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Author's profile photo Former Member

Spicing up a Webinar: Bringing the Backchannel to the Front of the Conversation

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, 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.

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      Author's profile photo Moya Watson
      Moya Watson
      excellent blog post - so nice that you're finally bringing your precious musings to the front-channel of the SDN, rebecca.

      great points about how the backchannel is taking over the conversation.  i remember two months ago or so attending a (traditional, shall i say, "legacy"?) WebEx session that SAP hosted with Sean O'Doyle / MVP Microsoft.  at that point, WebEx still hosted the 'backchannel' with its own chat tool, but this chat was ON FIRE. and you're right - i made lasting connections (@Pistachio, for example) out of this.  because of the social-media nature of the session, people were nearly out-of-control chatting away -- and now, with Twitter in the mix, it's unstoppable.

      thanks again for bringing it out --

      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Thanks for the info.  Not being plugged into twitter these last few weeks, I've missed this.  eventtrack is another "homegrown" (@ccmehil) aggregation of tweets.  What you shared is more like tweetscan.
      I'm now following twebinar thanks to you and will be looking for you Rebecca.  Nice to meet you
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      what is great about eventtrack is that it captures more than just the twitter backchannel.  Tool like summize just track what is happening in twitter. 

      There will be more Twebinars this summer - info is at the link in the post. 

      BTW, I'm on twitter, ( for anyone following...