple of tickets available. I was able to send a tweet to each of those individuals and help get them connected. I was so pumped to be able to do that from thousands of miles away!

The funniest thing about me jumping in and interacting in that way at the conferences was that a number of friends I’ve made online and at conferences thought that I was at each of the conferences.


There weren’t too many people live blogging at the conferences. One reason was that at these conferences, there was either limited Wi-Fi access, no Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi that cost extra. This really surprised me because a couple of these conferences were priding themselves on being wired and using social media. Just because you recruit some featured bloggers and tell people to tweet using a certain hashtag and say that you are wired does not mean you are wired. To really utilize the social mediasphere (yes, I made that word up… you can have it for free… just know you read it here first!) you need to allow the attendees free access to the “interwebs” and think of ways for attendees and observers to interface with the conference in some way… I have many thoughts on that but will have to be for another blog post.

I did appreciate those who did live blog and then later blogged their personal thoughts and impressions. I think there needs to be a lot more development on the live blogging front… on how to do it effectively… Tony Morgan is one of the best I’ve seen who live blogs at conferences.

Live Streaming

This is the one area I was hugely disappointed in. Conference organizers have not caught on to the impact they can have by live streaming, at least, the general sessions. One of the conferences was unable to stream because they were utilizing a large number of video clips which they did not have the rights to broadcast, so I get that. The other two conferences, though, gave the impression that they were not streaming because they didn’t want to “give away” the sessions. One conference did stream their opening session. Another conference had a backstage camera stream, but they intentionally turned off the sound and repositioned the camera away from the stage monitors when they read that people were listening to the general sessions (grrrrr).

Anyway, I could tirade on that for a long time… I won’t. I understand that conference planners need to worry about costs and the fact that people paid to go to the conference and they might lose people coming in following years if they can simply watch the sessions online. I think the concerns are unfounded, though. As for costs, find companies to sponsor the live broadcasts and tag their logo or web banner or whatever to the live broadcast. As for maybe keeping people from attending… I think you do the exact opposite. If you have a good conference, it’s about the experience of being there and meeting the people and rubbing shoulders with people. By allowing people to peer into the conference general sessions, you have the potential of making people regret that they weren’t there… that is if you have some amazing general sessions. Also, by streaming meaningful content, you are giving the message that you are more about equipping people than you are about your bottom line.

I know that it doesn’t make sense to “give away” content, but nothing about new media and marketing in this brave new world makes sense.

Concluding Thoughts

While I enjoyed being able to experience these conferences through different social media outlets, I found out quickly that I could get caught up in all that and disengage from what I was doing here. I had to discipline myself to not get immersed in that virtual experience for too long. It’s almost as bad if not worse than getting caught up in playing a video game for hours on end.

I also found out that there is definitely a market for conferences to further push the limits on creating a more “wired” conference. I think The Idea Camp did an amazing job at it. I think that if conferences don’t get the Meatball Sundae concept as put forward by Seth Godin, they will quickly lose their effectiveness. Conferences need to decentralize, find more creative ways to pay for capital expenses, create more ways for interactivity among attendees (live and virtual) and presenters, and give more away.

I just read this post by Tony Morgan on how the church utilizes the web and how it should be utilizing the web. Much of what he says can be applied to conferences as well.

  • Have you experienced a conference vicariously online? What was your experience with it?
  • What are your thoughts on the changes conferences need to make?
  • Do you think I need to get help?

3 Responses to “Conference Stalker”

  1. Todd May 27, 2009 at 12:14 pm #

    Great post with great link love shown as well Henry. But then again, that is what I have come to expect with you. You rock.


  1. Social Media Venn Diagram - June 5, 2009

    [...] I’ve seen this graphic pop up on Scot McKnight’s blog and Kenny Conley’s blog. Apparently it’s making the rounds. I thought about my experience using social media to follow a couple conferences a few weeks ago. If you missed it, you can read about it here. [...]

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