December 8, 2010

Ten Weeks to Prepare and Ten Seconds to Tweet

When I was in library school, wading through Bopp & Smith's tome on reference, I read something about the responsibility of the public librarian to "index the community." It was a passage about how a librarian fulfills a role much like that of a hotel concierge in some communities. This phrase stuck with me, likely because when I was in high school planning my majors in French and communications (one of which came to fruition)--loving learning the ins and outs of Chicago city blocks--I wanted to be a concierge when I grew up.

While I do love showing DC visitors the best pizza place and tea shop in town, I became a librarian, not a concierge, but I'd like to think I still do my best to "index the community," whatever that community may be in my small special library. One of my favorite ways I have succeeded in doing this is to run the Twitter feed for our annual conference. You may think this is a no-brainer, but let me tell you how to do a bang-up job of it as a special librarian and make yourself indispensable in the process.

We had a "gently used" conference feed from the previous year hanging around. About ten weeks prior to the conference I was offered the reins and the password. Unlike some conference Twitter feeds where the username indicates the date/year of the event, this one was general enough that we could reuse it once we rebranded the profile with the new conference locale, logo, conference dates and themes.

I looked up the Visitor & Convention Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and local media outlets in our destination city, followed their feeds, and looked to see who they were following. I also found a number of feeds from restaurants near the convention center, and from big attractions like the aquarium and museums that conference attendees might want to visit during free slots. I tweeted for a while as the conference before doing much promotion of the feed, which I highly recommend.

When I had a rich feed going, I worked with other staff to have a link to the conference Twitter page in all the marketing pieces we were using leading up to the big event. This included our website, Facebook page, and correspondence with people who had already registered. When people completed their registration in Cvent, a link to the Twitter feed would appear with the phrase "Get conference updates on Twitter!"

For a few weeks I would tweet three times a day, mixing the announcements to have a good combination of logistical information for people who had already registered, and tweeting the allure of our conference subject matter with strategic hashtags. I looked up the speakers slotted for various sessions, and the sponsors for conference events, and found their Twitter feeds. At this point I was getting great use of the mention feature, which led to a lot of followers. (Much of what goes on in Twitter operates on the vanity principle, and there is no shame in that.)

When we were a couple weeks out I worked with the webmaster to get a demo of the Twitter feed on our home page so we would know how it would look. It took a little bit of code to upgrade the standard widget so it would include both manual and automatic retweets, and we were glad we had started early. Three days before the conference started we went live with the new page, and then I had to really keep up the tweets (which by this point were about weather, schedule changes, and last ditch efforts to get more registrants).

Then the fun really began. I was running around the convention center for a week posting fliers about the feed in strategic places, handing out stickers for people to display their usernames on the official conference badge, and switching between two Blackberrys as I ran the official feed and a separate feed for one of the pre-conference meetings. Conference organizers were great about announcing me if I was live-tweeting a session so attendees could jump on board, mention us, and have us mention them. I was also taking a lot of pictures and tweeting those.

While I was in sessions it occurred to me that my broad knowledge of the organization, a good lock on who's who in the field, my ability to think fast and know a good soundbite when I hear one, and the discretion required when anything mildly political spills into the soundbites--those library skills enhanced each and every tweet. And hey, the local Greek restaurant started following us and then offered free appetizers to any attendee with a badge from our conference!

After the conference I was asked to give a presentation on how all this came together and I talked about the 700+ messages we had generated as a way of codifying our institutional knowledge, our impact on the field, and our outreach to new stakeholders by putting ourselves and our issues into the Twitterverse.

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