Twitter hashtags are becoming an average part of the typical tweet. Yet it is still sometimes unclear whether or not these hashtags matter. When it comes to using them as a tool for buzz and awareness, specifically for events/conferences, it seems there is still no consensus. To lead the way and begin developing an answer for this, WCG decided to develop and monitor a hashtag for the 2010 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference.
Observation 1: Size of the event matters—but not in the traditional sense
This conference, which took place January 11-January 14, brings together all of the top biotech and pharmaceutical companies in one place. This makes it the largest healthcare conference of the year with great potential for breaking news and important announcements. Due to this, there was some extra advantage since top healthcare mainstream media were in attendance and aware of the value of the news that would come. With that said, in relation to hashtag use what really matters is if the event has enough significance to the online community, with active Twitter users interested in reading and reporting outcomes from each session in real-time. Therefore the size of the conference audience on Twitter is what makes the ultimate difference, not necessarily the conference itself.
Observation 2: Short and simple is key, as is true for most 140 character situations
Though there is an obvious urge to use a hashtag that has clear meaning and connection to the event, the bottom line is the ease at which it can be used. Twitter users are less willing to use a tag that will take up more space because then the point they want to make is muted. Something that can be easily related to the event, even if it is through context or registration on hashtags.org, while still short enough to be easily remembered and used is a must.
Observation 3: Having credit for the creation of successful hashtag does not matter, embrace what the audience wants
In November 2009 the tag #JPMorganConf was started by WCG and was slowly being picked up as anticipation for the conference began to build. Though this seemed to be a step in the right direction, December brought a new angle. Mike Huckman, an active Twitter user and respected pharma writer, began a new hashtag (#JPM10). At first the two tags were sometimes used together, but the #JPM10 was clearly becoming more popular. To maximize the value of the single hashtag, WCG abandoned in the original tag and quickly jumped on board with the new one. Once there is clutter in the conversation and more than one option for a hashtag the conversation is immediately weakened.
Observation 4: Frequent use and re-tweets are key—but the event must provide the content that people are interested in
The engagement by conference attendees was higher than expected and the hashtag was widely used (over 300 tweets). This appeared to be due not only to the use of the tag by influential Twitter users (such as Huckman) but also because there were a variety of topics that could be reported on via Twitter. Conversations ranged from announcements made by companies and re-tweeted by other users, as well as interesting opinions about the comings and goings of attendees. People were able to easily re-tweet information that was needed by other attendees and updates for those who were not able to attend. One thing that must be noted though, is that most of this did depend on the interest that the user already had due to the importance of the conference.
Observation 5: Influence and content is more important than amount of tweets
Though there were many involved in the conversation via the hashtag, the impact truly came from the amount of followers each person had (an obvious metric to base importance on) and the amount of re-tweets that were used. Through a variety of tools, such as tweetstats.com and Tweet Deck (search column + search), Mike Huckman (@mhuckman) was found to be the most influential driver of JP Morgan Conversation on Twitter. While looking through 300+ tweets with the #JPM10 tag attached, factors such as follower amount, number of tweets, and variety of content were taken into account. Though there were important pharma news sources (such as @BioPharmaToday) that had nearly 1,000 followers and users who tweeted more often than Huckman, he was put on top because his tweets were re-tweeted the most and he had the widest variety of content to interest the most users. The key is that he sparked conversation and interested users who then used the hashtag on their own.
Through these observations and close monitoring throughout the process it became clear that event tweeting can be beneficial and help raise interest/awareness about a conference. Yet questions were still left to ask. Is this “tool” worth using for the specific purpose of event awareness? Would the same outcome have been found for a smaller event with no mainstream media involved? The answer to these questions is yes (with some other case studies necessary to solidify the point).
From this experience the conclusion boils down to this: by helping to spark and gather conversation about a topic all in one place there will always be a benefit. Also, keep in mind it is important maintain a method of weighing value relative to the conference size and who the audience is. If there is no one on Twitter that wants to talk or hear about the conference in the first place, it is likely the benefit will not be as obvious. Regardless of this, it is certainly worth the effort to engage with others and try to bring a hashtag to life. The end result may create a buzz that cannot be created through news stories and press releases. If there is one thing to remember from this conference, though, it would be that re-tweets are essential and drive conversation which is why an influencer with a large amount of followers is a big key to success. Identification and engagement of this person prior to the conference may be the best insurance.