Get free publicity, organization tools for your skeptic event via Lanyrd

Skeptics love to throw events. Today the Reason Rally in Washington, DC is kicking off a big year of events in the US, and there are two other big events next month. We love our events for good reason – they help build the community and foster interaction and discussion between skeptics. Indeed, it was attending TAM 5 in 2007 that led directly to my creation of What’s the Harm and this blog.

As any event organizer knows, you must relentlessly promote your event for it to be successful. If you listen to a selection of skeptic podcasts like I do, over the last few months you probably heard an ad or plug for QEDcon which was held in Manchester earlier this month. The Merseyside Skeptics who organized it did a terrific job of getting the word out.

I noticed one of the things they did was list their event in a London-based online service called Lanyrd. This web-based service, launched in 2010, is a social conference directory. That means it uses your social media connections to identify the speakers, attendees and staff at conferences. They are primarily oriented toward Twitter, which is appealing since there are several thousand skeptics who actively use that service. This month Lanyrd got some good coverage at South by Southwest (SXSW) where they provided some fantastic tools to attendees.

I think Lanyrd could be a great new tool for skeptics. Some more details on how to use Lanyrd to your advantage in the rest of this post.

Live Tweeting and More

Social media has always been a great way to keep up with conferences, whether you are attending or not. During the build-up to the conference, effective use of social media is an excellent way to get free publicity for your event.

Once the event is under way, people will post their comments or impressions of the talks and sessions as they are going on. Twitter users refer to this as “Live Tweeting” the conference. It creates a virtual back-channel where people in the room can discuss the event as it occurs, without causing a noise issue in the room. And of course it allows non-attendees to experience the event vicariously.

But sometimes there are hiccups in the process. For instance, often you might wish to refer to the speaker by their Twitter handle so they can see your comment later, and so your followers can find that person on Twitter. But not all speakers are on Twitter, and those that are often forget to put their Twitter handle on their slides.

Vicarious attendees find the posts for an event via a search on the event hashtag. But sometimes it is not obvious to attendees what the event hashtag is. This can cause confusion as attendees use different tags to mean the same event, and followers struggle to find the conversation.

Often Twitter users wish to know which of their friends and followers are attending the event so they can meet up. But collecting this information in one place is often not easy. Sometimes users will volunteer to curate a custom Twitter list with attendees of the event, but that’s hit or miss.

And finally, there’s publicity. Skeptic organizations and events are generally run as non-profits, which means advertising and marketing budgets are near nil. So we always need to look for any opportunity for free promotion.

Lanyrd helps solve most of these problems to one degree or another.

What Lanyrd Does

Lanyrd gathers the essential information about a conference – dates, times, venues, schedule of events – and links them to the people involved through their Twitter accounts. It leverages your existing Twitter account and connections for convenience. So you don’t have yet another site to create a password on, mark who your friends are, and all that. It just picks it all up from Twitter.

I know for some of you that raises a red flag. “Wait a minute, this isn’t one of those sites that going to spam my followers with an ad without my permission, is it?”  I share your concern, and fear not – they’ve never done it with my account.

What Lanyrd does do is crowdsource the entry of event data. This means conferences can be bootstrapped onto the service by the attendees if the organizers are too busy to do so. And it also means that organizers of fringe events can jump in and list their activities too. In other words, meetups and parties not sponsored by the conference can be entered in the same place so they can be found just as easily as the official sessions.

It also has all the other event-oriented features you would expect, such as:

  • Automatic synchronization of event calendars to your laptop or handheld
  • Offline access to the information on smart phones
  • Posting of photos, videos and articles relating to the event for others to find
  • Optional emails to you when new information of interest is posted

But enough of that, I’m not writing an ad for Lanyrd. Let me talk about how skeptics should use it.

Skeptic Events on Lanyrd

QEDcon and the World Skeptics Congress had already posted their events on the service, so this week I decided to go ahead and enter the information for the rest of the major 2012 skeptic events to bootstrap the whole process. Insofar as the guest lists, schedule and other data are available I entered most of that too.  You can see all of the skeptic-relevant events in a Lanyrd Guide page I created called, of course, Skepticism.

Here’s the neat part, remember those emails I mentioned above? Because I already had an account on Lanyrd, it included these new skeptic events in an email to me a day later, which you can see part of at right. (Click to embiggen).

As you can see, it picked up that these events are relevant to me not because I entered them, but because many of the people I follow on Twitter are speaking. It even picked up that Jim Lippard (who I also follow) marked himself as an attendee of TAM 2012. You can also see another non-skeptic event listed too, based on another attendee.

Imagine the fan-out from this as more people use Lanyrd.  It enables people to find out about your event by virtue of their friends, acquaintances and heroes attending. This is a great way to get the attention of people on Twitter who may be Lanyrd users but not necessarily self-identified skeptics. Outreach, free for the asking.

Lanyrd also allows posting of links to related material, either for the conference as a whole or for individual sessions. (They call this “coverage“). This provides an awesome automatic way to aggregate all the news coverage, blog posts, videos, podcasts and even the slides for each session in one place where everyone can find it.  Just use your favorite service (YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare, etc) to post the material as you normally would, then link it as coverage on Lanyrd.

Action Items

The key to truly taking advantage of this is to make sure your event’s listing on Lanyrd is as richly decorated as possible. Remember, this work doesn’t have to be done by the organizer, you can let your attendees crowd-source entering the schedule, or even let your guests add themselves to the event.  But ideally you want to get as many Twitter links, hyperlinks and tags in there as possible as quickly as possible to provide good ways for people to find your event.

Event Organizers Should:

  • Update your event information as your event approaches
  • Ensure all speakers, presenters and staff are properly tagged via their Twitter handles
  • Post links to “coverage” (news stories, blogs, videos and other content) on your event as they appear
  • Encourage your presenters to post their own slides and other session materials as coverage
  • Encourage your attendees to post that they are coming on Lanyrd and sign up for emails
  • Encourage organizers of outside activities at your conference to post their info to your schedule

Event Attendees Should:

  • Mark yourself as an attendee where appropriate
  • “Follow” events you are not attending to show interest, get updates by email
  • Add and correct information to assist event organizers
  • Post your own blog posts, videos and photos as “coverage” on the appropriate conference or session

I think Lanyrd has already shown itself useful at SXSW and elsewhere, and could be an exciting new tool in the skeptic’s toolbox.

Start here: http://lanyrd.com/guides/skepticism/ or here: http://lanyrd.com/topics/skepticism/

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About Tim Farley
Focused on online misinformation, Tim Farley is a software engineer, computer security expert and scientific skeptic who created the site What's The Harm. He is a Past Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

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