How to extend the reach of live events with social media

The 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards was a true social media triumph. A live event is no longer just about being in the room or at the venue. With social media you can be part of an event taking place on the other side of the world. Below we take a look at how all kinds of events are being enhanced by social media, and the different platforms being used to boost engagement.

The London 2012 Olympic Games was dubbed the first ‘socialympics’. The opening ceremony racked up nearly 10 million mentions on Twitter in a single day – more than the whole duration of the 2008 Olympics. The platform became the unofficial channel for fans’ commentary, with people in the stands relaying the atmosphere and action before, during and after every event.

When broadcasters go head-to-head at prime time they know social media will have a big say on who comes out on top. This year X Factor and Strictly have generally pulled in similar viewer numbers. But X Factor hammered Strictly three-to-one in the Twitter stakes, earning it coveted most-talked-about-show status.

During Fashion Week in September 2012, Topshop premiered a live-streaming, customisable catwalk experience. Viewers could instantly buy the clothes and make-up paraded on the runway, browse colour options for different outfits, and download the music playlist.

The online world saw some of the most dogged fighting of the 2012 Presidential race. The Republicans’ YouTube channel was the online hub for its convention, dubbed the “Convention Without Walls”.

Meanwhile Obama made history back in January 2012 with the first ever Presidential Google+ Hangout.

The 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards was a true social media triumph. Among the myriad of social activity, music fans had access to the Backstage Show, which was screened live online. They saw all the behind-the-scenes action as it unfolded, as well as red-carpet arrivals, live artist interviews and the presentation of two MTV EMA Awards.

What platform should I use for my live event?
That depends on what event you’re holding. Here’s some advice on how the different platforms boost engagement.

Live chats, comment participation
A popular format. Here the audience is either watching at the actual event or remotely, and they use a second screen/mobile device to provide crowd-sourced commentary.

You can either curate the content (i.e. cherry-pick it according to your editorial guidelines), or just moderate it.

You need minimal editorial input if you’re using a host. But for the best user experience, provide live commentary or guide the discussion during the quiet times, either to a big screen or scrolling on TV.

And remember: you need tip-top moderation to make sure nothing inappropriate is accidentally published.

Examples of this approach:

1. Football: During the FA Cup Final, ITV displayed tweets and audio clips on its website, alongside the live match.

2. Reality TV shows: The Apprentice and X Factor have hosted live chats on their websites.

3. Tennis: During the US Open in 2011, a ‘live board’ displayed UGC from Twitter.

Live posting from events
People attending your event will live Tweet (or even live blog) what’s happening, so those who couldn’t be there can follow the action. It’s a great way to engage a wider audience for things like product launches, seminars and conferences.

The key is to really encourage people attending your event – in person, or virtually – to post to channels dedicated to the event (your webpage, Facebook, Google+ and so on).

But again, don’t take any chances – moderate your channels and make sure nothing inappropriate makes it on screen.

You might also want to pool all your social content in one place – Storify is great for this (you can see a lovely example of a Storify that we did on a recent social media crisis simulation and workshop).

Q&As and live chat
If your event includes an element of live chat, or answering questions from an audience (whether they’re attending the event or watching on social media), the curator / host plays a major role in getting a Q&A session right. Managing expectations is key – there’ll always be more questions than your guests can answer.

To manage this, collate similar questions so you can answer them in groups, rather than having to answer each one individually.  Encourage the audience themselves to answer the questions posed. This way you can plug gaps while your guest is replying, and it also it draws more people in to the discussion.

Bear in mind with Q&As on subjects like health and money people will want an answer to their specific problem. The trouble is, when you start dishing out very personal advice it results in a poor experience for everyone else. So pick questions where the answers apply to as many people as possible.

Something else that’s very important: choose the right software. It must allow you to publish the question and answer together, and enable ‘question queuing’.

Ideally, the software should also let the contributor who posted the question know it’s in the queue, so they don’t keep repeating it. The most common gripe of users ‘in the room’ is “Why won’t they ask my question?”.

Good examples of Q&As include: Doctor Who at Expo Comic Con, which was streamed live on YouTube, with questions posed on YouTube and the official Facebook page; and of course the now infamous Obama Google+ hangout.

Tamara Littleton is CEO of social media management agency, eModeration. This post is based on a new white paper, Managing Social Media Around Live Events, which is free to download from