We’ve all done it. You dial in to a webinar, excited about a topic, but soon find your mind wandering. You try to stay engaged in the presentation, but the temptation to browse to your email, or do other work, is too much. Eventually your mind is so disconnected from the webinar that you’ve forgotten what it is all about.
This is too easy to do when you are physically separated from the presenters and other attendees, sitting at your desk surrounded by distractions. Anyone who has presented on a webinar also knows how difficult it is to engage with your audience when they are anonymously sitting on the phone, muted, behind a Webex session.
This morning I attended the inaugural Twebinar, hosted by Radian6 and Chris Brogan of CrossTech Media. The concept of a Twebinar is simple: engage the attendees of a webinar using Twitter, a popular tool for backchannel conversations. [More SDN blog posts on Twitter here]. It is simple to track topics and events on Twitter using tools such as Summize.com, and Twebinar takes advantage of this.
A Twebinar is just a webinar, except attendees are encouraged to participate on the Twitter backchannel by using the designated hashtag. Attendees can interact with each other, and even the presenters and host, while the session is in progress. Questions, extended discussions, technical issue problem solving, networking – it all happened live on the Twitter backchannel during the Twebinar.
Instead of sitting at my desk as a passive listener, I was engaged with my fellow attendees. There was so much activity and discussion going on around the Twebinar’s topic that I was on my toes, thinking and listening and discussing all at once. Although the topic of the Twebinar was a bit of ‘preaching to the choir’, I still took so much more away from this Twebinar than I have other webinars, simply due to the level of engagement. I connected with people passionate about the topic, and I came away feeling energized and excited about the content in a way that I wouldn’t be if I’d just passively listened in.
How is this different than, say, a Webex chat panel? Some of the fleeting discussions lead to lasting relationships. Twitter gives me a way to keep up conversations and relationships with people outside of the Twebinar/webinar context. The backchannel conversation is also much more lively – it can bring in outsiders and extend the reach of the webinar. There is also nothing to restrict topics on Twitter – a backchannel for any session or event can happen on the fly. In fact, a good example of an ad-hoc backchannel conversation for an event is SAP Developer Challenge Post Crowdsourced via Twitter, in Mark’s blog post about the Developer Challenge.
Back in April I attended the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, where the backchannel was active and thriving. Many speakers and hosts used the backchannel to drive their sessions, monitoring live chatter during their presentations and panels. When the sentiment in one panel discussion became a bit negative (tweets of “this is boring” or “I wish they’d talk more about topic X”), the host saw this and was able to steer the conversation in the direction that the audience wanted. This kind of immediate feedback is obviously much more valuable than reading evaluation results three months after the event.
The Twitter backchannel is not so much a backchannel anymore. The conversations happening there and in other micro-communication tools are being brought to the front of the conversation. As tools improve and usage increases, I think we’ll see more of this brought in to traditional group communication methods.
In the world of Web 2.0, interaction and participation is the key. No longer are we disconnected, remote consumers of content. We create, participate, and interact with things in a way we never have before. It is no longer satisfying to be a passive observer – I need to be an active participant in the information I consume.