Six Lessons from #unTech10

This post was originally on Engage365.  I’m reposting here as I am sure you guys will have some thoughts on this.  Please do share in the comments if you haven’t already on Engage365.  Thanks!

By now, you’ve all heard about how the UnTech10 unconference sprung out of the cancelled ASAE Technology Conference (and if not, here’s the scoop).

As one of the organizers of Untech10, I have, of course, been thinking a lot about not only how awesome it all was and how great it felt to be part of it, but also what this means as a case study for the use of social media. Here are a few initial thoughts about “lessons” that might have come out of it. See what you think, I’d love to hear your takeaways and ideas about this.

1. Build capacity for social media word of mouth BEFORE you need it.

UnTech10 could not have happened had ASAE not already had a strong social media presence. Lots of people planning on attending the Technology conference were already following (and using) the hashtag a few days before the conference was due to start. We started spreading the word about a potential “Plan B” before there even was a Plan B. Everyone was paying attention via Twitter and helping us pass that message along – so when the conference cancellation was confirmed, everyone was ready and waiting to talk about the back up plan and to ask how they could be involved.

2. Always harness and nurture that all-important sense of shared value, shared purpose, shared community.

The Technology Conference, just one of the many conferences put on by ASAE every year, has been an amazing vehicle for fostering relationships between association execs, vendors, thought leaders. In my original post in the run-up to Tech10, I actually wanted to make a little trip down memory lane and explain why this was such a special conference for Lindy and me. I know we’re not the only ones who have made lifelong friends at this conference. Live events, especially recurring ones, have a huge part to play in building that kind of community around an organization, those friendships and collegial relationships that keep people coming back to it year after year. That community had to be there in the first place in order for us to want to keep the spirit alive by planning the unconference, otherwise no-one would have cared. There had to be that collective groan of disappointment when we first realized the snow was so bad as to risk Tech being cancelled – and that collective urge to create something good out of this situation.

3. Get out of the way of your champions.

ASAE could not officially endorse what we were planning for the unconference for various insurance-related reasons, but they were also, in my opinion, completely aware of the beauty of staying out of the way of this member-driven effort. How could this not be an amazing marketing coup for them, to be so awesome that a bunch of their members would go and bust a gut for three days to create their own conference in homage to a cancelled conference? If this doesn’t get them some new members, I’ll be shocked. We all love ASAE and we did it for them. Had they tried to direct or control the proceedings, we might not have pulled it off. Hats off to them for letting us run with it.

4. Enable the right people in the right place at the right time to shine.

The planning of UnTech10 was an amazing collaborative effort. Sponsorship offers poured in from the moment we announced that we were planning something. But I will tell you now, those of us in the core organizing group all had some “special sauce” to bring to the table – but plenty of others could have done the same. Our professional communities are FULL of smart people with something to offer. I think one huge implication of social media is that you now have the ability to find talent throughout your community ecosystem, in places you might not have known to look had you been planning a project through normal organizational structures. The people whose expertise you need might not actually be on one of your committees – but when you tap into that groundswell of conversation and collaboration that is social media, you can find all kinds of awesome people to help you create something important. It’s crucial to level that playing field and encourage that diversity of talent.

5. Design in public.

This has always been one of our SocialFish mantras, but we were really able to put our money where our mouth is for unTech10. When we had the conference site set up, we asked all the original Tech speakers to put their session info into a draft schedule wiki – either for the Thursday in-person day if they were able to make it down to the Renaissance Hotel, or for the Friday webinar slots if they could provide their session virtually. We used Twitter to post out updates and reminders and announcements as we went along. We posted a cut-off time for speakers to put in their session info, so we could start putting together the schedule. We posted a cut-off time for sponsorship offers, so we could start finalizing logistics like the food for the live day. We told speakers when the draft schedule would be up, then when the final one was up. We explained to them that we were going to try our best to accommodate everyone who could show up in person, and in order to do that we’d have to combine topics and speakers, mess with their content, and not only that, but that we’d let them know at around 10 pm the night before when they would be speaking and who with.

Granted, these were exceptional circumstances – but no-one batted an eye at any of this. Everyone scrambled to add their info to the wiki. Everyone seemed OK with how we put the schedule together – because everyone knew what we were trying to accomplish from the get-go.

6. Sometimes “hybrid” means more virtual than live.

I think we’re all beginning to get used to thinking about incorporating content for a virtual audience in our live events. But unTech was different. Because of the blizzards in DC, we knew from the minute we started planning it that we were trying to provide the most useful and valuable content that we could for a mostly virtual audience. (In the end, we had close to 500 people watching via webcast, and 75 in the room). So it wasn’t just about filming everything. It was about making sure everyone – speakers and participants – incorporated the virtual audience into the way they participated. It was about speakers describing (or not really relying on) their slides in case the virtual audience couldn’t see them well. It was about taking special care during any group discussion to make sure people spoke into the microphones. It was about providing “on-camera” content for the virtual audience during the parts which would not come across well on film (like our breakout sessions, where the room divided up into three groups to talk about particular subjects). It was about ensuring that Day Two provided a full day of webinars to keep that energy going.

So these are my initial thoughts, barely ten days later. In this little video, filmed on Friday February 12, Day Two of unTech, Lindy and I (on about 3 hours sleep) attempt to answer some questions from Kiki L’Italien for the Delcor SweetSpot about the planning of the unconference. I thought you might enjoy this if you haven’t seen it already. I’m going to be on the SweetSpot with KiKi this coming Friday to talk more about it all, immediately followed by our usual Engage365 Water Cooler Chat. I hope you’ll join us so we can talk about what other lessons you think might have come out of this crazy experiment. See you there!

(photo credits – Lindy Dreyer)

{ 5 comments }

ZeristaSoftware February 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Fwd: Six Lessons from #unTech10: This post was originally on Engage365.  I’m reposting here as I am sure you guys … http://bit.ly/bPgXkl

SocialFishFood February 25, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Six Lessons from #unTech10 http://bit.ly/9o0USn #socialfish

AssocBisnow February 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm

RT @SocialFishFood: Six Lessons from #unTech10 http://bit.ly/9o0USn #socialfish

social_medio February 25, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Six Lessons from #unTech10 http://bit.ly/bPgXkl

Deirdre Reid February 25, 2010 at 10:09 am

One word – grateful. Thanks to all who were involved in the planning and presenting. These are great lessons to share with those from all industries and professions who are playing with the idea of unconferences, hybrid or virtual conferences.

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