Is it Okay to Twitter Workshop Content?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Twitter has made it easier for content from workshops, conferences and seminars to be broadcast to a much wider audience. It also brings up a grey area in social media etiquette:

Is it okay to publicly post content that people are charging money for to an audience that is not paying for it?

As an event producer, I'm a bit torn on this one as I can easily see both sides:

Side A: People are paying good money to attend this conference and any event planner can tell you that conferences are not cheap to produce. Speaker fees, travel costs, venue rental, food and beverage costs add up very quickly. (Just to give some perspective for any non-event planners out there who may not get to see banquet orders very often: the coffee or iced tea that's set out at an event at a higher-end resort in any given bustling city typically runs $65 or more per gallon.)  It's pricey to put on these events and the fact that people are twittering away key points of intellectual property to people who aren't helping covering the cost of the event is directly at odds with making a profit on the event or even breaking even. Plus, is it really fair to those who are paying to be there?

Side B: Twitter is fantastic for marketing events. There is no doubt that when attendees post updates from an event it increases awareness and interest for the next one. It is much easier to put on future events when you have Twitter buzz and increased word-of-mouth to build on. So in that sense, even though information is being shared with people who aren't generating current revenue for the event, they very well could be people who sign up and pay to attend a date further down the road.

There are many more questions that tie in with this particular topic in social media etiquette: does Twitter break the trust and atmosphere of a group? Can attendees or speakers really share knowing that anything they say is truly not "off the record"? 

At Engage!09 The Encore this past October, designer Todd-Avery Lenahan asked everyone to "use discretion" in tweeting his talk as he wanted to be an open book, but knew that Twitter could easily present his stories out of context since many people post soundbites and not complete ideas from presentations.  Many smaller events have adopted a similar idea and made their meetings Twitter and Facebook free. Is that the only solution? Will there be large events that are strictly Twitterless? Or does the increased use of these social mediums mean that we'll have to shift our views on not only privacy but on how the industry makes money from instructional events as well?

Lots of questions and as I mentioned, I don't have a firm black and white view. What are your opinions? Should conference content be shared with non-conference attendees via social media? How do you think social media and instant sharing will change the future of industry conferences and workshops?

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