Friday, January 22, 2010

Review of the IBM stand at the Young Scientist and using social software for connecting with children #ibm4btyse

Last week I was involved in helping run the IBM stand at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. One of the areas that I focused on was using social software to help publicize what we were doing on this stand. This was a hectic week. Now that I have had time to digest what happened, I decided to write this blog post which  will review how effective the stand itself was and how/if the various social software channels we used helped connect with the young people attending the exhibition.

In common with many other exhibitions there is a tradition that companies running stands at the Young Scientist will attempt to attract visitors by giving gifts to the people who visit their stand.  IBM followed that tradition with 4 diiffernt things we were giving away to our visitors. This was very sucessful - at one stage on Friday it was not physically possible for anymore people to enter our stand. However, I was surprised that the popularity of the different gifts did not relate to what they cost:
  1. Anyone who visited the stand and made a token attempt to appear interested in our stand was given a YoYo with the IBM logo. We had a total of 10,000 YoYos were available in a variety of colours and they were all distributed over the 3 days. They were  hugely popular with the students and were probably responsible for a huge percentage of the visitors to the stand. A typical interaction with a student almost always sarted with the question "is it true you are giving out YoYos?". Of course we relied "yes, but not that you are year would you like me to tell you about IBM ..." The students felt morally obliged to feign interest in our messages in return for their valued prize.
  2. Each visitor to the stand was asked to enter an idea on our web site for how technology could be used to make the world smarter. Most students were enthused by the competition and put a lot of thought into their entry. This was a good way of ensuring they really understood the Smarter Planet theme we had for our stand. We were giving out a prize fof a laptop for the best idea, but very few of the students showed any interest in the prospect of winning a laptop.
  3. Each day we held a draw for a Nintendo Wii. All they had to do to enter the draw was write their name on a ticket. There was some interest in the chance of winning a Wii - but the scramble to enter this was much less than the scramble for free YoYos. I think the mood was captured by one young boy (I would guess aged about 8-10) - when asked if he wanted to enter the draw he said "I already have a Wii, but I suppose I could always sell it on eBay" - clearly a youngster with business acumen :-)
  4. We were also giving out Ubuntu Live CDs and copies of the "IBM Open Client for Smart Work" at the pedestal where we were demonstrating Open Source software. There was very little interest in this from the younger kids, but some of the older students and their parents did show an interest. Some of the visitors to the stand were already using Ubuntu, but were fascinated to learn why IBM was promoting it. In fact a large number of the CDs were given to the IBM volunteers who planned to install it on their own PCs.
The communications team were keen to use social software tools to promote the stand to students since they heard that the students would all be keen users of these tools. I was asked to advise them as an expert in social software. I don't consider myself of an expert (expertise is relative), but I found that Laura Cowen and Sacha Chua were only to happy to fill in for the gaps in my knowledge.

The social software tools we chose to use were:
  1. We created a Wordpress blog and we planned out a schedule for which of the team members would post each day so that it would not be forgotten. Much to my surprise we kept to the schedule and even posted a few additional blog posts when ideas occured to us during the week. We managed to get IBM employees to comment on the blog by using subtle pressure on them, but I don't think only 2 of our commenters were not IBM employees (of course I could be wrong because am not 100% certain of the identity of all of the commenters).
  2. We used the existing IBM Twitter account @IBMIrelandEvent and also the hashtag #ibmbtyse - the reaction to this was good, but again I suspect we were more successful in letting adults know about the stand than in attracting youngsters. The young people did use Twitter, but generrally were more intersted in interacting with their own social social circle than in interacting with IBM. A few students who were keen ubuntu fans did send us messages via Twitter so I guess it was high quality interactions even if not high quantity.
  3. The people manning the stand took lots of pictures and posted them to Flickr (e.g. my photos), Picasa (e.g. Donnacha's photos) and other web sites, but we did not organise them in a way that allowed people view all the content together. The communications team did produce some fairly professional looking videos and posted them to the YouTube channel. Speaking to IBM people they were very impressed, but I am not sure how many others viewed them.
  4. We created an identica/StatusNet account @IBMIrelandEvent but did not really use it. The communications team were using HootSuite for managing all of the social media channels and since we never connected the identica account with HootSuite nobody remembered to manually cross post. In any case I don't think many students would use identica so our omission was not noticed.
  5. We created a Facebook event page, since we were advised that most of the students would be very keen users of Facebook. We didn't hook this up with HootSuite either since it seems that HootSuite will only post to a person's Facebook home page and not to an event page (maybe we don't fully understand HootSuite). Nevertheless I manually posted links to most of our content as it appeared and also posted links to articles about the event in the mainstream media. I think that this pages was also used more by IBMers than by the target audience - 15 of the 19 confirmed guests and 9 of the 15 people who said they were "maybe attending" were IBM employees. I think the problem is that Facebook invites can only be sent to your friends and the people at the exhibition were not our friends on Facebook. Indeed the common wisdom is that the students would be advised against interacting with us on Facebook since we are all dangerous adults.
In summary it was a great experience and I think people attending got a good impresssion of IBM. This video gives you a quick flavour:

Update 23/Jan: I forgot to mention the Facebook page in the initial post so I added a paragraph about that.


  1. Brian, your review of the week is great in that it captures everything, including the buzz and the atmosphere of the week. As I was working between the IBM stand and the BT 'classroom' with the IBM KidSmart Programme, as well as being exhausted, I was able to get a really good view of what was happening on the IBM stand when I was just next door. I couldn't believe the buzz around it, it was constantly busy and for me one of the great things was that I could see that the IBM employees were really enjoying it, so much so that some stayed on for extra shifts! Can't believe I'm saying this but I really want us to do it again next year, but even better :-)

  2. I too am looking forward to next year. It is very tiring but also very rewarding.