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October 19th, 2007

Conference Blogging 101

Gnomedex 07 - Darren Barefoot

Next week I’ll be attending the PRSA International Conference in Philadelphia. In addition to speaking and participating in a panel I’ll be working with the conference blogging team. In advance of that, I’m reposting my comprehensive guide to conference blogging.

This review originally came out of the 2006 FPRA Annual Conference. I was part of the team of four people blogging the event. Listed first are the tools we used. Following that, I’ll talk some strategy.

The Tools

This is broken down into two major sections, hardware and software. As with everything, check to make sure all your tools are working ahead of time and that you know how to use them.

Hardware: Here is a list of the gear you’ll need to lug around :-)

Laptop/PC/Mac – Obviously you’ll need a way to post things online, laptops tend to work best at conferences :-) At this most recent event we had my PowerBook, two Dells and a ThinkPad. Connectivity – You’ll want some way to get online, either via wifi or a cellular technology such as Verizon EVDO. At the Ritz Carlton where the FPRA conference was held, there was not publicly available wifi in the conference rooms, but we had secured accounts in advance. As a back-up, one of the team had a Verizon EVDO card in his laptop. Camera – Digital, point-and-shoot cameras work, but investing in a good DSLR will make a big difference. At FPRA I had a Nikon D70 and Chris had his Nikon D50. Make sure you have a way to easily transfer photos from the camera to your laptop. Portable Audio Recorder – Some sort of device to record audio in digital format, MP3 is the best of course. I always carry an iRiver MP3 recorder. It features a built-in mic and a line-in jack to connect to external devices. A basic USB cable allows me to transfer the audio files.

Software: Make sure you’re software is installed and ready to use. For web-based software, make sure you have an account.

Blog – Blogging a conference usually requires some sort of blog software :-) In some cases you can pick your platform, other times you’ll need to work with the platform the conference is providing. For the FPRABlog we used MovableType. Offline Blog Editor – Having an offline blog editor such as Ecto or Qumana can make a huge difference. Being able to compose your posts and then upload them in the proper format saves time. You might say, “I can use Word and then upload.” Well sometimes that copy/paste from Word to the blog software can cause some formatting problems. An offline editor also helps when you have limited connectivity. At WOMMA this year we could not connect in the session rooms, but we could in the hallway. We would write our posts in Ecto, then step into the hallway to quickly post. Flickr – If you’re planning on taking more than a few pictures you’ll want to use Flickr. The ability to upload, organize and include photos on your blog can’t be beat. Flickr Upload Tool – A dedicated Flickr upload tool can help speed things along. On the Mac I use the Flickr plugin for iPhoto from Connected Flow. I also have the standalone Flickr Uploadr tool installed. At the FPRA conference, our team installed the upload tool on their PCs as well. Technorati – You’ll want to use Technorati or some other blog search tool to track any conversation surrounding the conference. Audio Editing Software – If you plan on doing any audio work you might need some tools to edit your audio files. In recent cases I have just posted the audio interviews as is without any editing. You learn to structure/format your interview in such a way that you can minimize or eliminate the need to edit your files. FTP Software – Many blog tools have upload capabilities, but if you need to upload a large audio or video files FTP will work best. Like the Flickr Upload tools you can start a process and then move on to something else. Of course you’ll need to have the proper username/password for FTP.

Strategy

The Team: Not every organization has the luxury of having a large blogging staff (whether paid or volunteers). You might be all on your own, but having some helpers makes a big difference. If you plan to cover everything, your lowest common denominator is the maximum number of breakout sessions. For example if at some point there are four concurrent breakout sessions you’ll need at least four bloggers to get the job done. For a standard 2-3 day conference here is my dream team of 3-4 folks:

Blog/Tech Guru – This person is ultimately responsible for everything that gets posted. They also provide tech support to the other bloggers. In addition they can take photos/upload them and do audio interviews as needed. In a pinch they will also write-up sessions. Bloggers (2-3) – These are folks that can write good reviews of sessions as well as recaps of other events. It’s a bonus if they can do some outreach and find other blogs or references that pertain to the conference/topic. Photographer (Optional) – If you can swing it I would suggest having a dedicated person to handle photography. Their job is to take photos and more photos then upload them. If only we could clone Scott Beale.

Obviously knowing somebody ahead of time helps fill your roster. In other cases, do some research. Who blogs within the topic? Are they already coming to the conference? Is the organization willing to offer them a free registration in exchange for blogging? Many savvy organizations realize the benefits of conference blogs and will gladly offer free registration for bloggers.

Planning: Assemble your blog team in advance and review the plan for the event. Much of this can be done virtually if your team is spread out across the country. Make sure everybody has the necessary logins/passwords for the blog and any other software tools, i.e. Flickr, etc. Have the bloggers do a test post in advance of the event.

Next up, develop a plan for who is covering what. Do you need to plan around travel schedules? Are there particular sessions that somebody wants to attend? Are there some topics that suit a particular blogger because of their profession or interests? Everybody should know their roles/schedules in advance of arriving.

If possible, schedule a quick meeting onsite in advance of the event once everybody arrives. Use this time to figure out your connectivity solutions. If a blogger is not able to get online determine a posting solution. Often this will involve a USB drive. The offline blogger can write-up the session and then hand off to somebody else for posting. As part of your schedule, be sure to give some time off during the day. If you have a photographer or a tech guru determine who will be responsible for integrating photos or other multi-media files.

If interviews or other types of posts are going to be used, determine a posting schedule. You don’t want to post all your speaker interview posts in a row, spread things out.

Writing Ahead of Time: As much work as you can complete ahead of time the better. You never know how pressed for time you’ll be during the event. Most events have some sort of schedule on a daily basis, write-up all the schedule posts in advance and have them ready to post as soon as needed. For sessions that involve speakers or panels, pre-write an intro and then research any links for names and companies of those involved in the session.

Of course pre-writing session intros can cause problems. At one recent conference there were a few last-minute speaker changes. The prepped items all needed to be updated before posting. Or as we saw at FPRA, Dewey Wins!

Is there any other information that needs to be reformatted or that can be prepped in advance? At the FPRA conference, the Golden Image Awards winner’s list contained over a hundred names that required bold and italic formatting. Luckily we were provided an advance copy of the award winners and were able to work on the formatting in advance.

Session Coverage: In most situations your primary job is to provide coverage of the sessions. Make sure you have a blogger scheduled to cover each session. If you have extra bloggers assign them other tasks such as hallway interviews or let them take a break. Plan what type of coverage you want to provide with the organizers. Do they want detailed notes or just a general overview?

If you’ve planned ahead you should already have a draft post with speaker/panelist titles and links ready to go. If you haven’t planned ahead, focus on taking notes then fill in the details later. Remember you can always come back to a post and edit it. If you have problems posting or any other issue, hand off to the tech guru and move on to the next session.

Look for tidbits from the session that can be converted to additional posts or polls. At the FPRA Conference one of the more popular items was the Dino – Dog or Dinosaur post. This came out of a Q&A with a speaker.

What additional information can you get from the speaker? Is the speaker willing to provide copy of the handouts or some other elements of their presentation? Upload them and link them. Did the speaker show a video? Can you link to it on YouTube or get a copy of it from the speaker?

Other Coverage As we all know the true ‘fun’ at conferences is the interaction that goes on outside the session rooms. This can include hallway conversations, dinners, receptions, time by the pool…you name it. Do your best to cover these items. Many times these are the posts that draw the most interest and often have a lasting impression. If you attended the sessions, sure you can check out those posts, but what attendees really enjoy doing is looking back over photos and other ‘fun’ times.

Planning ahead and make this portion of the blogging fun. If the blog team is attending a cocktail party give each of them an assignment. Use the social time to do attendee/member profile interviews. But most importantly, take plenty of photos.

Photos: Take lots of photos, then take some more. With digital cameras you can shoot and shoot, then sort later. I typically take a few hundred shots per day with my DSLR camera. The photos are a mix of on-stage action featuring presenters and casual hallway, social shots. Besides knowing how to take photos, how do you get a good shot? Take ten! With a number of speakers moving around on stage, I would generally take about ten shots. Reviewing them later, one or two would be good shots, the rest were junk.

I constantly offload photos to iPhoto and sort/rotate them. Once I have a good set I use one of the Flickr upload tools. A quick drag-n-drop and the photos are being uploaded. You can then move on to something else, like taking notes while the photos upload. With each of the Flickr upload tools you can create photosets as needed. For example you can create sets for each of the days, or for specific events such as a reception or awards presentation. Flickr also allows you to tag photos as you see fit. Once you upload your photos you can always return to add titles or descriptions.

To include the photos on the blog you can do one of two things: 1. Use the standard Flickr badge to include recent photos in the sidebar or 2. Use the code provided by Flickr to include specific photos in posts.

At the FPRA event we usually worked as a tandem. One of us would take photos of a session while the other took notes. Before the session was over we would upload photos and pull the HTML code for the ones we wanted to include in the blog post. In some cases I would IM the blogger with the code to cut/paste into the post or I would edit the post once it was online to include the photo. Whenever appropriate we would link directly to a photoset and let readers know that they could review a complete set of photos if they wanted to. We would also post photo-only recaps. These work best for social events.

The photos we uploaded for FPRA helped serve another purpose. Many of the chapters were able to download copies to include in their local web sites or newsletters.

With a more tech-oriented audience that might be using Flickr on their own you can encourage people to use tags to tag any photos. Doing a periodical tag search on Flickr will help you discover some other images. Link to other images when appropriate.

Audio/Podcasts: Are you responsible for posting audio recordings of all the sessions? If so, this should be arranged ahead of time with the conference organizers and the onsite AV crew. Many AV services that work at conferences have the capability to record sessions, let them do the work and hand the files off to you. If you don’t have the cooperation of the AV crew, good luck and learn to improvise. In the past I try to position my MP3 recorder near an audio speaker to pick up a good signal. That worked well at Syndicate, too well I guess :-)

Mostly what I have been using the MP3 recorder for are quick hallway interviews with speakers and attendees. For the FPRA Conference Blog the interviews with members were some of the most popular items. For those that could not make the conference it really helped personalize things.

Interviews can also be conducted with a speaker before or after a session. What we look to highlight are the major takeaways the speaker hopes that attendees will take away. If also gives a speaker the opportunity to answer common questions that came up during the session.

Video: I have only attended a few events that have used videoblogging as a medium for covering the event. In each of those cases it was Owen Mack and Jesse Buckley from coBrandit that handled all the video aspects. So if you need some assistance with video contact them :-)

Outreach/Conversation: During the conference use tools such as Technorati and Flickr to search for other bloggers posting about the events. Remember that people who are not members of an organization or attending might still be talking about your event. Link to these external bloggers and photos when appropriate.

Wrap-Up: Remember that some of this activity can take place before or after the event. Who is responsible for management/posting for the blog once the event is over? It’s important to capitalize on the initial flurry of activity right after a conference. Post additional wrap-up items and photos along with links to any external conversations. Use the momentum to promote other events and begin talking about next year’s event.

As you can see there is quite a bit to think about. I know that I probably missed a few things, but that’s what’s great about comments…anybody can add to this list. Have anything you’d like to add?

About the Author
Josh Hallett leads up the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing the care and feeding of clients and developing social media strategies with the rest of the team. You can also read his personal Hyku blog and follow him on Twitter @hyku.

Filed in Events, Social Media

Add Your Comment2 Responses to “Conference Blogging 101”

kaye sweetser on October 25th, 2007 at 12:26 pm

what … no mention of Twitter?

Josh Hallett on October 29th, 2007 at 9:06 am

I know, I need to update it :-)