My History of Live Event Blogging and Social Media Coverage

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

No…seriously.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

It’s Essential To Find Brand Voice

Here’s the key graf in this story (via FashionRedef) about how fashion brands have begun addressing their customers as peers instead of experts or cold, soulless corporations.

For sustainable direct-to-consumer brand Reformation, “hyper-growth” was also kick-started with a pithy newsletter in March 2013, says the company’s founder, Yael Aflalo. “We wrote about Coachella and the caption was: ‘It’s not that important but it kinda is.’ All my friends rung me to say how cute it was.” It wasn’t just cute; it was instantly profitable. Sales jumped from $18,000 in February (pre-newsletter) to $175,000 in March. Millennial-friendly Instagram captions and product descriptions (Aflalo describes the tone as a SoCal-esque “urgh, but yeah”) are part of Reformation’s USP. “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2”, puns their Instagram bio, where the brand has 818,00 followers.

What the story shows is how vitally important it is for brands to find a voice that truly connects with its customers. The “BFF Marketing” label that’s affixed to these particular examples shows that sort of tone and connection that has worked with these companies and indicates the role that worked for them. In this case they adopted the persona of the “BFF” of the women they were trying to reach and spoke to them in that language, with that cadence and using that sort of terminology.

Shown here are the results of adjustments to that voice that have worked out well for the brands mentioned. Unseen is the rigor that often goes into making those adjustments.

Brand “voice” is something that is vitally important and not just changed on a whim, at least not in most cases. Usually it takes a massive amounts of rigor and research before all the various stakeholders will sign off on adjustments to the approach taken with marketing copy.

I’ve gone through this process a few times in my career. Here are some of the factors I had to include when making the case to change what had been dry marketing copy into something more interesting and engaging for the audience.

Analyze the Audience

If you want to fit in with the audience, you have to know how they’re talking, both about you specifically and the general topics in your industry. What sorts of conversations are they having? Are they having fun or are they more serious? Don’t limit your research to civilians and individuals, but also take a look at how industry trade pubs and other news sites are sharing updates. See if you can find what’s working well for them and pick out the elements you can incorporate and which will work for you.

Define the Action

What I’ve found is that most marketing copy that doesn’t result from a defined style guide has almost no purpose. There’s no clearly defined call to action. The assumption seems to be that sharing the update, whatever it is, is sufficient and should light the world on fire. We know that’s not true, so make sure that adjustments in voice are made that include clear next steps for the audience to take. Interestingly, I’ve found these CTAs are easier to include in loose, informal copy than in the stiff marketing copy I’ve often inherited from other managers.

Set Boundaries

When I was working on a client project to redefine the social media voice for the brand, my counterpart in-house told me to present my recommendations in three ways: Minor adjustment, full-throated changes and ZOMG. Or something like that, but you get the point. He wanted to see what a small tweak looked like, what a moderate but still noticeable change would be and then what happened if I really cut loose. In this case we wound up going not quite all the way to 11 but definitely a 9.5. Knowing where the guardrail was helped us formalize that in the style guide and kept everyone honest, as well as giving him the supporting material he needed to show others what “too far” really looked like.

Remember the Big Picture

My colleague Dave Coustan introduced me to the following phrase: “Voice is cumulative.” What that means is that you’re never going to get the entirety of your voice attributes in one tweet, one blog post or any other single example. Instead, that picture only becomes clear when you step back and view several updates. Or even a whole month of them. If you have eight key elements to your brand voice, each individual one is probably only going to include three or four of them. Update A has Elements 2,4,5 and 8. Update B might have 2,3,7. Update C has 1,3,4 and 7. Taken as a whole, people will get the message.

It Helps To Have a Native

I’ve been lucky enough to be interested in the industries and products some of my clients have operated in and sold. That’s helped me write in the voice of the fan, because I am one. In other cases, I’ve done the research necessary to know how that audience and fanbase speaks and what they’re interested in to present an authentic message (not faking this is a whole other topic). It can be hard for companies to do this as they may not have this kind of genuine enthusiasm internally and it can’t be found in their agency partners. If there’s a case for working with freelance copywriters it’s here, as doing so allows companies to cast a broader net and find someone who brings that sense of excitement to the copy they’re creating.

Establish Measurement

So you’re starting at 3. Cool. You know that. But are you prepared to measure the impact of the voice experimentation you’re about to engage in? What’s the start date for the change? What metrics are you using to gauge success or failure? All of these are essential to know whether what you’re doing is working. The BoF story above shares some stories about increased engagement, a spike in sales and more. There’s no universal right answer here, just know what you’re hoping to get out of this work and be prepared to see if that actually happens.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

I’m Cool Being The Bass Player

For whatever reason I’ve been listening to a bunch of Fleetwood Mac recently. It started when I got the song “Temporary One” that the band played during their 1997 reunion shows stuck in my head the other day. That lead to a YouTube search for the video of that performance, which lead to other YouTube videos which lead to a Spotfiy binge, which lead to a deep-dive into the solo works of Stevie Nicks, a catalog I wasn’t super-familiar with.

As I was watching the video of the band playing “Go Your Own Way” (which I think opened The Dance), I saw Nicks and Lyndsey Buckingham playing the flashy, emotional front of the band. I saw Christine McVie playing the watchful parent of her emotional kids. I saw Mick Fleetwood, wide-eyed behind his kit doing what he could to add theatrics to some of the most solid drum parts in rock.

All that was going on while bassist John McVie did his best to blend into the furniture, even while providing some of the most musical and integral rhythm support rock and roll has ever known. He stays there, just feet from his partner Fleetwood, laying down the foundation on which Buckingham’s virtuosic guitar parts are able to soar, Nicks’ vocals are able to contrast and McVie’s piano parts are able to glide.

McVie isn’t the showiest guy in the band. He’s even less showy than other rock bass players, who often do what they can to make themselves both seen and heard. In fact, he seems to eschew the spotlight and just wants to play the music, letting that speak for him while everyone else on stage draws the audience’s attention.

While I only ever played the drums (and not all that well) in my life, I was always drawn to bass parts, perhaps by virtue of singing that part in the various school choirs I was in over the years. The combination of those two things has me particularly attuned to the rhythm section in music.

It’s also likely a symptom of my general state of mind, which is happy to let someone else be the flashy frontman while I’m happy back here doing the work and laying the foundation. That mindset is also probably why I was so good at managing core content programs, doing the everyday work that may not get tons of attention but which is essential to building a good content marketing program. I’ll defer to the experts when it comes to premium content executions and other campaigns, but it’s my core program that is providing the audience for those campaigns.

Of course, that tendency to just want to be in the background has also likely impeded my career at various times as I haven’t taken credit for one thing or another, preferring to feel that the client’s success was mine, even if that wasn’t publicly acknowledged.

That’s fine, though. I’m fine following the John McVie example of being an essential part of the equation that does his work and does it better than most other people in his field. I’d just uncomfortable in the spotlight anyway.