The Backchannel is the Frontchannel

Jay Rosen has some useful tips for people to take into account when preparing for a keynote presentation or Q&A that can help them avoid the kind of vitriolic commentary, mostly caused by abnormally high expectations that weren’t met, which followed Twitter co-founder Evan Williams’ recent appearance at SXSW.

But while Rosen’s advice is great I think the existence of the very tool Williams helped to create – Twitter – along with everything else that’s evolving in the world of social publishing means there needs to be a re-examining of what “backchannel” means when it comes to conferences, not to mention everything else.

Time was that there was indeed a backchannel at conferences. Attendees would log in to a private ICQ chat and trade commentary on what was being presented, with recaps coming later. But now that’s been replaced by live-tweeting or even live-blogging. So instead of that commentary being available to just those in the room it’s now broadcast everywhere.

That means a fundamental change in the way keynotes are prepared for and run not only is happening but happened a while ago, one that we all now need to catch up to. Some basic things need to change in terms of how the person doing the presentation is prepped, how the team that’s supporting them monitors and manages the chatter that happens in real-time, what sort of responses might be necessary in the wake of the event and what sort of metrics need to be pulled. And that’s just what occurs to me off the top of my head.

Whatever the case, there’s a lot more work that needs to go into planning, executing and then putting a bow on these efforts since their impact is not only immediate – and messy – but public. The good news, though, is that as with most things there can be a plan for it that can make it all manageable.

Scaling Accountability

The usage of social media is, with some exceptions, no longer an optional part of the marketing mix for companies and brands. Businesses both big and small are using it to some extent and the percentages of those in either category continue to rise as the months go by.

The question, then, has moved to what components or tools that are part of the social media landscape are the best fit for the company’s culture and what the goals are of the efforts those tools are being used to support and in advance of.

Along with that, of course, is the question of how those managing the programs are expected to justify the costs involved in continuing their efforts. Yes, it’s the issue of metrics, accountability and return on investment.

But does the need for accountability – the need to prove that what is being done is having an impact on whatever the program metrics are – change depending on the scale of the company? Is there a lower expectation that a six-person social media program actually *does* something in a company with 5,000 or 50,000 employees than in a company with 50?

Of course the answer is “No” but there are some people who seem to think that when the program is part of a multi-national, multi-faceted company then it’s OK just to point at there being an effort – especially if it’s one that’s gotten lots of press – and then not really worry about it achieving any sorts of goals. The logic seems to be that Twitter, for instance, will never account for as many sales as a big-box retailer so, quite frankly, any push for results gets a resounding “Meh.”

Compare that to the 50-employee (or 12-employee or whatever) company who *needs* their Twitter account to drive interest and sales. Who *needs* their blog to act as a customer service listening and response tool. They can’t be resting on their laurels and write off social media usage as a “nice to have” when they absolutely need it as an essential marketing, sales and customer service toolset.

No, the need for accountability does not change based on the scale of the company in question. Social media programs at companies of any size need to have defined goals and metrics assigned to them that are reviewed, evaluated and measured against at regular intervals. It’s likely that anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know how to measure social media effectively or has some reason to be not interested in doing so.

Let us know what you think. Have you encountered someone who doesn’t think social media can be measured or is unsure how to do so?