Commanding Social Media for the Convention

by Kerry Martin

Since social media’s meteoric rise in popularity, every national or global event has taken on a new life to reach and engage with its online audiences.  From award shows to the Olympics, and most recently, the Republican National Convention, each program marks a milestone as the first-ever effort of its kind to connect in real-time with millions.

Just yesterday, my colleague, Julie Primrose, and I had the opportunity to be a part of one of the first-ever “social media command centers” organized around a political convention—the RNC in Tampa.  Managed by Tampa Bay & Company, a regional group that leads the effort of economic development through tourism, the social media command center incorporated a team of volunteers and those who represented agencies and organizations with an interest in promoting Tampa Bay.  (We volunteered a portion of our time and supported the efforts of our client, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.)

The concept was simple enough.  Our job was to act as a concierge for the region to visitors in town, whether that meant responding to someone’s tweet asking for a way to navigate around convention traffic, replying with a good spot to eat, or purely welcoming visitors to the city when they checked in (not to a hotel, but through Foursquare).  We quickly found out that our four-hour volunteer shift was really more like drinking through a fire hose.

The organizers had set up a full room of computers for us to monitor the online conversation, and Julie and I took the important role of “curating” relevant information to pass on to the other team members who responded through the @visittampabay Twitter handle with appropriate helpful tips or welcoming messages.  That meant sifting through the other thousands of new tweets that popped up with any mention of Tampa or the RNC events.  Every 60 seconds another batch of tweets would load to our workstations to be reviewed to determine if it needed follow-up.  And while it kept us on our toes for a solid period of time, we definitely learned about the many aspects of the social conversation that you can’t control and the other ways to be effective in your efforts.

– Responding to politicized tweets (positive or negative) would not help us achieve our goals of introducing delegates and other visitors to the wonderful features of the Tampa Bay region.

– Those with positive or even sarcastic online demeanors would usually respond favorably to our friendly/witty comments that invited them to explore more of Tampa.

– Most Twitter users happily agreed when we asked for permission to use their comments, photos and experiences to help tell Tampa Bay’s story.

This first-ever effort by the folks at Tampa Bay & Company was a wonderful experience, and we were grateful to gain insight into what it means to take command of the social conversation.

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