Guest Post: Lessons From The SMAG Conference

On the 5th of August 2011, starting at noon, I held what would become a five hour conference on Twitter. Tweets from the conference are here. Themed the Social Media and Governance Project, the conference was one of the ‘experiments’ I had to carry out in fulfilment of the requirements for my MA final project; a live review of Nigeria’s use of social media during the April 2011 elections with the objectives to

  • Trace the growth of social media usage in Nigeria,
  • Conduct an enquiry into the use of social media by four of the eighteen presidential aspirants in the just concluded elections.
  • Offer a fresh perspective on the role of the media as a catalyst for national development and make recommendations in that regard.
  • Isolate the gaps in the usage of social media during the elections and make recommendations on how better the opportunities social media affords can be harnessed.
  • The end point of this study is to discover how social media can be used as a tool for good governance in Nigeria, thereby solving the problem of Nigerian leaders being accessible and accountable to the people.

So what did I learn from moderating a conversation with over 70 young people, and how did I collate and interpret the tweets? Below are seven (7) things any would-be conference organizer should know, talk to me for the other 7!

  1. People want to talk; they just need to be aware there is a platform/an opportunity for that: how much publicity has gone into your event? Where do young people go, is that where you’re putting the information? For the #SMAG event, over seven websites carried the release about it but to this day I still receive messages from people saying they were not aware of it. That automatically translates to; don’t be upset that you don’t reach the target number you had in your mind.



  1. Structure is everything; have a plan/topic/theme, and stick with it: do you want to discuss job opportunities for young people in the oil and gas sector? Don’t get drawn into a conversation on how the price of Louis Vuitton bags affects inflation. My point? Regardless of how popular an idea might seem during your event, if it is not on your list of to-be-discussed topics, don’t sacrifice your time on it. You can engage with that person later, or hold another event to address that.



  1. Watch out for those little foxes: it is the seemingly simple things that end up either ruining an event, or making it difficult to collate responses from it. Little house-keeping rules like


  • Using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc., respondents should indicate what questions they are answering
  • Using the correct hashtag  for every response (preferably capitalized) is absolutely necessary
  • Making sure that they attempt to answer most of the questions in your set (even if it’s just to say ‘no comment/I don’t know’ etc.)
  • Making sure that the respondents understand that it is a discussion, not an opportunity to cuss out at whoever they like. Reiterating this point before your conference starts saves you the trouble of sifting through hateful messages you cannot use.
  • Time is of the essence. How many minutes will be spent discussing one point before you move to the next? For #SMAG, it was amazing how fast time sped by because I was trying to respond to every single tweet. Fortunately I noticed early enough and put out all the questions before I went back to answering. Not the best technique though, and the conference last 30 minutes longer than I planned for it to.



  1. It is a conference, behave like such: because of the ripple effect retweets create, the publicity you should have for your event, and the phenomenon known as Timeline Browsing (random surfing though the timelines of friends, acquaintances, microcelebs, etc.), the chances that you will interact with tons of people you don’t know are very high. Introduce yourself, state the objectives for the conference, its duration, house rules, and modalities. Most important, have a moderator (or two, depends on how large the event is).


  1. The simpler, the better: that refers to both theme and the language of the day. Simply put, the underlying theme for the #SMAG conference was “what’s your experience with using social media as it concerns the April 2011 elections”? If people do not understand (the theme or a question), they won’t respond.


  1. Close follow up to number 6 is: don’t attempt to change the world with one conference: you can only deal with so much before you get disappointed. Attempting to discuss health, fashion, job opportunities, and preferred sexual orientation for under 30’s in one meet will be chaotic and largely unfruitful. Pick one, thrash it out thoroughly, and then move to the next.


  1. What’s your back up plan? My event was billed to start at noon on the 5th of August, and all morning that day I had been tweeting about it, trying to get in the last bits of publicity I could. By 11.50am, MTN’s service in my area tripped off, meaning that I had no internet connection on both my laptop and my BlackBerry. It wasn’t restored till 12.30pm, by which time I had nearly lost my mind. So, again I ask, what’s your back up plan? That applies to your moderator (s), and your methods for collation.

About The Author

Chioma is a graduate of Mass Communication from Ebonyi State University, in Nigeria. Her background is in radio, having worked as a duty continuity announcer and presenter for various radio stations before moving on to work as a researcher, scriptwriter and producer of radio drama for the BBC World Service Trust in Nigeria.


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