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Trending tweets at SES London 2010

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At SES London 2010, we launched a grand experiment in which we projected a customised Twitter feed of all the tweets originating directly from the conference onto the wall. Did it have any impact on the conference?

Well, within a matter of hours the #SESlondon hashtag became a trending topic on Twitter in the UK. Given the new venue, the new speaker line up and the fact that organizing every single SES event is a huge challenge in itself - it was a pretty magic moment for us internet marketing geeks at Incisive Media.

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It seems as if the Twitter wall provided a focal point and, dare i say it, a purpose for tweeting insights directly from the conference. What was astonishing was how quickly the event trended despite the fact that, ironically, this year we promoted multiple hashtags that were primarily for internal use only.

We had 4 hashtags designed purely for conference attendees to participate in. They were #ses1, #ses2, #ses3 and #seskey which related to tweets originating from the seminar 'track' (& room) number or the keynote. On the Twitter wall, Ultra Knowledge (the guys whose concept it was), also plotted sideway bar charts displaying which was the most popular track of the conference. The wall would then project a rolling feed of all the tweets using the hashtags and also posted the profile picture of users who were tweeting, such that a collage of faces and logos appeared in the background.

I personally thought this was cool as it was a bit like machine generated art - organic activity led to creative modes of displaying the data. However, Ultraknowledge assured me in an interview with them (please see the video below), that the real magic happens when we look back over the data and start to model it against what we know was happening at the time. Only a few weeks before I might have been a touch cynical in regards such a statement, but there was an uncanny correlation between our event trending on the first day and running a Tweet wall at SES London for the first time.

Ultraknowledge are still processing the data and they are promising some exciting infographics to display the data. However, impatient as ever, the question of Twitter magic has been bugging me - what can tweet data really tell us? How far does it reflect the conference? I had to find out myself so i commenced some investigations.

The first thing i found was Crowd-eye which showed a basic bar chart of the data for certain hashtags. I was a day late, so the data only accounts for half of the conference, but the information it surfaced is interesting nonetheless. Had i not been there, the tags listed under the chart might have been meaningless, yet knowing the sessions that were on, i see the data differently and have found Crowd-eye to be an excellent 'finger in the air' test (as one might calculate wind direction) for finding out what content captured the audience imagination. See the graph below, and some interesting highlights emerge. For instance, the tag cloud for those tweets skews towards topics covered by our speakers Jim Sterne, Avinash Kaushik, and Ralph Tagtmeier. What is interesting about the data is that both Jim Sterne and Ralph Tagtmeier were speaking during the hours of the highest volume of tweets and yet tweets were still circulating about speakers from 24 and 48 hours previous, presumably once posts about their sessions had been published to the blogosphere.

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This represented incredible value to me as it was tangible proof that blogs were a further stimulus to conversation about SES London. In fact, once could argue that there was a chain of stimulus for conversations about search marketing which originated from SES London and was then faithfully migrated to a digital archive, via some fantastic bloggers. Twitter seemed to be the glue between the offline and the online world - which prompted a further question. Do our hashtags have value for bloggers? What data would empower bloggers who wish to publish via our hashtag? The complete set of results of the investigation are the subject of another post, however keep the questions in mind and find out what Ultraknowledge have to say about it. What I will say now is that my initial investigation revealed that the top 10 most clicked posts (according to Bit.ly) were accountable for 60% of the total traffic from Twitter, of which 50% of the traffic went to posts about the keynote presentations. However, a not-to-be-sniffed-at10% of the entire traffic to content shared via hashtags went to bloggers who published their blogging schedule moments before the conference started and roundups of the entire event as soon as they humanly could. Furthermore, bloggers who were not at the conference but were following the conversation online, and reporting back on it via blogs and social networks, were clearly able to intervene in the conversation online and generate traffic to their own sites via our hashtag.

What this tells me is that Twitter truly is the glue that makes an event literally 'live' online. Value is definitely generated from the inside out, but among the eagle eyed, there is gold to be found in the hills of those Twitter trends.


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