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Imagine Canada National Summit: The Social Media Story

Community & Social Media

Marnie GronaBy: Marnie Grona, Director of Marketing & Communications, Imagine Canada

En français - Sommet des OSBL : l’histoire des médias sociaux

The National Summit for the Charitable and Nonprofit Sector, co-hosted by Imagine Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, Philanthropic Foundations Canada and the United Way Centraide Canada, brought together a network of more than 500 sector leaders in our nation’s capital from November 28 to 30. Everyone rolled up their sleeves to focus on some of the most important sector related issues. Delegates, speakers and all involved couldn’t ignore the buzz and excitement that permeated the event over those three days.

Twitter Fountain. Bringing Social Media from the "webisphere" into the conference room.

 National Summit
Social Media Diary

An archive of selected social media posts and conversations from the National Summit.

Pre-Summit (Nov 14 to 27)
Day 1 (Nov 28)
Day 2 (Nov 29)
Day 3 (Nov 30)
Post-Summit (Dec 1 and beyond)

Twitter Fountain. Projected on to screens in the conference room between speakers and sessions.

Most of us know that social media conversations are going to happen at events with or without the organizer’s involvement. We wanted to take advantage of what would naturally take place and build upon it. We also wanted to give a bit of structure to the conversation but not so much that we would inhibit natural conversation. Therefore, we decided to unleash our collective social media savvy and leverage various social network connections (organizations and individuals) to enhance the activities and conversations surrounding the National Summit.

Social media goals for National Summit were:

- Create a sense of excitement and buzz about the Summit;
- to seed, encourage and facilitate dialogue;
- to enable Summit attendees to connect with their peers prior to the event; and,
- to promote the in-person and online participation components of the event across Canada.

During the Summit:
- Build and maintain a sense of excitement and buzz throughout the Summit;
- continue to seed, encourage and facilitate dialogue;
- continue to enable Summit attendees to meet and connect with their peers; and,
- create awareness among sector-minded Canadians that this event is taking place and that they can participate in the social media dialogue.

- Share outcomes from the Summit with attendees and other sector-focused individuals;
- to continue to seed, encourage and facilitate dialogue around the important sector issues;
- to have created a greater awareness of Summit co-host organizations, funders, sponsors and other supporters; and,
- to have a permanent record of social media conversations and activity

How we did it:

Social Media Toolkit. Well in advance of the Summit we determined we would utilize our main Imagine Canada social media networks instead of creating conference specific ones. We focused on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and a conference blog. Additionally, we utilized YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and other networks when appropriate. HootSuite allowed us to manage our multiple networks and to monitor social media activity and conversations.

Plan and prepare. We planned for and wrote (including French language translation) social media messages in advance as much as possible recognizing once the Summit started a flurry of activity would make it more challenging to keep up-to-date on certain social media tasks. For example, HootSuite allowed us to schedule a multitude of posts for the entire Summit days in advance. (Posts relating to when speakers are on stage, thanking funders and sponsors, when receptions start, etc. Essentially, any item that we can pull from the conference schedule.) We also created a list of our Summit speakers and facilitators who are Twitter users so that we could include them right away.

Connect social media networks. Wherever possible we leveraged various social media tools that could connect to other networks. For example, photos captured and shared on our Instagram account would also be automatically posted to Twitter and Flickr accounts.

Feature social media front and centre. We brought social media out of the “webisphere” and into the conference rooms by creating a Twitter wall projected on conference screens between sessions. We used TwitterFountain, a free web-based tool which allowed us to showcase participant tweets using the #NSC conference hashtag as well as highlighting conference photography from our Flickr account.

Team expansion.  We worked together with our co-hosts organizations that regularly use social media to tap into networks Imagine Canada would not normally have access to. And, inspired by the Community Foundations of Canada 2011 Conference and their Social Media Squad, we created our own Summit Social Media Crew by inviting interested Summit delegates to become part of a team that would share their own observations on the event.


Social media activities for the National Summit were considered to be a success by participants, partners, supporters and sponsors. We are very happy with the outcomes. However, there is always room for improvement when utilizing social media in this manner. Going forward we will keep the following in mind:

Twitter Hashtags: keep them simple but distinctive. We leaned towards keeping them simple but found they were too simple. Hashtags cannot be “owned” and therefore anyone in the world could be using your designated hashtag for a completely different topic.

Twitter Wall. While we were drawn to TwitterFountain for the way if combined tweets and images, there is no way select or restrict certain tweets from appearing. A risk when your hashtag is being used by other groups as well. We were lucky that most of the groups using the same hashtags were overseas and in a different time zones. In the future, we may look at more advanced twitter wall tools that allow for more control.

Have a dedicated social media team and supports. Not including our co-hosts and the Summit Social Media Crew, Imagine Canada had four people, including myself, focused on social media (in addition to our other conference duties and responsibilities). A BIG thank you goes out to Amanda Mayer, Toni Stockton and Lindsey Vodarek who were essential members of the social media team. Redundancies in personnel may be considered a luxury for some but at a live event when one has to be pulled to focus on behind-the-scenes emergencies, others are in place to make sure social media activities continue smoothly.

Tools of the trade. Ensure computers, cameras and mobile devices are in tiptop shape. Have a spare or two on hand if possible. (We had a catastrophic failure with one of our laptop computers and had to do an emergency trip to BestBuy to get a replacement. Precious time was lost in securing and setting up the new device).

Connectivity. Social media conversations cannot take place without internet access. Ensure sufficient high-speed wireless internet connections are available for both the social media team and conference participants in all the physical spaces of your event. If you can’t rely on the conference centre and/or hotel, you may need to purchase and set up additional networks with your local internet providers (make sure to build that into your event budgets well in advance).

Policies and tips for external social media support. Members of our Social Media Crew were brilliant in their coverage of the event. We gave them the freedom and flexibility to converse and connect as they would like but also provided guidance that was very much appreciated by members of the Crew. We created a Social Media Crew Policy, Blog template and guidelines, Twitter tips, Interview tips as well as Photography tips.

Create your permanent record/archive as the event is taking place. We waited until after the Summit to create our Storify records. Due to the massive number of users on Twitter, you won’t be able to find tweets that are more than a week or so old (depending on a user’s account). Therefore, if you wait too long to archive Twitter conversations, they may be lost forever.  Plus it can be done faster as it happens instead of pulling all the pieces together after the fact.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to event-based social media. You need to know your audience and their tendencies to participate in social media and have realistic expectations. Our expectations were modest in regards to social media pick-up as events or conferences not focused on web technology or social media tend to have lower participation rates. We dabbled in social media for previous Imagine Canada events but this was our first focused endeavor. From the experience, outcomes and fun we had deploying social media at the National Summit we know it will be an integral part of all our future events. All who participated in social media conversations at the Summit exceeded our expectations! Thank you!

It is our hope that the information shared here will be of use to others in their event-based social media pursuits. For those of you that have used social media at one of your events, what worked and didn’t work for you? Let us know in the comment section below.

Marnie Grona is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Imagine Canada. One of her roles is the strategic development, management and community engagement of Imagine Canada’s social media channels.