Yesterday i was asked the question about what would be the best way to support dissemination and discussion around conference in the Autumn. Essentially, the aim is to make it more interactive, to create a channel for communication that will enhance and improve on what is already on offer. A straight website won’t do this, as it’s great for dissemination, but not really good for engagement (at least, not unless you spend a great deal of time and money on it – on which note, wait to see what the new J.K Rowling http://www.pottermore.com website looks like in October – i’m expecting engagement and innovation aplenty…)
The obvious approaches are to include a blog or a wiki around the event, to create a time limited space for discussion, to register interest in sessions, to comment and follow up, and to create some kind of semi permanent record of the event.
A wiki is really a great tool for the latter part of this, to create a communally sourced record of discussions, but it’s not really the most user friendly of tools. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to search, but, unless you learn the process, the actual tools still tend to be relatively complex, at least for the beginner. Certainly in the context of what we are trying to achieve here, which is engagement from people who are primarily interested in the discussions, not the technology, it feels like the wrong tool for the job.
Wikis are much underrated in learning environments, very few companies use them with any regularity in learning and development, but they are, at heart, powerful tools. The notion of building a repository of knowledge by consensus, true user generated and moderated content, is attractive in certain contexts, although maybe the best know context of Wikipedia is still plagued by worries about true validity and the lack of a formal peer review process. It’s a great first port of call.
Blogs are, essentially, broadcast tools, with limited interactivity, other than comments and polls but, on the plus side, are both extremely easy to implement and extremely easy to contribute to. It’s harder to draw people into discussions than it is with a forum, but there is virtually zero cost to implement them, through a variety of software.
As with any collaborative and engaging social media, the real challenge is to regularly produce relevant content and to maintain momentum over time. It’s no good launching something with a big bang and then letting it fade away. Regular, high quality content will be magnetic and will draw people back, but just posting links to third party sources or putting workbooks online will not be likely to drive engagement.
It’s also important to discover the correct ‘tone of voice’ for the channel. Clearly a conference will have a ‘formal’ voice, but it’s likely that a blog would be stronger with a more informal and social voice; but how does this resonate with the organisation, and how important is control of the messages? The key thing about collaboratively generated content is that it’s the users who have the final say; there is a limited role for moderation. It’s a strength that we can find a different voice for the blog, but it also carries risk.
It’s also worth exploring the highly informal channels, like Twitter, to see if you want to engage in the Twittersphere (see “Exploring the Twittersphere. The convergence of formal and informal spaces at the Learning Technology Conference.”) (http://wp.me/p1gGpJ-4t)
The challenge is that people will engage in these spaces. The question is, do you want to have a conversation with them?