June 29, 2009

Tweetcamp: Online network moves to offline community

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Amy Sample WardThis past Saturday, I participated in an experiment: Tweetcamp! The combination of a Tweetup and a BarCamp.  (Those links are to definitions!)  What this created was a chance for people who use Twitter to come together offline to create community. There is no agenda to the conference as it is co-created by the participants throughout the day.  It is for the community, by the community, all thanks originally to Twitter.

n2thinktankThis month’s Net2 Think Tank asks: How do real-world (offline) events fit into social media conversations and campaigns?

I think that my reflections about Tweetcamp are an excellent fit to answer this question!  And I hope they help you think about the way your organization uses opportunities online and offline to create community.

What worked?

Cross-section of participants: It was great to turn up to an event and have every person I talked to have a different line a work, a different reason for using social media tools, and a unique goal for what they wanted to get out of the day.  One way to accomplish this is to ensure you have a diverse set of organizers – you will tap into networks that do, eventually, overlap, but the influencers you target will push a great diversity of participants toward the event.

Space: This is both online and offline.  If you are targeting your online network, you need to have an online space for interested participants to sign up, learn more, and connect with each other. Tweetup used a blog to keep people updated, a Facebook group to gather interested participants, and a Twitter account for communications.  All three outlets linked to each other so people never hit a “dead-end.”  Offline, the space at Gumtree.com’s office in Richmond was terrific for people to gather as a full group, in small groups, and everything in between. Finding an offline space that really creates the right environment for such a loose-flowing day is crucial to not “losing” people to the outskirts.

Food: It’s true.  Your participants will get hungry with all that connecting and talking and excitement.  The Tweetup organizers did a tremendous job of finding sponsors to supply or cover the cost of enough good food to keep all the bellies full.  And in a very tasty way!

What didn’t work?

Timing: It is always the hardest thing to plan out, especially when you are doing something entirely new.  The organizers decided to meld a bit of facilitation with complete open space organizing.  The start of the day had participants in small groups (just puddles of chairs) and asked a question for the small groups to then answer to themselves.  There was some paper to capture notes and then a group representative reported back to the full room.  After every group had a chance to share, people moved about the room to form new groups.  A new question was asked and again the small groups answered internally, then shared to the larger room.  This happened three times and was intended to start conversations with many people so that once the room broke for open space conversations, people had an idea of who they might talk to, what kinds of things others had come to talk about, and so on.  It did accomplish this goal, though often times would feel too slow – groups finishing ahead of time and then moving on to talk about other things that could have been better in open space created groups where people could self select to participate, etc.

What’s next?

This is the part I’m most interested to discuss with those who attended and the organizers who created the event.  Here are some of my ideas:

  1. How is Tweetcamp going to move the community? Moving from an online network of Twitter users to an offline community was a big step! It meant people had a chance to be real life friends with their online friends, collaborate in real time about new ideas, and more.  So, what will the ripple effects of this be and how can the Tweetcamp organizers faciliate it?  (Or, if it had been an event organized by a nonprofit organization as a chance for those who found the organization online to come together offline to learn more, get involved, and so on, how can the organization move those particpants and network members up the ladder of engagement as part of the community?)
  2. How is Tweetcamp going to empower dissemination? Barcamps and Tweetups happen all around the world.  I think the event struck a great balance between the two and would love to see it replicated in other cities or by other groups.  Documentation is always the key to dissemination and replication; encouraging participants to share their thoughts and stories, but also the organizers sharing the discussions they had that helped create the event and their planning strategies will all help Tweetcamps sprout elsewhere.
  3. How will the network maintain the community? Those of us that came together offline on Saturday had seen each other before online, maybe followed on Twitter, or had seen a name here or there.  But for the most part, we had never actually met in the “real world.”  Now that we have, how will we keep it going?  Is there a role for Tweetcamp organizers in assisting in this process? Perhaps by maintaining conversations or other exchanges on the Facebook group and Twitter so users can find each other again.  I know I already have a few coffee dates with people from Tweetcamp and am looking forward to contributing to the community as I can!

What do you think?

Did you attend the London Tweetcamp – what did you think?  If you didn’t, how do you think your organization could move it’s online network to an offline community?  What do you think that network would want in order to participate?Amy Sample Ward connects nonprofits with new media technologies. See her business profile, contact Amy or leave a comment.

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