DC Blizzard Spawns ‘Snowcial Media’ Conference

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Washington, DC – At the height of Washington’s February blizzard, a remarkable example of the potential of social media and the tech-savvy trade show industry occurred:  A group of snowbound attendees threw together an impromptu conference to replace the event that had been cancelled.

When weather forced the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) & The Center for Association Leadership to pull the plug on its 2010 Technology Conference & Expo, a cadre of about 75 attendees and exhibitors holed up at the Renaissance Washington in downtown DC refused to surrender to the elements. The result was UNTECH10, an ad hoc conference-by-committee that provided a forum for presentations and discussions for the attendees and online participants.

The live and virtual components were up and running literally within hours of the idea being born, and were accessible through a show website that hummed with the Tweets, webinars and give-and-take that are the hallmarks of event-related social media. “By 4 o’clock that day we had a registration site up,” said Lindy Dreyer, chief social media marketer for SocialFish, a Washington consulting firm that specializes in social media strategies for associations. “And all of it was unfolding on Twitter. We were telling people, ‘UNTECH10 is happening.’”

By the end of the week, 425 people had logged on to the conference website. There were even UNTECH10 tee-shirts available with the newly coined motto, “Proving the power of ‘snowcial’ media.”

UNTECH10 was no virtual trade show. It lacked high-visibility sponsors and a digital exhibit hall. But the content webcast by Peach New Media included a sizable chunk of what would have been discussed at the ASAE event had Mother Nature not interfered.

“It was tricky because we needed something that would hold the interest of an online audience and because of the short window of time we had,” Dreyer told Trade Show Executive.

ASAE was not involved in the planning of UNTECH10. Dreyer said the idea of attendees putting on their own show when a conference is abruptly cancelled raises questions about the organizers’ cancellation insurance that will have to be hammered out by show managers and their insurers.

The idea that a physical show that is forced to cancel can be instantly reborn in a digital venue is a new frontier for organizers, exhibitors and attendees. “A year ago this might have happened, but even then, it would have been smaller and not so easily organized,” Dreyer said.

Reach Lindy Dreyer at (202) 741-9372 or lindy@socialfish.com