Davos through social media

I spent last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos producing content for reuters.com, running some experiments in new ways to cover a conference, and observing the growing integration of social media into a major mainstream event.

We had great success with giving our correspondents ‘Flip cameras’ with which to grab short comments from delegates on the key issues of the Forum. You can see some of these on our ‘Davos debates’ on the economy, financial regulation, environment, and ethics. The major learning point was that these were much, much easier to use than the mobile phones we used last year in Davos.

Less successful was our attempt to make the Forum more participatory by turning the tables and getting delegates prepared to admit they didn’t have all the answers to ‘ask the audience’ via Reuters. This was a good idea in theory, and one that we’ll try again, but it was a struggle to find delegates comfortable with the notion that the Davos brainpower might not be enough to solve the world’s problems.

Nevertheless, World Economic Forum President Klaus Schwab set an excellent example (and got a very healthy response):

Elsewhere, we did use mobiles and the qik video-streaming service to go live ‘behind the scenes’ of the forum and the Reuters News operation.

I was co-sited with the team that produced the WEF-sponsored ‘Davos Today‘ programme — a high-end TV show with a professional team of Reuters broadcast journalists behind it.

Comparing the two kinds of video output is a bit like putting a garage band up against a symphony orchestra, but we think they’ll prove complementary.

Since last year’s Forum, the micro-blogging service Twitter has achieved widespread uptake and we encouraged our correspondents to use it to provide short updates on their impressions of the Forum publishing the best of their output, and that of other delegates, journalists and bloggers in our ‘Davos Chatter’ feature.

Our editor-in-chief, David Schlesinger, even managed to scoop his own news service during one session, prompting a debate about whether micro-blogging services like Twitter might come to form a part of news organisations’ output in the future.

Other highlights of social media at the WEF included a series of vibrant YouTube debates, voting via Facebook during a dozen sessions (including one on the economy that generated 120,000 responses) and a crowd-sourced interview with Kofi Annan via Seesmic – a video version of Twitter.

Via qik, I asked Seesmic founder Loic le Meur for his impressions of social media at Davos and how he’d gone about the social interview with Annan.:

What does this all add up to?

Davos was a good illustration of three forces changing the nature of conferences,

First, the availability of cheap, easy-to-use, highly portable technology makes it easier to capture the ‘third voice’ of conferences – the ‘chatter’ between delegates about the event. (The 1st voice being that of principal speakers, the 2nd the output of professional journalists or analysts.) This is what we attempted to do with our ‘Davos chatter’ feature.

Second, the ubiquity of social networks makes it possible to amplify the impact of an event by projecting it into social media, where there is a bigger and more diverse audience, and then bringing the responses back in to liven up proceedings. This is an aspect of what Klaus Schwab was getting at and what the Facebook voting was doing.

Third, there’s a longer-established trend of ‘humanising’ content – first-person, conversational forms that started with blogging, became video-based via upload services like YouTube, was radically simplified via micro-blogging and now, with services like Seesmic, is supporting conversation via short-form video.

The Annan interview particularly interested me because it brought together all three aspects.

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