Thursday, May 19, 2011

NGS 2011 - Conflicting Social Media Policy

Long before heading to Charleston I found the official conference Social Media Policy on the NGS website. (Note: Twitter hashtag has already been updated for 2012 but this is the same policy that was in place for 2011.) This was going to be my first conference with a smart phone and I was really looking forward to using Twitter to send updates about the conference and to follow others who were attending so I was glad to see that NGS was embracing social media. At least it seemed like they were.

Their official policy stated "NGS does permit and encourage the use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and blogging at the conference as a way to summarize, highlight, excerpt, review, critique, and/or promote the presented materials, syllabus materials, or the conference in general . . ."

Imagine my surprise when session after session we were told to "turn off" cell phones and all other electronic devices. The announcement varied but almost every session I attended made an announcement anywhere from a simple "turn off your cell phone" to a detailed announcement of all the specific devices that should be turned off. Occasionally there was an added statement to the effect of "if you have the syllabus on your laptop or other device you can leave it on as long as you aren't using it for anything else." Some speakers even prefaced this information with "we have been told to announce . . ." which sounded a little like "this isn't my idea." There was no question about the intent of these announcements. They did not mean "silence your cell phones but feel free to use social media to promote the conference."

So what does this mean? Did the conference management fail to read the official social media policy? Did the official social media policy really mean "we encourage the use of social media as long as you don't actually use it during a session?" Does NGS not understand that social media is most effective as an event is happening? People aren't going to wait until after the conference day is over to go back to their hotels and tweet out numerous updates about things that happened throughout the day one right after another. People at home trying to follow along want to know what's happening as it's happening not hours later. Instant information is the whole point of social media. You can't say you encourage it and then tell everyone to turn off every device that could be used for it.

I hope NGS comes to a better understanding of social media before 2012.

19 comments:

  1. You summed it up perfectly, Linda! Incredibly frustrating and just made them seem incredibly out of touch. It would also be nice if the conference wasn't a "Dead Zone" for signal. Although not really their fault it compounded the problem.

    I wonder if it just isn't clear how social media promotes a conference, not detracts from it.

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  2. Great post, Linda! I wonder if they are passing out a script to room moderators from 10 years ago and don't even realize that it should be updated. Let's say turn off the noise, not the devices.

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  3. I heard a lot of the "we have been told..." too. I used my netbook & broadband to go to tweet out during sessions. And yes, "Dead Zone" is right Cheryl!! But considering it was marshland until about 15-20 years ago at least we got spotty service.

    I just don't feel that NGS really embraces the benefits of social media via Twitter, Facebook and the like. Maybe they will for the next conference.

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  4. Really appreciate your thoughts. We requested room monitors to have attendees turn the phones to silent or vibrate but we might have missed updating the script. Thank you for pointing it out to us and it will definitely not be an oversight next year.

    We do appreciate your support of our event and of NGS over the years.

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  6. Cheryl & Denise - The dead zone was definitely frustrating. I've got a few things to say about that in the next post.

    Denise - I wondered how you were tweeting & figured you must have Verizon since their phones seemed to work - at least much better than AT&T's non-existent service.

    Tina - Looks like you are right.

    NGS - Thanks for the quick response. I look forward to Cincinnati.

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  7. I agree, Linda! It was completely contradictory!

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  8. Hi Linda, I was really confused by that as well. Especially with all the Twitter chatter and complaining of other conferences I've "listened" to via people's twitter feed in which they were discouraged to turn off their phones as well. I honestly felt like we all had an opportunity to tweet merrily along through the opening sessions and did so, especially with Buzzy Jackson who was a great speaker and then it was as if we were punished and all communication "rights" yanked out from under us by the big "blackout." Well...not really but that's what it felt like :-)

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  9. Hello Linda and all the commenters. Thanks for a great conversation and I also admire the fact that NGS was able to monitor the conversation and jump in (which does, in fact, demonstrate that they do "get" social media).

    As National Publicity Chair for FGS 2011, we've been struggling with putting together a social media policy that is accurate, workable, and serves both social media users and the presenters as well as other attendees. To be honest, from my research of other conference policies, NGS and FGS are still on the cutting edge with their policies.

    Question: what if a social media policy included this: a) all presenters and speakers are briefed ahead of time as to the social media policy but could still make an announcement at the beginning of their own individual sessions, prohibiting the use of social media; b) a mention of the taking of photographs for use with social media tools (not many policies mention this); c) a statement that cell phones and mobile devices should not be used such that they emit an audible ring/notification nor for the use of audible voice conversations which could interrupt the presentation - however, such devices can be used for social media purposes (unless specifically prohibited by the speaker - see above)?

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  10. Linda, great job on the post and I'm thrilled to see that NGS responded.

    Thomas, I think that is a workable plan. I think presenters should have the option to prevent use of social media (although I don't know why they would want to; frankly, I've found that presenters who didn't want to be tweeted - well, their presentations weren't worth tweeting - but that's just my experience). Furthermore, at previous conferences, I've interpreted the request to turn off my cell phone as meaning to turn off the sound; it would be nice if that were clarified in both the policy and the announcements.

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  11. Thanks Tonia & Thomas.

    I initially interpreted the turn off request to mean silence but as the announcements kept coming (and some were much stronger than others) it really felt like they meant what they were saying and, from the comments here, others also did. I should also mention that of the sessions I attended, there was rarely a monitor making the announcements. They were made by the speakers who mostly prefaced it with "we've been told to announce" type statements. It really didn't seem to be their personal policy.

    I found it interesting that the only session I attended that I can say for sure there was no mention of turning off anything was Anne Roach's Tech Tools & Gadgets. At the time I just thought - of course the RootsTech chair isn't going to make that announcement.

    I agree with you both that a speaker should have the option to prohibit the use of social media for their presentation (although if they are confident in their presentation and abilities as a speaker I don't know why they wouldn't want the free publicity).

    Photography is another issue that I actually forgot to mention. Most of the time, we were told the use of cameras was prohibited. Sometimes there was a reference to "personal" photography which some of us discussed and weren't sure about. If we wanted to take pictures to use on blogs is that personal? I can see why speakers wouldn't want flashes randomly going off during their presentation but maybe it could be limited to no flash photography.

    The bottom line is the policy needs to be clear and it needs to be consistent in print, online and verbal announcements.

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  12. While the policy at this conference was confusing and contradictory, it sounds as though NGS is listening and that we should be seeing a shift/evolution toward a policy of "social media OK if OKd by speaker; noise not OK." Overall, encouraging. Excellent conference report!

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  13. Regarding photographs, I thought there were plenty of opportunities to take photos of the speakers before and after their presentations, without interrupting their presentations.

    I agree that flash photography would be annoying during the session for both the speaker and the audience.

    And standing up to take a photograph of a speaker in the middle of the session, such as was done during the opening ceremony would be quite annoying for audience as well (even without flash).

    Regarding cell phones, I took it to mean the noise was the issue and not the prohibition of social media like twitter. It was unfortunate the number of people who forgot to silence their phones. If it was meant to mean no twittering, wouldn't they have said no iPads and laptops as well?

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  14. Ginger - I was in a couple of sessions where laptops/netbooks/tablets were specifically mentioned.

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  15. I was not at NGS, so I cannot say with certainty, but a policy against photographs during a session could also be a way to discourage people from taking photos of every Powerpoint slide. It has happened to presenters. Taking a photo of one or two to supplement note-taking is fine, but all of them? Not so much. (And it was not a matter that the attendee had difficulty writing.)

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  16. Amy - That's a good point about photos and maybe a good reason to not allow them at all. I don't have a problem with not allowing photography. The wording about no "personal" photography was just a little confusing and as with every other part of these announcements - it wasn't always mentioned. I know one or two of us discussed it at the time wondering what constituted personal photography - or really what constituted non-personal photography.

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  18. While I am disturbed about this organization not following its own social media policy, I would have been outraged to have been told to turn off my netbook. This is my primary notetaking device. Did they tell people they couldn't take notes with a pen and paper, too? I don't think I would want to attend a conference where the organizers are NOT tuned in to needs of the attendees.

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  19. Susan - Did you see NGS's response early in the comments? Apparently, the whole thing was a misunderstanding and oversight in updating the announcement scripts. I'll be anxious to see what happens next year in Cincinnati.

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