Tag Archives: online platforms

Backchannel Communication at Live Events: A complementary function or a complete hindrance?

18 May



Last week in our curriculum innovation class we discussed  the dynamics of using  backchannel communication within a live event (that is a secondary form of digitized communication which runs along side a “real-time” primary form of physical communication).  This topic was particulary relevant that week, as it was during the time that we were taking part in the Southampton Digital Literacies Conference, during which the event organisers had encouraged participants to take part in forms of backchannel communication throughout the event. This meant that as students of digital literacy we were able to experience first hand the power such tools have to both enhance and detract from a conference. Here are some thoughts on how digital communication such as tweeting and facebooking can effect  a the outcome of a live event….


As Atkinson explains in his book The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever,Backchannel communication describes the use of digital tools in order to cultivate a virtual conversation to compliment a live event.   There are many opportunities that arise from carrying out backchannel communication during a live event such as a television programme or a conference. Firstly, as the video by SUSUtv about the CAA (Computer Applications in Archaeology) Soton conference shows, through promoting and stimulating conversations online through mediums such as Twitter, Facebook, & Vimeo you can help your event to reach a larger audience than perhaps would have been achievable through traditional mediums. For example, if you search on twitter for “#caasoton”, you can see that various other institutions (including CAA Perth Society!) from all over the world were engaging and communicating about the event held here in Southampton, and despite not physically attending the event they were able to virtually attend it via the live stream. I have personally seen how social media can promote and distribute an event amongst many individuals this week. I was amazed when on Thursday morning; the day after the Digital Literacy Conference, my Spanish Language teacher greeted me when I walked into class with “nice video Anna”. Although he had not been at the event himself, he had seen the video that Nikki, Francesca, Flo and I had shown at the conference as it had been retweeted by the ModernLanguages twitter account. I doubt that if the social media stream on sotonmooc wasn’t there he would have even known there was a Digital Literacy Conference that day!          Secondly, social media gives the audience of an event a voice, the traditional binary roles of the passive viewers/listener and the active speaker/performer are broken down as the audience can publish their feedback and consequent opinions/further research through online platforms, which can prove helpful for event organizers  This was illustrated through the way in which information was gained about the audience’s reaction to the CAA2013 conference using simple data mining techniques to draw from tweets and online comments. What is more, the conversations and feedback surrounding the event can also be stored in a social media archive which allows those who didn’t physically attend, or those who want to look back and reflect, to relive the event and its subsequent buzz when they so wish.
        As Lisa and Nicole Beale emphasize, (Harris & Beale 2012) social media event streams can also help to foster inter-audience communication, networking, and eventually lead to a real-life meet ups, as online participators can easily and quickly communicate amongst themselves without disturbing the event. Whilst the chances of you talking to everyone in a conference face-to-face are slim, online you can peruse through hundreds of tweets quickly and communicate directly with someone who interests you.
    Despite these advantages, social media can also be seen to hinder and detract from live events. Whilst some such as Janna Lavin think that social media can distract real-life participants form what’s actually going on in the event itself, others argue that it’s hard for virtual attendees to get a “coherent idea of what’s going on” (SUSUtv, 2012). They argue that due to the abundance of virtual noise surrounding the topic and event, it’s hard to sift through it and really understand what is happening at the actual event (SUSUtv, 2012.  Similarly a large amount of noise can lead to participants feeling bombarded by an overload of information, and even cause them to unfollow your event (Harris & Beale, 2012). It could also be argued that social media comments can act as a spoiler for people who haven’t been to the event but had planned to re-watch it later- which could be particularly frustrating in the case of TV shows and theatre productions (Kern, 2013.) Privacy is also a key issue with regards to these live streams, as many participants of events have been captured in photos or quoted on twitter without their full permissions being given. 


SUSUtv (2012) Social Media at a Live Event- CAA 2012 [online] Available at:http://vimeo.com/39421556 [Accessed 26th April 2013]

Harri,s L. (2013) A SMiLE at the End and a SMiLE to Begin. [ online] Available at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/13L13WkLJq_wljUCRi5HcOOflHTlOFC-TfvTZ-MIc58M/edit# [Accessed 22nd April 2013]

Kern, E. (2013) How Social Media is becoming as important a live event as the live event itself. [Online] Available at: http://gigaom.com/2013/02/04/how-social-media-is-becoming-as-important-a-live-event-as-the-live-event-itself/ [Accessed 23rd April 2013]
Harris, L., Beale, N. (2012) If you don’t have social media, you are no one: How social media enriches conferences for some but risks isolating others. LSE. [online] Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2012/05/23/social-media-enrich-but-isolate/ [Accessed 20th April 2013]
Harris, L., Beale, N. (2012) “But who is going to read 12,000 tweets?” How Researchers can Collect and Share Relevant Social Media Content at Conferences. [Online] Available at:

Janna Lavin (2012) Social Media at Conferences: Misha Glouberman’s How-To [VIDEO] [online]  Available at: http://www.thelavinagency.com/blog-social-media-conferences-misha-glouberman.html [Accessed 24th April 2013]

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