When setting out to cover the Department of Health’s Dementia Village at the Healthcare Innovation Expo 2013, I wanted to do more than live tweeting. My main digital objective was to extend the reach of the event, which meant giving as rich an experience as possible. I wanted to be able to give instant updates compiled in one place, pull in a range of media and reflect some of the buzz around the event by including other voices. So that’s why I decided to do the Department’s first ever live blog.
I also wanted to make sure that I gave an impression of the atmosphere of the event, and people’s response to it, to help demonstrate that the Department’s investment in the Dementia Village was worthwhile. And this all comes under the overarching objective to raise awareness of dementia and the PM’s Dementia Challenge.
So I set off to ExCeL London bright and early on 13 March, excited and daunted in equal measure, little expecting quite what a massive learning experience it was going to be. So if you’re going to embark on a live blog, here are some of the things I learnt.
Leave plenty of time to work out how to use the live blogging software and any features that will make life easier on the day. We decided to use CoveritLive, which we have already used for webchats, but never for a live blog, so there were lots of new features to learn about.
If you’re going to use apps like Audioboo and Vine, make sure you have downloaded them, created an account, tried them out and linked them to the appropriate twitter account. And plan how you are going to incorporate different types of content into your blog.
Don’t underestimate the amount of work
Running a live blog is much, much more work than live tweeting, so it’s important to know what you’re gaining from doing a live blog rather than another type of coverage.
If you’re live blogging from the office on something you can cover from there, using mainly text and pulling in the odd tweet, then it may be possible for one person to do this alone. But if you’re blogging from a live event with lots going on and you’re trying to record audio clips and videos, and take pictures, it’s impossible to capture content, cover speeches, monitor twitter and update the blog at the same time. It has to be a team effort.
While I was at the event, my colleague Hong was back at DH digital HQ monitoring relevant tweets and adding them to the blog. And other comms colleagues, including Amy Key (@AmyatDH), David Harrison (@DavidatDH) and Laura Hobbs (@LauraHobbsatDH), did some great live tweeting of speeches on the dementia stage from speakers such as Jeremy Hunt, David Nicholson and Jeremy Hughes. Hong pulled these into the live blog and we were also able to use tweets about speeches from other tweeters such as Simon Chapman (@SimonSimply).
Think about partners and publicity
It’s a good idea to do research on exhibitors and important attendees – and their digital presence – in advance. Then if you need to upload something in a hurry on the day, you will already know what they do, their twitter name, their web address etc.
Work out a list of who might be tweeting things you want to include in your blog and what hashtags to follow. And, time-willing, try to build a digital relationship with main partners in advance, if you don’t have one already, so they know who you are and hopefully will be prepared to promote your live blog and amplify your digital work around the event.
It’s also important to start publicising your live blog early enough to make sure that people know it’s happening and where they can access it.
Expect lots of things to go wrong and be prepared
If you find out on the morning of the event that the wifi connection you’re expecting to use isn’t available after all, what will you do? And if you then find out you can’t get onto the venue’s free wifi either? Fortunately, I was able to use a colleague’s dongle that converts 3G into a wifi signal. When it ran out of battery after a few hours I then had to charge it up. But where? The office we could use was too far from the action to be able to access the signal. Fortunately I found a friendly exhibitor who let me use their plug socket all day to charge my dongle, phone and laptop.
I also had unforeseen problems getting the live blogging software to work on my laptop. But Hong was in the office ready to save the day. It’s essential to have someone on standby who is familiar with the software and isn’t affected by all the wifi issues and other technical problems you can experience at a live event.
Choose – and test – the right devices
You need to be sure that your device is going to work on the day and be appropriate for what you want to do with it. And you also need a couple of backup options.
Even though I had an iPad and a laptop with me, I had problems with both and in the end I used my iPhone to do pretty much everything. The CoveritLive iPhone app is fairly basic, but it worked really well to add text and photos, and if this is all you want to do then you probably could do it all from an iPhone (until your battery runs out – see above). I hadn’t realised how much I was going to be moving around the event, so any device that required me to sit down to use it wasn’t really going to work. There’s a lot to be said for a device that is small, portable and familiar.
Consider the legacy
It’s important to think about what you want to do after the event and what media will be most useful. You also need to remember on the day to prioritise what you need to capture, which can be really hard when there’s so much going on. Of course, it’s good to be flexible too, to be able to take advantage of great opportunities that aren’t on your list. It was a priority for me to capture high-quality content to use later. I didn’t do everything I had planned, but I still came away with 8 really good Audioboos covering a range of dementia-related subjects, plenty of pictures and some great contacts.
The (nolonger live) live blog can still be viewed on the Dementia Challenge site. I’ve also created a Storify pulling together lots of great content on the Dementia Village, much from the live blog, but also other things I’ve been able to find with the luxury of time.
It felt like the live blog was pretty successful, especially considering the technical glitches and that the Department of Health had never done one before. There’s certainly been lots of positive feedback on twitter from the digital dementia community – especially from people who couldn’t attend in person – and it has helped me extend my twitter network. So, all in all, live blogging was a brilliant, exciting, exhausting experience and one thing is for sure – the next live blog will be even better.