The Social Signals and Noises at Big Conferences


For most industries, it feels like the early spring months are conference season. Abbreviations galore flood our inboxes, social streams and mindshare throughout the months of February and March.

At SHIFT, we are lucky to either be working closely with some of these conferences (HIMSS, RSA, CES, to name a few) or keenly watching for news breaking out of other events like SXSW and Mobile World Congress. On either side of watching or tracking, it can feel like a firehose of information between vendors, exhibitors, speakers and participants hoping to learn, connect, broadcast or even just plain old spam.

My head has been really buried in HIMSS these past few weeks, leading up to the event and then my time in Florida for the 2014 conference with our amazing team and clients. As part of that, I had one eye squarely on my TweetDeck for anything related to HIMSS14 so I could stay up myself and see who to look for once there.

I got curious when I saw someone – who I can’t even remember who it was on this point – mention that with days to go before the February 23 start date, they were going to filter their #HIMSS14 feed to remove any tweets that mention the word “Booth”. For those who haven’t stalked a conference’s Twitter stream recently, the word booth is most commonly used as an attention grabber and a request – for example, “Come to Booth #[x] to meet us and ask about what we do!”

What do the numbers really look like, then? Well, we put it to the test. We pulled all 70,408 public tweets that included the word HIMSS14 since the conference began on February 23, and here’s what we found.

For example, 7,885 tweets (that’s more than 10%) included the word “Booth” – the only words mentioned more often were HIMSS, healthcare and health! Another big trend was a significant amount of Tweets with links – 38,726 included of link of some kind. A final point of fascination: if you were following the stream, you likely saw things more than once – more than 50% of statuses were retweeted.

What does all of that mean? Noise. Lots of it. An amazing volume of content will always have some signals within it, though, and that’s also present in what we found:

It gets really interesting when you start evaluating the content of those tweets and look for mentions. Of tweets mentioning HIMSS, the Twitter user mentioned the most was @HillaryClinton, who was included in 2,560 tweets; the former Secretary of State also just so happened to be the keynote speaker of the week. The second most mentioned user? Another featured speaker, @KBDeSalvo, the newly appointed National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Karen DeSalvo. What’s interesting is that DeSalvo has a significantly smaller audience than Clinton, (2,000 to 1.21 million), but received almost the same amount of tweets (2,346).

When we think about conference strategies for Twitter and other social networks, a lot of our content creation goes immediately to trying to draw attention to ourselves. Engagement can also be a challenge, since things are moving so fast. It was not necessarily the audience online around Clinton and DeSalvo that led to content, but really their presence at the conference themselves – and it did not appear that any influencer or exhibitor followed suit in that discussion.

The next big thing in conference social media may be going past volume and looking to see how to take advantage of those signals, perhaps with some of the same tactics as real-time marketing a sporting event. It’s harder to plan your content since you’re commenting live, but the risk may be the way to break through.

Dave Levy
Account Director

Photo credit: HIMSS14 Facebook page

Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk