Promoting a conference on social media is all in a day’s work to most academic societies. It’s relatively easy to create a hashtag and disseminate important information through tweets, Facebook posts, etc. But what happens next? Societies don’t always know what people, especially members and potential attendees, are saying about the conference. Here’s where social listening becomes important.
What is social listening?
Social listening is all about monitoring various social media platforms for mentions of your conference as well as conversations around it, and then analyzing the data while paying attention to mood and sentiment. In simple terms, you’re not just tracking how many times your conference hashtag has appeared on Twitter, but what users are actually saying and feeling about the conference.
Why is social listening crucial in 2022?
The 2022 conference arena is rapidly changing. Towards the end of 2021, many societies were optimistic about resuming in-person conferences in the following year. The emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19—and subsequent travel bans and lockdowns—has thrown a spanner into the works. Conferences scheduled for the first quarter of 2022 are likely the most vulnerable, with organizers grappling with the possibility of last-minute venue cancellations and even speaker/panelist no-shows. In this scenario, societies need to keep an ear to the ground and provide timely and sensitive responses to members’ and attendees’ concerns.
Does social listening really work for academic conferences?
Conference organizers may assume that most people are excited and delighted to attend a conference, especially in-person. After all, isn’t that what people have been hoping for since 2020? Social listening data can show that attendees’ feelings toward in-person events are much more complex and nuanced. When the American Historical Association declared that its January 2022 conference in New Orleans would continue to be held in-person, despite surging Omicron case numbers, the society drew flak on Twitter, and some tweets opposing the in-person event were even covered in news portals.
Social listening can also provide conference organizers insights on barriers or challenges faced by attendees, such as acceptance emails going to junk mail, time zone difficulties for virtual events, or the annoyance of cancelled flights and hotel registrations.
How can societies ace social listening?
Here are some tips to make your social listening more effective and translate into practical results.
Identify your audience
Is it just researchers or does it include undergrad and graduate students, practitioners, non-profit bodies, etc.? Is it confined to one country or is it global? What platforms do they use? Once you figure these out, your social listening becomes more purposeful and practical.
Rather than firing off a series of announcements about your conference at your followers on social media, take time to engage with them on a personal level. For example, congratulate a PhD student who’s excited about their first conference presentation (and respond to their plea for advice on how to present!). Have two-way conversations with your followers, which will ultimately lead you to uncover new insights and pain points for your potential attendees.
Respond to criticism appropriately
No matter how well a conference is planned, there will be hiccups. Perhaps a supplier has failed to deliver, or critical equipment has malfunctioned. Timely and empathetic responses to negative comments are a way of showing all your attendees that you care about their comfort and convenience.
Don’t underestimate the effort involved
Effective social listening is not the same as mindlessly scrolling through various social media platforms. You’ll need to pick a tool(s) that meet your society’s needs and budget and ensure that those responsible for creating and responding to posts are appropriately trained. Finally, you need to formulate a plan for handling and analyzing the data you collect, so that you obtain actionable insights.
Pro tip: Partnering with a trusted agency like Impact Science can help you up your social listening game, while saving your employees’ and volunteers’ time and effort.
Whether your 2022 conference is in-person, virtual, or hybrid, your society cannot afford to disregard the power of social media. The conference landscape has not only turned upside down but is constantly changing and evolving. Social listening is one of the simplest and most effective ways in which you can engage with attendee