Co-authored by Scott Sanders, Consultant, IAS Communications
Two days before the opening of the 5th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2009) the number of fans on the conference Facebook fan page jumped by almost 20% within a 24-hour period. Momentum was building and we began to fully recognize the ability of new media to expand the conference's reach.
Over 5,800 people attended the biennial conference in Cape Town, South Africa from July 19-22, and with the introduction of new media tools, many more were able to follow the proceedings from afar. By the end of the conference we had 1,145 Facebook fans, 227 followers on Twitter (many with their own, much larger followings), and 2,400 visitors to the IAS 2009 Live blog.
Bringing the conference to those less likely to have the resources to attend – particularly those in areas hit hardest by AIDS – was a goal of the new media pilot. Facebook's tracking data suggests it was achieved: 40% of fans were from five African countries (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Botswana), with another 8% from India. The strong representation from Africa was in large part the result of targeted Facebook ads—a very cost-effective way of generating fans.
For the IAS, which also convenes the biennial International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010), the use of new media was a logical next step in the expansion of our online presence. The blog, Facebook and Twitter all highlighted the vast resources on the conference website and helped us broaden the dissemination of important developments. The blog also offered a forum for the IAS leadership to share their perspectives on some of these developing events, while Twitter was great for conveying fast-breaking updates.
We launched our new media pilot just six weeks before the start of IAS 2009 with another goal of learning lessons for the much larger AIDS 2010 in Vienna. Some of the key lessons we will use in planning for next year include:
- Promotion – before and during the conference – is key. All printed and online materials, including pre-conference emails and the onsite news bulletin, should promote new media resources.
- Network with others blogging and/or those tweeting on AIDS issues and ask them to pass your posts or tweets on to their followers, if appropriate. Select and publicize a common hash tag.
- Pre-conference, post often enough to stay on the radar. During the conference, be strategic about the number of daily posts (we made about 3-4 Facebook posts a day, often with multiple links). Twitter allowed for more frequent interaction.
- Assign primary responsibility for posting to the blog, Facebook, and for tweets to one person to avoid duplication and encourage consistency. Staff should be trusted with editorial control to prevent a cumbersome, time-consuming review process.
- Highlight emerging issues and hot topics to provide those offsite with a clear sense of what is happening "on the ground." Posting photos, using twitpics and tweeting live from major speeches all contribute to this strategy.
- Monitor tweets, Facebook posts, and blog comments to respond as needed and identify issues resonating with followers.
- Twitter was very useful in communicating with followers offsite, but less so with delegates. One limitation may have been related to international cell phone service restrictions or costs associated with accessing the internet internationally.
- New media required a significant amount of work, which should be taken into consideration when planning staffing levels.
With far more time to plan and implement a new media strategy for AIDS 2010, we expect an even stronger online presence in Vienna. We look forward to sharing updates with you from there! And if you followed the IAS 2009 conference through new media, we'd love to hear your thoughts.
For more information on the tools mentioned in this post, check out the New Media Toolkit!