In certain cases, the Twitter boom isn't a wonderful event

Among the opportunities realized through social networking is the ability to add other dimensions to an event.

Among the opportunities realized through social networking is the ability to add other dimensions to an event. Live blogging and tweeting from conferences and other gatherings have expanded the reach of events that take place in a fixed location – a timely benefit with the economy curbing business travel.

However, some find that the online activity distracts from activity at the actual event. An August 9 article in The New York Times (“Party on, but no tweets”) notes the rules that some organizers and nightclub owners are imposing to keep their events off of social sites. The piece cites an e-mail invite to a media event specifying that recipients would be attending an “off-the-record, no tweeting, no blogging, no photos, salon.”

These restrictions are now making their way to events hosted by the PR industry. One PR pro who spoke at a recent international event says that, unknown to him, attendees were tweeting back and forth while he was at the podium. Moreover, people who weren't at the event joined in, making incorrect statements at times. Similar conferences have responded with tweeting limits.

These days, as everyone scrambles for an online presence for each communications initiative, it seems counterintuitive to put the kibosh on social networking. But keeping an event exclusive to those in attendance often is the better option. One section of the measurement roundtable PRWeek hosted earlier this year (see June 2009 issue) was billed as “off the record.” This inspired those in attendance – a cross-section of communications pros from different industries and backgrounds – to speak candidly about the measurement challenges they face and to offer advice and solutions. Although that section was blacked out, the anecdotal evidence from those who were there indicates the event was a success.

Creating successful events is a major part of the PR practice, and industry professionals must take into account how attendees, real and virtual, are documenting events online. An event's planning should include a discussion between the PR pro and client on the best social networking strategy for the occasion. In some cases, that means outlining the restrictions in the invitation. For others, it means designating some segments of the event as off-limits, while others are a free-for-all. Designating specific bloggers and influencers to be the official online voice of the event may be a way to go.

The expertise of the PR pro will ultimately determine what's best for each event. But without guidance, a PR pro might invite a certain number of guests, only to find that one tweeter put many more in the audience.

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