4 online tools for engaging, connecting, sharing at conferences (part 2 of 3)

This is part two of a three part series on creating an online presence to enhance the conference experience. In the first post, I outlined needs for information and to connect conference goers which these tools can address. In part two below, I list my  digital tools of choice. In the third segment I will discuss a simple strategy for using these tools.

So what’s a way to address all of those needs without spending tens of thousands of dollars and hiring a team of iPhone wielding, Twitter buzzing social media peeps? If I were in charge of defining a solution, I would include these in my toolkit:

Note: I’m not covering Twitter, YouTube and Facebook here, though you definitely need them. I will discuss how to use these social media juggernauts together with the tools below in the next post.

Event Social Gymnastics: SCHED

SCHED is an interactive event calendar, personal agenda builder and social networking tool. This tool is simply awesome, and I know of no other tool in its category that comes close to its feature/price point. SCHED was originally developed for the king of conferences, SXSW. Look what you get for a mere $800:

  • Event calendar with colour-based categorization, live search, and detailed session pages. Filter events by category, date, venue, company, subject, audience, geographic area and most popular events. Highlight most popular events to help attendees figure out what to attend.
  • Attendees can create and save a personal schedule and share it with others. Export schedule to use in Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar or just print it out. Share via email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks.
  • Attendees can better connect socially by seeing a list of who else is attending, including their network of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn friends. A group schedule of current friends is also automatically generated showing you the events your friends are planning to attend.
  • Arrange meet ups by viewing attendee’s schedules and contacting them through their personal profiles.
  • Attendees and presenters can discuss sessions by adding comments to each session’s page.

Sustainable bonus: instead of printing out schedules, attendees can print their own, customized to their liking, or just refer to it on their mobile device.

Administration bonus: manage list of published events using a familiar spreadsheet format

Toss in another $300 and your event gets its own iPhone app with a full schedule preloaded for offline use, with search and filtering capabilities.

View full list of SCHED features.

Agile 2010, the giant gorilla you are, please put this tool on your list to help nearly 2000 attendees feel less overwhelmed connecting with each other and choosing between 200+ sessions.

Online content hub: Posterous

I had my big a-ha moment with Posterous using it as a community blog for the 2010 Orlando Scrum Gathering. I needed a blogging tool that makes it super easy for several contributors to publish and distribute content, with a minimum of effort. Posterous is the answer.

The process is simple. Email a post, attaching any type of document, image, audio or video, or just link to the file online. Posterous handles media smartly, embedding videos, audio and documents, creating photo albums, posting PDFs. Hook up sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and have your content automatically posted to them. All with the effort of creating one email. Makes a one person social media team look mighty smart. 🙂

Live publishing: ScribbleLive

ScribbleLive is a free tool that a conference can use to capture the conversations, sights, sounds (hopefully smells coming in a future release) in real-time. Conferences like Mesh have used ScribbleLive to create live blogs per session. ScribbleLive will also (for a fee) create a custom portal listing all the live blogs related to an event.

Key features:

  • Super simple to use. I’ve shown people who have never live blogged before how to get started in less than 5 minutes. It’s like Twitter or Facebook – type in a box and update.
  • Pull in all tweets using a hash tag. People are already tweeting about your conference, this puts them all in one place, in real time, archived online. Any photos linked in tweets are displayed. Post ScribbleLive postings back to Twitter.
  • Self-organization. Set up the live blog links, and invite anyone logged in to participate as a live blog writer.
  • The iPhone app works really well for posting and watching content.
  • Upload audio / video for viewers to watch / listen to instantly.

Bring the online conversation offline: Twitter Fountain

I tried Twitter Fountain for the first time at the 2010 Orlando Scrum Gathering and it was a big success. People enjoyed conversing while watching the constantly updated series of Twitter posts and images. Like a big visible chart, it shows what people are saying and sharing without having to go online and check.

For consideration: timely, shared feedback: SpeakerRate

In my search for a decent feedback tool I recently discovered SpeakerRate. SpeakerRate is the one tool I’ve listed that I haven’t actually used, other than to check it out. I first discovered PodCamp Toronto using SpeakerRate to provide more details about topics and to obtain feedback for presenters. It’s simple enough to use, though registration is required (please integrate Facebook/Twitter logins guys). Reviewers rate content and delivery and can provide constructive feedback via comments. Presenters build up a rating over time if they use this tool for multiple presentations. Worth considering, though I’d like to see SpeakerRate integrated with another tool like SCHED for a more seamless experience.

Those are my tool selections that I believe a small operation can use effectively without a ton of effort to greatly enhance the conference experience. What would you add/remove as part of your essential toolkit?

This is part two of a three part series on creating an online presence to enhance the conference experience. In the first post, I outlined needs for information and to connect conference goers which these tools can address. In the third segment I will discuss a simple strategy for using these tools.