Social Media at #TheDWord – collectively asking better questions

"My first thought and purpose was for the use of social media to be an agent of diversity in the discussion, for our documentation to facilitate and invite people into a conversation." Steve Lawson talks about his role leading on social media at The 'D' Word.

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Last Monday, I had the privilege of helping to plan and implement a social media strategy for The ‘D’ Word. The event was planned as a series of seven ‘TED-style talks’, of about 15 minutes each, with breakout discussions to explore the ideas further, broken up by coffee times and lunch, so we had a number of distinct areas where social media’s role and impact had to be considered.

My first thought and purpose was for the use of social media to be an agent of diversity in the discussion, for our documentation to facilitate and invite people into a conversation. I wanted to enable a level of communication between the inside and outside of the event. To feed thoughts ideas and questions through the walls of the building, virtually, and it do it in a way that both documented what was being said from the stages accurately, but also left room for the voices of others in the room to feed into that narrative, for there to be multiple voices commenting on and formulating questions from the talks that happened.

So, during the main talks, my team (Terry Tyldesley and George Luke) and I summarised the main points of the talks and some of the broad reactions in the room. We chose to retweet other people’s comments and documentation as much as possible, in order to broaden out the range of commentators that were seen and heard via NitroBEAT’s account (the main gathering point for Twitter, alongside the hashtag). George and I also used our own accounts to join the commentary, to be part of that group journey towards asking better questions.

However, the role of social media around the smaller discussion groups was more tricky…

We wanted the discussions, more than anything, to be a safe space for people to talk freely about their experiences, concerns, agreement and disagreement. To do so in a way where no-one felt like they were being ‘watched’, and therefore felt the need to edit their thoughts. So our approach was to document the ideas from the people who gave the talks as they expanded on it, and then represent the broad themes coming from the audience, in non-identifiable ways. In a couple of instances, the commenters in the sessions had themselves been part of the Twitter commentary, so it felt like an act of agency to allow them to choose which of their ideas ended up as part of the Twitter record. In the breaks, we were able to talk with the delegates about their experience of the day, collect stories and opinions, as audio, and put those out as part of the general conversation.

The joy of a hashtag is that it democratises the volume of everyone’s voice...

Your tweets appear in the stream at the time you post them. Say the same thing over and over again, and people will tune you out. Make a valuable contribution, and people will engage. No-one can censor your voice, and many different perspectives can sit alongside one another. I think that happened here, and I think for the most part, it was done in a way that was really productive, and represented the richness and complexity of people’s perspectives on the issue – what the problem is and what the possible ways forward are – very well.

I’m proud of the number of the tweets that we sent both on the Nitrobeat account and our own that were retweeted by people seeking to get those ideas out further – it’s a validation of our intention to accurately reflect what was happening in the room. We were also able to bring comments from Twitter into the discussions – I summarised a few general themes that had been expressed, and brought them as questions to the discussions, and then we were able to use Storify to gather all the tweets together around each talk, that best showed the quotes from the talks that really hit home.

It was a real privilege to be a part of The ‘D’ Word, and to be able to help amplify both the event and the voices around it – voices of agreement and voices of dissent, voices of encouragement and voices of caution. It’s not the only event that can or will happen around diversity, and the suite of talks were curated with a vision of the model of forward-looking discussion that Diane at NitroBEAT saw as the best route.  For what it’s worth, I think she got it pretty much spot on. I learned so much, was challenged by some of the talks, had questions about a LOT of them, and in many cases had those questions answered. The openness of the speakers to have their ideas questioned, challenged, to be requested to clarify points and explore the potential consequences of their recommendations, was so much to their credit and to the atmosphere that the organisers created.

I look forward to hearing the discussion move forward and to hearing more responses as the videos appear online and people get to dive in again to the issues those speakers raised. Each of the videos will be individually embeddable, so you’ll be able to take them, put them at the top of a blog post and write a response of your own. Please do.


Click here for videos of all the ‘D’ Word talks, speaker biogs and photographs. Listen to interviews with some of the speakers and attendees, and read tweets from the event.

@solobasssteve /