Davos and public interaction with complex issues

Late last week, the Amplified team got together to see if they could drive citizen participation in response to the sessions and commentaries arising from the World Economic Forum in Davos, and to use twitter and livestreaming technology to facilitate a commentary between the on-camera chat show hosts and the watching public, on issues arising from the event.  Whilst participation was relatively low (less than 50 users at peak) the experiment was interesting as much for the range of amateur and pithy opinions expressed as it was for the success of the format.  These small chat-show style formats worked best when we had a range  of articulate yet opinionated entrepreneurs who were prepared to sit down for 15 minutes apiece to answer a few questions and to argue among themselves about the logistics of the tactical solutions they were proposing to the current economic crisis.  And we observed an interesting phenomenon: the more that the participants responded to audience questions, the higher the viewing rate and the promotion of the event on twitter, and the higher the interest in the main event and reporting in mainstream media on Davos itself.

Reuters had previously sought out the Amplified team to provide them with advice on what they needed to generate real time, interesting content and to incite audience engagement.  The Reuters social media team, led by Mark Jones and Chris Parker were highly successful in their production of interesting and relevant content.  However the Reuters main Davos event site wasn’t particularly well suited to the quality and quantity of content generated. Based on the magazine structure and format there was not the sense that the material was changing much over the four days and as such, it did not invite repeat visits to new and innovative content.

This is a classic interaction design problem.  When dealing with real time media and producing time-specific content, the gateway  to that material has to reflect the immediacy and changes to the content as it happens.  Mainstream media companies have an opportunity to rebrand themselves with events like Davos as  on-the-spot, responsive and facilitating of public debate.  If the Davos page  had been reflective of constant change, discussion and interaction, they would have much better engaged audiences.  A page divided into four main categories of text-based stories (updated at least hourly), handheld video, twitter feeds and session content/commentary would have better communicated the activities of those ‘present’ or following the event.  Further, this information should have been presented in flash, updating feeds in the manner of twitterfall.com or at least regularly reloading pages in the format demonstrated by search.twitter.com for any active tags.  But because Reuters always want to promote professionalism – professional writing and video content – the site acted more as an archive than an interactive stimulus for further debate.

This is an important lesson in interaction design: reputation for professionalism can be restricted  to main sites and news and video archives.  But live events can afford to be more communicative of what is happening as it happens and, in presenting more immediate, less edited content, can invite participation online.  Engagement is best facilitated by communicating a sense of active participation, not presenting highly editorialised content which is already out of date when it is just a few hours old.  Immediacy is key when organisations – media or otherwise – want to encourage active participation and interaction.   Active and real time engagement calls for a different framework.  And media companies and organisations alike need to think carefully about how they communicate that active engagement if they want to provide a genuinely satisfying interactive experience.

Just a final note: ComMetrics has done a fantastic job in collating tweets from Davos in his exploration of the event lately – well worth looking at his searchable PDF of tweets.  There’s a clear need to explore these issues further.

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