A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine that works for the National Federation of the Blind e-mailed me about a protest in NYC of the Authors Guild by the Reading Rights Coalition. The protest was designed to raise awareness regarding the guild's pressuring Amazon.com to disable the text to speech feature in the Kindle-2. We had been speaking a bit about Twitter, Facebook, and social media in general and how it could be used by non-profits to raise awareness of key issues. In order to show my support, I decided that I would tweet the event. This would be my first time covering an event in any type of capacity.
Working with software teams, one of the mantras I preach is owning your results. Things that we do well, we get to celebrate. Things that we struggle or fail at, however, we get to learn and grow from these experiences. Going into the protest, I felt I was grounded, prepared and ready. Coming out of it, I realized that if I had an opportunity to do it over, I would have done many things differently. That being said, here is a list of ten things to do and consider should you choose to tweet an event.
- Make sure that your event is tweet worthy. This means that you should ensure that event has a following or audience that would be interested in following the event coverage on Twitter. If there is no demand for event coverage, then you should probably reconsider unless its very important to you that people know about this event.
- Create awareness about the tweet coverage prior to the event. While people accept them, no one really likes a last minute invitation to a party. They usually have plans, and it raises the question "why wasn't I invited sooner". If you can (and I recognize that this is not always possible), create some awareness for your tweet coverage. This can be done by visiting blogs that discuss the event and posting comments that speak to your intent to cover the event on Twitter. You can also promote your coverage of the event on Twitter. The more you promote the event, the larger your audience will be.
- When promoting the event, be sure to include your blog as well as any hashtags that will be used to track your tweets. Hashtags are used on Twitter to classify or group tweets based on subject matter or content. You want to use hashtags to define the "channel" that people will tune into on Twitter to follow your coverage. For the protest, I used #right2read and #kindle2 as hashtags, allowing anyone to search for these tags on search.twitter.com and view my tweets.
If you have a blog, be sure to blog about covering the event. Explain why you're doing it, why its important to you, and share with your readers the hashtags they can search for to follow your tweets. Promotion is key.
- Know the event's location / terrain. Before you can tweet the event, you should check out the event terrain / site, and make sure that nothing is in place that would impede your ability to cover the event. Typically, this means ensuring that you have Internet access or cellphone coverage. Find out before hand, and do not make the mistake of showing up and discovering that the event does not have Internet access or that your iPhone cannot get a signal. Also, make sure that you have access to power; you'll need to recharge your phone or laptop if their batteries run out.
- Choose and prepare your equipment. The day before the event, make sure that you have all your equipment ready and have verified that its all operational. This means verifying that your phone, laptop, and camera are all charged. It also means including any cables you need to charge these devices or to connect them to one another. If you can and have them, bring extra batteries for these devices. Also, do not forget your AIR card or wireless modem if you're using one. Lastly, consider bringing an digital audio recorder; you may want to record thoughts or conversations with people that you can comment about while you are tweeting or in your wrap-up.
- Review an agenda of the event activities. Depending on the event, there may be a formal agenda describing its activities. If one exists, get a copy of it and use the agenda to plan your coverage. On the Internet, the cliche "content is king" has never been more true than it is today. If there are specific people that you would like to speak to, hear, or interview, find out where they will be and plan on being in their company. Find interesting activities to tweet about, and your audience will appreciate it.
- Show up early and survey the event location. Make sure that you show up early for the event so that you have time to get settled, validate your Internet access works, and find locations where power is accessible should you need it. If the event has a large attendance, then definitely plan on being early so that you can secure a good seat / location.
- Before tweeting, get clear on what devices you'll use. In the field, Murphy's Law has a tendency to show itself and remind you that anything that can go wrong, often will. Before tweeting, make sure that you run a self-test against all your devices, ensure that they have power and are fully charged / operational, and know which device you'll start using and which will be a backup. Having a backup device (like a laptop or phone) is key, because you very well may run out of power after tweeting for a few hours. If you plan on taking pictures, work out how you will take pictures and upload them. Will you use a phone, or a camera? If you use a camera, how will you upload the pictures? Will this happen in real time?
At the protest, I started with my iPhone via Tweetie but transitioned to my laptop and TweetDeck because of issues I had with AT&T and Tweetie (note: if you use Tweetie, do not send a tweet out until you verify that your last tweet went out successfully). Remember that often, something will go wrong. Fortune favors the prepared. Work these details out ahead of time, and you will have more time to cover the event.
- During the event, tweet often but practice good etiquette. Twitter etiquette is still being formed, but a number of commonly followed and enforced "rules of behavior" exist that should be adhered to. Tweet often, but make sure your tweets are relevant. When people ask you questions, answer them if you can. If more than one person is tweeting the event with you, thank them for your help. Take pictures and video.
Remember that while tweeting the event, your responsibility is to provide as much interesting and relevant content about the event as you can. Have fun with it, but remember not to cross any behavior lines. If you have to think "is it appropriate to tweet this", then chances are it is not. When you are done tweeting, sign off and let your audience know you're finished.
- Provide a wrap-up of the event. If you have a blog, provide a wrap-up of the event and describe your experience tweeting. While you can say quite a bit in 140 characters, there will be moments where multiple things happen at once and in the moment you have to decide which of those things you will tweet about. The wrap-up is a great way to provide more insight into your experience, what you enjoyed, thought was funny, relevant, or interesting that may not have been conveyed in your tweets. Additionally, make sure to provide a link your tweets from search.twitter.com.
In the end, Tweeting the protest was an amazing experience, and I learned so much from it (most of which is in this post). Have you tweeted an event before? If so, let me know what you think about this list, and please include any comments on we can make it better.