The other day I had a conversation with someone who was interested in hiring me for a freelance gig. He’d reached out and we’d traded a few messages when he asked something along the lines of the following:
So, do you have any experience with live-blogging?
Yeah…you could say that.
“Live-blogging,” for those of you who are new to the industry, is what we did before social networks were around and we wanted to share updates from events we were attending. As the name would imply, it happened not on distributed networks but was focused on the blog that was (and should still be) at the center of an owned content marketing strategy. There were variations, of course, but they generally came in one of two flavors:
First, there was the execution where a series of posts were published that recapped events from a period of time. You could do whatever felt right, either one post a day, one for the morning and one for the afternoon, or one per panel/session.
Second, there was the “single post with running commentary” approach. You could do this one of two ways, either natively (republishing the post at regular intervals as you made updates) or with a widget embedded into the HTML of the post, publishing to that and letting it dynamically update the post when someone visited it.
That eventually evolved into social media coverage, where the role of the corporate blog changed to accommodate the real and valuable presence of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other networks.
All told I’ve been doing live event coverage online for at least 13 years. In that time I’ve learned a number of lessons.
Know Where To Look
One of the most valuable aspects of live event coverage is that you’re part of a much larger conversation that’s happening. So you want to participate in that conversation, contributing to it and seeing what others are saying. In order to effectively do that you need to know where that conversation is happening. In the old days that meant learning what Technorati tag everyone would be adding to their blog posts so you could check them out later. With social media that meant finding the event’s hashtags (and/or making up your own) and following along to see how people were reacting to the news, you and others were sharing.
Have a Schedule
As I’ve written about before, a schedule is a must-have for any event coverage plan. You need to know who’s going where and when and for what purpose, especially if you’re part of a team. Yes, that schedule may need to be constantly rewritten (or thrown out entirely and created from scratch) but you still need to have one. You don’t want to be wandering aimlessly on one side of a quarter-mile long convention hall and get a text that you’re needed urgently on the exact opposite side. Even with a schedule in place you may get that text, so you need to know how responding to it could cause ripple effects on the rest of the team and the day.
Coordinate Important Beats
Live events are in large part about spontaneity and serendipity. They’re also venues for companies to make major announcements from important panels and keynote presentations. So make sure you’ve gotten the necessary information from other teams – publicity, marketing, PR or whatever – as to what news is most crucial and time sensitive and align your coverage plan accordingly. If something needs to go out at 9:17 AM, it better go out at 9:17 AM or there’ll be hell to pay. This comes from someone who’s both successfully pulled off these moments and…let’s just say “not.”
Pick a Format
There’s nothing worse for the team on the ground or the end reader than a muddled, confusing publishing experience. If you’re focusing on a live blog, make sure everyone is on board with that execution and not undermining you by doing their own thing somewhere else. Likewise, if you’ve promised the audience an exclusive reveal on Twitter, make sure someone doesn’t spoil it by leaking it to the press a half hour in advance. These and other instances of miscommunication (often rooted in the lack of faith some parties have in the content program) just make everyone look bad.
Engage With the Audience
As we were planning one event, the client contact I was working with and I were talking and we decided to step things up a bit with the coming show and really make bring it to the people who couldn’t be there in person. We wanted them to be able to smell the foot sweat and stale pretzels. That means not just focusing on core messages, but having fun with the general audience. Share pictures and funny anecdotes. Catch executives or others in candid moments and post them without saying anything, hoping no one notices. Lean into capturing not just those big publicity beats on your schedule but the *feel* of the event.
Indulge Your Experimental Side
I admit, this is the kind of thing that could have blown up in my face if it had gone badly, but on more than one (or six) occasions I did something while covering an event for a client that was completely off the reservation. They were decisions made on a whim, more or less, without any prior approvals or consultation, and I only told anyone about them after they were up and running and starting to get traction. You can get away with something like this only after you’ve proven you know what you’re doing overall and have internalized company/client values and ideas. If you have a little bit of slack on your rope, though, don’t be afraid to get a little crazy.
Have Remote Backup
This one I’ve found is among the most essential elements of live coverage you can include. Sometimes internet/wireless service in a venue is spottier than you anticipated to the point where you can’t get a photo uploaded to Twitter, but it will go through via text to someone else. So you use that option. Or maybe you need someone who’s not tied to a physical schedule to handle monitoring and engagement. Whatever the case – and there are many – it’s incredibly important in my experience to have someone who’s remote from the event who can be a resource for the team on the ground.
Take a Nap
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.