1.) Prepare for it – All of the panels I attended were at least ready for the backchannel. They all had “official” hashtags (i.e. #theyelpeffect, #funemployed, etc.) so that people who Tweeted through the event could organize their thoughts and read the thoughts of others also Tweeting along in the room. But considering how brutal some Twitterers can be, I also suspect that creating a hashtag for your panel has become SXSW policy rather than the choice of the panelists themselves.
2.) Embrace it During the Presentation – To me, the most successful presenters assigned someone to follow the backchannel as the panel progressed. They then rolled with the flow and answered questions that came across, went back to address points that appeared to have been missed, and generally let the audience participate.
3.) Embrace it After the Fact – Other panels, especially the small ones with one or two presenters, might not have had the resources to monitor the backchannel as they talked, but did end up embracing it after the fact. Jennie Chin (@misohungry) of The Yelp Effect, for example, came back and commented on the back channel after the conversation ended.
4.) Ignore it – The least successful SXSW presenters ignored the backchannel forever and ever. I attended one panel that promised to be about viral marketing but mainly consisted of the marketing teams from two website aggregators promoting their own services. The backchannel quickly grew ugly, but the two presenters remained oblivious and continued with their obvious plugs. As a result, many people – me included – walked out and went to find a more agreeable panel.
How is the Backchannel Changing SXSW?
Imagine if you were sitting in school and instead of merely listening to the lecture, you were able to ask silent questions without interrupting the class or make snide remarks about the teacher’s pocket protector. That’s how the backchannel feels to me. It’s a way to turn a presentation given to you to a conversation with you. In other words, the backchannel epitomizes everything we’ve learned in class about social media. People are no longer content to sit back and have information spoon fed to them. For better or for worse, people want to participate.
The backchannel made SXSW panels participatory, democratic and fun for me. I felt, in many cases, like I was being heard instead of preached at. And what’s more Web 2.0 than that?