How to engage your online audiences

For every audience attending a federal agency conference in person, a potentially larger audience could be participating remotely by watching live video feeds and submitting comments and questions through Twitter or Facebook.

That's one lesson learned by the Health and Human Services Department’s new media team, which has been reaching those virtual audiences during recent HHS events. The team created a virtual "war room" to handle online communications during the department’s Health Data Initiative forum held at the National Institutes of Health on June 9.

The team members are sharing tips on how to maximize virtual audience participation with other agencies.

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“Today you don’t have to be physically present at a conference to get value out of it,” Read Holman, HHS new media strategist and one of nine contributors to the HHS New Media Blog, posted in a blog entry on June 23. “Therefore, every event planning committee should be asking: How do we share the value of the conference with the rest of the world and in real time?”

The June 9 event showcased 45 winning applications that had been developed independently using HHS data. The agency broadcast the forum live by streaming video on the Internet and providing video feeds to 10 colleges that sponsored watching parties.

At HHS, the new media team operated a “war room” hub for tweeting announcements about the event schedule, monitoring incoming tweeted comments and questions, forwarding relevant questions, and originating and using Twitter hashtags, which are content labels that can be searched online, to define and segment the conference material.

One of the tips shared by the HHS team is to take full advantage of the Twitter hashtags to organize the content being produced.

The hashtag "defines the virtual conference room that your online participants will enter,” the blog entry said. “It needs to be easy to remember, not too long and included in press releases, blog posts, the live-streaming page, the agenda, your forehead.... everywhere. Does each breakout session warrant its own hashtag? If, so put those on the agenda.”

Another tip presented by the new media team is to identify key communicators with large numbers of followers on Twitter in advance to ensure they are aware of how the event will be presented on Twitter.

“Some people have accounts with 44 followers, others with 44,000 followers,” Holman wrote in the blog entry. “Recognize who the key influencers are and connect with them before the event."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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