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An all-Twitter conference? An interview with the producers of TWTRCON

6 min read

Digital Technology

Smartbrief’s Rob Birgfeld recently spoke to Tonia Ries, general managing partner of Modern Media, about TWTRCON, the first conference entirely focused on Twitter as a business platform. The marketing and media strategist for Modern Media, Tonia studies the rapidly evolving relationships between content, technology and communities and works with the Modern Media team to create branding campaigns, build online communities and develop revenue-generating brand extensions for clients. TWTRCON will be held May 31 at Hotel Nikko in San Francisco. (SmartBrief on Social Media is a media partner for the event.)

ROB: Explain how the idea of an “all-Twitter” conference took shape?

The timing couldn’t be better. There are real case studies of Twitter delivering bottom-line benefits to companies that are using it to connect with customers.  Every company is reading about these success stories, and trying to figure out what their Twitter strategy should be. There is so much innovation happening around the platform that it’s the perfect time to bring the stakeholders together to talk about best practices, share ideas and brainstorm the future direction of the platform.

TONIA: Modern Media’s mission is to drive media innovation, so we have been passionate about social media, both personally and professionally, for a while.  Harry McCracken at Technologizer originally came up with the idea of producing a Twitter business conference, and when he and his partners at First30 Services approached us about it, we instantly booked a date and started calling speakers. We produce a lot of conferences, but the enthusiasm we are seeing from people who want to participate and get involved in TWTRCON is incredible.

What about Twitter as a platform/tool made the prospect of a conference an interesting one? Why now?

Twitter is totally open, totally simple, and — because it’s open and simple — totally extensible. Everybody who joins Twitter can, by default, communicate with everyone else. This makes Twitter very different from other social media platforms and creates a lot of opportunities for business applications to be developed around the platform.

And while there are many stories of companies successfully using Twitter in business for marketing, PR, sales and other functions, there are also many cautionary tales.  While the platform is simple, it is not easy to create and execute a Twitter business strategy, or to adapt your organizational culture to the open, transparent environment.

Twitter by its nature is a short, ephemeral, concise environment. Do you see any tension between the central personality of Twitter and the long-form nature of an all day conference filled with keynotes, networking breaks, etc.?

While Twitter is simple, the issues that need to be addressed if a company wants to commit to Twitter as a communication and collaboration tool are complex. The networking and information sharing that happens at conferences is a perfect way for attendees to learn how to address those issues. That said, Twitter’s 140 character constraint forces people to think about what they’re saying and to say it very concisely. In keeping with that spirit, our program will be very rapidly paced. There will be no time for pontificating or naps in the back row!

We will also be using Twitter throughout the program itself: as a tool to get the community involved in the conversation. We’ll be using it to conduct quick polls and to take questions from tweeters who may not be in the room. Harry McCracken will be live-tweeting the entire event. We are also working on the final details for short sessions we are calling TWTR Pitches, for which we’ll invite start ups to deliver their pitch in 140 seconds or less!

This conference focuses on Twitter as a business platform — but do you see this as a conference for the masses or more for the early adopters and “super users” who are looking to become more savvy?

Both. There are plenty of brands that have been effectively using Twitter for quite some time.  But anyone who claims to be an expert on Twitter might be laughed off the stage. Twitter is constantly changing and evolving as the community takes it to new places. This makes us all newbies.

We have also added a pre-conference session called “Twitter for Business 101” so that anyone who wants to catch up on the basics can start the day with a good grasp of the terminology and the basic issues. If you’ve never been on Twitter, you can still come to TWTRCON and use it as a way to figure it out very quickly.

If you’re a super user and have been using Twitter professionally for a while, then you definitely don’t want to miss TWTRCON. It’s a great opportunity to connect with other people who are equally experienced and to learn from each other.

We have all seen how Twitter has altered Q&As, note-taking and coverage at conferences. Is there anything unique about TWTRCON (besides the topic of course) that utilizes Twitter’s functionality in an innovative way?

We’re working with Operation Smile, our nonprofit partner, on a new fundraising campaign that will launch at TWTRCON and which we hope will demonstrate the power of Twitter to activate a community in a way that’s viral but also creates a conversation. That is, we’re going to try to go beyond endless re-tweets of the same content. The campaign will kick off at a launch party the night before TWTRCON, and will then run as a live case study in which TWTRCON attendees can participate. Stay tuned.

We are using Twitter to market the event, to solicit advice, recruit speakers and to communicate with partners and customers.  We can’t say that we’ve done anything terribly astounding in that way yet — we put up our feeds and made some nice badges that say “I’m going to TWTRCON SF 09.”  (You can pick one up here.)

And, as mentioned earlier, we will be using it during the event itself to drive community participation in the content by live tweeting, soliciting questions from the Twitter community during Q&A sessions and with live polling. And I’m sure that there will be more ideas by the time we get to TWTRCON!

Image credit, iStock