How to LiveBlog Part 1: Why LiveBlog?

After working on amplification of big events this year, the most notable being Open Repositories 2012,  I thought it would be a good time to share some of my tips for liveblogging and why that should be part of a plan for social media amplification of a variety of events. As I’ve also just been asked for advice on LiveBlogging I thought that would be a really useful topic to talk about. In this post, part one of  two, I’ll be telling you why I think LiveBlogging is so useful. Tomorrow, in part two, I’ll share my top ten practical tips for LiveBlogging.

What is LiveBlogging?

Well it’s blogging in real time, “live”, around some sort of event or key moment. However, different people have different definitions…

Sometimes liveblogging means blogging throughout an event that are shared at the end of talks, at the end of sessions or  later the same day. It’s faster than traditional “blogging” and typically includes a record of what has been said with only minimal reflection on content when compared with other bloggers who might write up an event a week later as a summary with commentary. That’s a style of liveblogging that can work for any blog set up or choice of software and for any level of blogging experience. It’s a good way to get started but it’s more “as live” than “live” I think.

UKSG is a great example of a high quality "as live" blog with multiple contributors.

UKSG is a great example of a high quality “as live” blog with multiple contributors.

Others see LiveBlogging as short instant updates to a page – that’s the model that the Guardian use and works well for the moment-critical sports (e.g. Olympics Closing Ceremony) and media journalism (e.g. X-Factor Season 8 Finale) they use liveblogging for.  That style of liveblogging will require a slightly more specialist set up for your blog – use of the liveblogging WordPress plugin or similar – or an awful lot  more draft blog posts at the ready. It’s a good approach if minute by minute updates are needed but you could achieve a similar style through tweets, or through embedding a Storify or CoverItLive and using tweets and brief notes instead of a blog format.

Guardian Olympic Closing Ceremony LiveBlog - this screenshot shows the mini update format.

Guardian Olympic Closing Ceremony LiveBlog – this screenshot shows the mini update format.

My preferred format of liveblogging uses a standard blog – preferably one that already has a specific audience interested in the event or topic – and posting semi-finished blog posts throughout an event. I begin with skeletal blog posts that lay out what will be blogged that day/session. I will tweet links to these out to the event hashtag (assuming there is one) and then edit and update that post hitting “publish” or “update” whenever there is a suitable pause. That might be at the end of each presentation, it could be at the end of a session, but usually I will update roughly every 20ish minutes assuming a short pause – playing of a video, a particularly irrelevant tangent, etc. – arises.  If something important, a major interruption, or similar occurs then I will update that post more frequently. No matter how many times I’ve updated a post I will then tweet that the session/morning/speaker is blogged during proper breaks in the schedule (coffee, lunch, etc.).

ScreenShot of the OR2012 LiveBlog showing the introductory paragraph and my LiveBlog style.

ScreenShot of the OR2012 LiveBlog showing the introductory paragraph and my LiveBlog style.

This style of liveblogging is about making the fullest record available in the quickest time. I am a touch typer so the record tends to be verbatim or near-to. However the same approach works with more edited/summarised/digested blog posts as well. This form of liveblogging is about capturing a lot of detail though as this is what those unable to attend, reading the blog, or awaiting the blog post as record on which to base their own write up, want quick access to. There is not the same urgency for reflection, commentary or criticism of an event.

Why Should You LiveBlog?

A LiveBlog is the fastest way to get meaningful information out to those who cannot attend an event but they can also be an indispensible record of the event for those attending in person. Once your audience/delegates/participants know that the key talks and questions are being recorded they are empowered to choose what they want to record or note… talking full notes of a session is not the best way to engage so if your audience know that they don’t need to do that they are, to know small extent, freed up to listen, to engage, and perhaps to tweet a key highlight. They know that they can go back to their colleagues with some record of the event, something to base a report on and to share. There is not the same urgency for commentary, analysis, reflection, etc. all of which are useful but often benefit from slower drafting processes.

If you are organising an event LiveBlogging also offers a bridge between the live in-person experience and the types of artefacts you might be producing afterwards – the reports, the videos, the articles. It can be hugely expensive to livestream events (particularly as you may need to pre-empt demand and the temptation is to over cater) for very little benefit – often a stream will be viewed by very few people in real time and will be a one-way experience offering very little benefit over the recorded experience. Twitter is a great medium for participating in discussion, or finding out about an event but it can be very hard to quickly get a sense of who is on stage and what the chat is referring to without some sort of note of what has come before, what the topic is, etc. If you see a tweet halfway through a day paging through previous tweets often won’t fill in those gaps but LiveBlogs can be that almost-instant record that provides a reference point of what is taking place, and which provides an essential hub for finding richer artefacts as they are published.

For audiences outside of a room the LiveBlog may be the only way to access the event and they can do it in real time or near real time. More importantly that record is easily searched for, can be used as a connecting point for any video captured, slides shared, and it will be less ephemeral than tweets…

And if you are good at LiveBlogging you become an asset to an event organiser – a person to encourage along in the knowledge that you will help share that event experience with your readers, followers, fellow delegates etc. I have been encouraged to LiveBlog or invited to attend events purely to LiveBlog in the past. I feel privileged to be able to add something extra to what are usually excellent events whilst the organiser knows that someone experienced is on hand capturing the key event content.

That value of sharing, explaining, changing the virtual footprint of an event is such that some conferences do offer discounted rates, free places, or perks to bloggers (not just “live” ones) so if you are planning to LiveBlog something on your event list for the year do make sure you let organisers know!

Why Shouldn’t You LiveBlog?

LiveBlogging isn’t an easy add-on to an event. I’ve probably been liveblogging at least 20 events each year for the last five years and have established my own ways of organising, preparing and managing that process during an event but it can take a while to get used to the process. The main thing to bear in mind is that, whilst a good LiveBlog will get great readership and kudos from your readers and possibly fellow delegates, it is also a task which takes you away from the event you are engaging in.

If you are attending an event to network, to meet new contacts, to establish yourself then LiveBlogging may not be the best option. You will be more occupied by your computer than your peers and that can mean LiveBlogging can be a comforting barrier to making new connections. It can also position you as an organiser, administrator, or otherwise less visible person. If you are already known to many of those at the event this gets a lot easier – if it’s known that you’ll be LiveBlogging people will check in with you, catch up and perhaps even bring you a coffee, they will come to you. That still means you are more likely to meet fewer new people but it can be OK and that chat can have real usefulness.

Sometimes missing out on chat isn’t really an issue. I’ve been LiveBlogging webinars lately and that purely adds value to the experience as it forces you to pay attention – often remarkably hard to do in a busy office – and is still so unusual that other attendees and organisers tend to be particularly delighted to have a searchable record of the event. Video and recorded webinars are brilliant but it’s even better if you can find out about that recorded session by Googling a name captured in a LiveBlog or can use that LiveBlog to skip to the crucial 15 minutes you want to see.

LiveBlogging requires a fair amount of kit – as you’ll see in my next blog post – so you really have to feel it’s worthwhile before you start lugging kit around the country. And that is assuming to have access to a suitable laptop etc. in the first place.  I haven’t weighed my one-day liveblogging kit but would be surprised if it was under 10KG when laptop, extension cord and a bottle of water are all accounted for. If I’m at conference that I’m providing additional amplification for I have a fairly chunky rolling case that tends to be packed with about 70% tech kit. You can travel lighter of course and even if you don’t it’s not a bad way to build up your shoulder strength…  but the odds are that you will be the one with a disproportionately heavy bag on the train home…

The most basic of my LiveBlogging set ups...

The most basic of my LiveBlogging set ups…

LiveBlogging is tiring and no matter how efficient your typing is you will find yourself absolutely exhausted by the end of full day. You may also have posts to tidy up, images to add, comments to reply to before you can be finished for the day. That can be OK for a single day but for two, or three, or five days that becomes an intense experience. There can be more fun ways to enjoy an event so as you work out what you might be blogging bear in mind what else you want to do as part of your attendance or organisation of an event and ensure you have breaks, rests, space to stretch your legs and look away from a screen.

The other reason you might not want to liveblog is that the event just may not suit it. Meetings aren’t usually a thing you would LiveBlog – although project kick off meetings can benefit from being LiveBlogged (or blogged “as live” but edited for discretion later). Sometimes events such as round table discussions or workshops may only be effective and honest if there are shared expectations of privacy. You should only be LiveBlogging where there are reasonable expectations about the public nature of the event. If in doubt you can always apply a little judgement and choose not to attribute – or even record – a controversial comment. Generally this isn’t an issue but people can get nervous if you are typing what they say word for word and it’s worth being aware of that when you are thinking about when it is and isn’t a good idea to liveblog.

So, should you be LiveBlogging?

Well I’m clearly going to say that you should. But only when and where it is useful, valuable, and has benefits for you as well as others. Personally I began LiveBlogging as I was taking near-verbatim notes for my own reference and started to think it was a real waste not to share those with others. It’s fine to report on a meeting to colleagues but it can add a lot of value to LiveBlog then add commentary as your report, to get feedback on your notes, to get clarification from the speakers and corrections in near real time.

I’ve definitely benefited greatly from LiveBlogging events whether I’ve been along as an organiser, a speaker or just there to be in the audience. We find EDINA projects, events, and conferences all benefit from LiveBlogging – but it’s not something we do every day, for every event, or on every blog. But, when used, it is a hugely effective way to increase the impact of an event, to reach out to and encourage other bloggers to join in and add to our perceptions of the event, and to engage with our rather wonderful audiences and communities.

Feeling inspired? Read my next post on LiveBlogging tomorrow!

Disagree? Have I missed something? Add a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



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