Social media and the Methodist Conference
How I learned to stop worrying and love #methconf
I'm sorry this is a bit fragmentary, but I don't have all the data yet and we haven't done a proper review and evaluation. These are my first impressions of how it worked and where it didn't.
According to Digital Mission, over 55,000 people saw a tweet with the Methodist Conference hashtag #methconf in just 24 hours – last Wednesday to be precise. At its peak – roughly Tuesday afternoon and most of Wednesday – there was a new tweet with that hashtag every 17 seconds. Over on Facebook the Methodist Media page had over 12,000 views in the seven days of Conference, a 150% increase on a normal week.
This is a success for us – in fact its a lot more than we expected. So this naturally raises the questions how, and why?
First lets start with the thanks, not just to be nice but to give an idea of how many people made it happen. We ran under the @methodistmedia handle, but there were actually five people tweeting under that account, and also posting items to Facebook. So thank you, @annamdrew, @karendburke, @pbrazier, @richardormrod – I was the fifth.
But key to the success was the live streaming video, so thanks to those guys, and above all to Ben Bradley, Events Coordinator in the Connexional Team, who had the vision for and drove the creation of the Methodist Conference website that hosted both the video and a twitter fall alongside it, as well as up to date Conference papers. This gave anyone all they needed to follow the business however they chose.
But that's not all: back in the office Dave Webster and Lynne Newland (collectively @methodistweb) kept the regular website going, and had done a lot of the behind the scenes work needed to get everything ready.
And in the hall there were a number of people tweeting to the hashtag, and across the world there were a number of people watching the live video and tweeting, and together they created the conversation that drew other people in. And, of course, there is the work of experts, thinkers, event organisers and conversation starters who give ideas, encouragement and support (step forward @pmphillips and @drbexl for a start, and we met a whole bunch more during the week). We also had an official blogger giving his personal thoughts throughout the week, so thanks @Rev_Gareth, and @georgeluke did a bunch of podcast interviews, so we didn't have to.
We first tweeted from Conference in 2009. In those days we didn't really get hashtags, so we tweeted on the @methodistmedia account, and mainly just gave news: this happened, that passed and so on. It worked reasonably well, peaking at about 1,500 followers. Given that there are about 300 members of Conference, and rarely more than 50 in the public gallery once we're past the celebratory business, 1,500 is not bad. But it was a lot of work, and it was very one-way – we tweeted, and sometimes people retweeted or replied.
In 2010 we did less tweeting and let the hashtag do more of the work, but afterwards we saw that we didn't tweet enough, and we concentrated too much on atmosphere rather than news. We also for the first time had a volunteer. 2010 was also the first year of video streaming, rather than audio as before.
So the plan in 2011 was to encourage the use of the hashtag; to feed in factual tweets through @methodistmedia (such as the result of all votes) plus some atmosphere; to use the Facebook page to carry press releases (also tweeted); to use Twapper Keeper from the start to capture everything; to do our usual run of press releases and “old” media work and to monitor all that we could in real time.
This last point is crucial to me. My first ever Communications strategy for the Church started with the words “all communications should be two-way.” We need to listen as well as to speak. So reading what others were saying, whilst they were saying it, was essential. We could respond to people's questions, and to their requests. We could spot trouble coming. We could be useful to the audience.
But what made it all work was that so many people joined in. This is where Twitter really scores big – its is very easy to use a hashtag to join in or just follow a conversation on almost any platform. Even with two volunteers this year, we couldn't have created the volume of tweets that brought people in. People in the hall could both discus the topic and talk about the conversation in real time. Our plan was to help keep things going, or even prime the pump, but alone this was all have ben rather small. It was the social aspect that made this so successful. It also helped that Conference was addressing some big topics, and some exciting plans.
And what were the stats?
has already done a great post (and see Digital Mission@pmphillips own blogpost on this: editor) on the tweets that I won't try to summarise, but for the Facebook page we see from insights a distinct break down in age groups:
- 25-34 - 14%
- 35-44 - 22%
- 45-54 - 31%
- 55+ - 22%
This says something about Methodism, but also keep it in mind next time you watch The Social Network.
About 90% of the Facebook views were from the UK, with the USA the biggest overseas contingent.
- Our basic online strategy – provide facts, publicise a hashtag, join in the conversation – worked better than expected.
- Live video alongside the twitter fall and up to date Conference paperwork helped people engage with the business as well as the conversation
- Don't forget “old media” - we also did 27 live and a number of pre-recorded interviews for local and national radio. Those added another 500,000+ people to those we reached.
- Listen as well as speak.
- Both venue and hotel staff were excellent. This might not sound like a social media issue, but its hard to deliver good twitter content if you spend the morning getting a blinking strip light fixed. Thanks @southportconf
What didn't work?
- At the risk of tempting fate, everything worked this year, except all attempts to link our Facebook and Twitter actions together. In the end this didn't matter too much, but was still frustrating and disappointing, and wasted about 3 hours before we decided to stop worrying for this year.
- But we are utterly reliant on volunteers in the office if we're going to match this for next year. We can't do it with the paid staff we have, and that is never ideal.
- We also reliant on the venue having good wifi in the main hall.
What will we do differently?
- Start plugging the hashtag and the various services earlier, although it will obviously be the same (one reason I resisted having #methconf11 this year).
- Tweet this and Facebook like buttons on all releases, and other website pages as well.
- Plug the hashtag and Facebook page in all releases.
- Rethink how to link Facebook, Twitter and possibly other platforms (hello, Google Plus!) and what the content needs are for each.
Toby Scott (@tobygmscott)
Head of Communications, Methodist Church in Britain.