It’s quite the trend in academia these days to set up a series of ‘conference accounts’ on social media to promote said conference and bring together all related materials. However, these accounts are rarely (if ever) worthwhile and can actually detract from what should be your primary marketing goal; namely to promote the work of the wider organisation to which your conference is attached.
Do you really need separate accounts?
If your academic conference is the output of a larger body, such as a department, an organisation or a research group, then a separate set of social media accounts does little to add to the profile of the larger body and doesn’t really help your conference either. Here’s why:
- They diffuse your audience. Some users will only follow you for the duration that your conference accounts are active. This means your audience is spread across multiple accounts that are all doing the same work. Far better to have your audience all in one place where you can focus your messages and provided clearer, more consistent information, and reach more people.
- They confuse your audience. Put yourself in the mindset of a user: Who should I follow? Which account will give me the information I need? Is it monitored? Who do I contact if I have a question? What account name am I looking for…?
- They increase your workload. As a result of the first two points, many organisers duplicate content across all of the social media accounts that they control, leading to a situation where the same content is repeated over and over. This is not a good experience for the end user and also means that all of your ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ will be dispersed across several posts from different accounts, instead of being focused on one or two key platforms.
- They do little to promote the host organisation. The aim of your conference should be to promote the work of the host organisation (your department, research group, etc.). Attracting new followers to separate social media accounts means you will potentially lose any new followers that you manage to attract as soon as the conference comes to an end. You will also lose the benefit of all your great content, and the time and effort you put in to create it.
So what should I do?
Instead of creating separate accounts for your academic conference I strongly recommend looking at your existing social media channels and how you can use them for your advantage, keeping in mind the reason you’re using social media in the first place. This will help you create a consistent message year-on-year and will benefit the host organisation far more than any set of short-lived conference accounts ever will. It will also help you reach more people over all and will ultimately save you an awful lot of time and extra work.
So as an example, if your Gothic Association (GA) has an annual conference coming up, it is much better to use the main GA accounts to promote the conference than it is to set up separate accounts each year. This also has the added benefit of providing lots of new content for the main GA accounts, making them more active and more attractive to users. It also helps promote the work of the GA itself, over the work of the organising committee – which is, after all, the whole point.
If you did want to find ways to bring users together under a single conference umbrella, consider using hashtags (#), as this is what these are made for. They also have the added benefit of allowing you to tap into emerging trends with your main accounts without fear of diffusing or confusing your audience.
While my comments should be seen as the general rule for academic conferences, there are of course exceptions. Mainly these are to be found when a conference isn’t associated with any larger body, or if the wider organisation doesn’t have any social media channels to start with.
In such cases I strongly recommend working with the department / organisation / group and having a good think about communications and marketing strategy going forward, and looking at ways you can tie in your conference with existing social media streams.
It’s all in the planning
There is a strong tendency in academia to focus on the short term when it comes to social media. Invariably, this comes as a result of how conferences are organised, as they will typically have a different organising committee year on year. If you’re planning an academic conference any time soon, I really do recommend you avoid the temptation to jump on the conference account bandwagon and think carefully about what it is you’re promoting, why you’re promoting it, and what it is you’re hoping to achieve. A little extra thought goes an awful long way in the world of social media, and a good conference social media strategy will only benefit your conference – and your host organisation – in the long term.