Hashtag Your Next Event

There’s no better way to keep track of conversations online than having clear, distinct and trackable terms. Because Twitter and Facebook are great ways to share what we’re learning at events, said search terms need to be short, simple to type and easy to remember. Not everyone has the patience or space to enter “Best Conference Ever Phoenix Winter 2012” every time they say something nice about a speaker.

Hashtags are the answer. Hashtags, which are short acronyms, words or phrases prefixed by a #, are accessible by anyone. They are easily searchable, allowing for both post-event research and real-time tracking, completely customizable and can be invented on the fly. Here are a few tips in choosing and using your hashtag:

Make it easy
If your event is titled “Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference 2011,” a proper hashtag could be #azec10 or #azec. Because most Twitter searches can sorted by date, it’s not necessary to specify the date in a hashtag, but it might be useful for readability purposes.

Choose one and go with it
We’ve seen events with multiple hashtags, like #podcamp, #podcampaz11 and #pcaz11. While this isn’t a complete disaster, it’s annoying to people who are trying to follow participant reactions online and makes the organizers look a little foolish. When you pick your conference name, choose a hashtag and promote it.

Ask your attendees to use the hashtag
Many traditional conference attendees aren’t used to using their smartphones during presentations. While this of course will vary among audience members, it’s okay to encourage their appropriate usage when listening to speakers or participating on panels. While promoting the event online and encourage conversations via social media channels is a great use of hashtags, if no one is paying attention to anything that’s happening in the room, their effect is negated.

Explain the what and why of a hashtag
Hashtags aren’t like gang signs, there’s no need to repeat them over and over to followers and fans online, nor are they really mean to exclude anyone. Hashtags are used as inclusion techniques, so be sure to tell your attendees about sample tweets and posts that would make sense with a hashtag attached. No one wants to feel stupid.

Consider a Twitter wall
Twitter walls allow the aggregation of all hashtagged tweets on a screen somewhere at the event. Some events have them on large screens in view of the audience, others have them in separate rooms away from the actual presentations. Placing them in view of the audience in the same room as the speakers allows for greater audience interaction, but also increases the chance conversation may get off topic if the speaker or panel isn’t top notch. Having it outside the main room keeps people engaged, but might not spur as many conversations.

Anything you’d add about hashtags? Do you use them? Why/why not?