Reinventing the Wheel

Integrating the internet into in-person shows with ease and comfort. Mostly.

I have had couple of interesting conversations with stamp collectors over the last couple years about how to integrate the internet philatelic world into in-person shows.

Here are some thoughts. Please, please, let me know if you don’t like something. And if you have an idea too. Let’s make this a conversation. I certainly don’t know everything!

As a hobby, we did a pretty good job of moving online during the pandemic emergency, but now that face-to-face gatherings are again possible, many organizations are going back to their old, comfortable ways of doing things, and abandoning the new hobbyists who came aboard by way of social media and websites.

There is some lipservice to those people by some organizations. They found that there was an audience for YouTube videos, and some are still holding meetings on Zoom.

But they don’t seem to have yet figured out how to also continue supporting those who can’t travel, don’t have local clubs, or have no other resources to draw upon.

One particular issue I personally have is with in-person shows. And I have some thoughts. This has long been a pet peeve in all sorts of my worlds.

I was at the Chicago World Science Fiction Convention in 2001 when the very first virtual guest appeared. It was, of course, Arthur C. Clarke, who both wrote 2001: A Space Odyssy, and invented the communications satellite by which he appeared from Sri Lanka.

I thought that was great! We could now, moderately easily, start inviting people from around the world to speak at all sorts of conventions. It’s now been done via internet by all sorts of organizations, bringing in world leaders who can’t attend in person for security reasons, or others who might not find the expense affordable but were deemed important to their program.

And I’ve seen this done really well. I’ve been to additional science fiction conventions when the guest of honor was suddenly unable to attend, but could participate virtually.

There has also been an astronaut guest of honor who attended from the international space station.

So – one way to integrate the internet into in-person conventions is to invite virtual speakers. Yeah, you could have them just speak in an independent Zoom talk or something, but having an audience in the room while someone is giving a live talk is a different experience.

Project that talk onto a screen. Do it on zoom or the like. Let people on the zoom call and in the room ask questions and participate.

I know, though, that many convention centers and hotels have lousy cell service, and no free wifi. It’s not going to be possible to do that for every show. But if you could get a world renown expert appearing “live via satellite” (or equivalent), it could be a cool draw.

Can you have live interaction with a Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society from Society headquarters? Can you do it with the Digital Philatelist from Australia? How about both on a panel?

The opposite is also true. Filming (“videoing”) some of the talks (I’d love all of them, but I’m semi-realistic) and putting them online can expand your audience. Even if you can’t stream live, putting them online as fast as possible (within a few days) of the convention would go along way toward attracting internet dwellers.

If you charge admission for the in-person show, you could even put those talks behind a paywall. Everyone who attended gets them free, everyone else pays a buck or two.

Other things that can be done to accommodate the internet philatelist include putting yourself on Twitter. Easy to do, but then you need to put out content.

Content could be as easy as copying stuff from your free newsletter or blog and sending it out. Add a few “here’s a picture of Cindy who helps out with refreshments during show organization meetings,” and you have a feed.

Put together an “official” hashtag. Those are those things with what used to be called a pound sign (#) in front of them. USE it. Put it on everything you send out – newsletters, tweets, blogposts. #BobCollectsStamps

Hashtags is one way internet users can organize information. In most social media apps, you can search for a hashtag like #bacon, and find out everything that’s been posted about bacon.

One thing you want to avoid is someone making up their own hashtag about your show. They will anyway, but you don’t want it to be the overwhelming one online. “StampShowTrash” is not something you want to find out people have to search for to get info on your show.

Update your website. Frequently. Make it a priority. A Lot of people will be looking for it and at it for the latest information. Make sure it’s user friendly.

Use a widget and embed your Twitter feed onto the front of page of your website. At the very least, include a link to all your social media on the front page.

Do your best to get website links for all your bourse vendors, sponsors, and anyone else that helps or supplies you. Even your table-supplier. Unless they put it in their contract, just tell them you’re going to do it and do it. It costs nothing, and they will like you for it.

Make sure you have a contact email. Answer your email. Make sure SOMEONE alive reads and responds to every piece of email you get (except spam, of course). A day or two is often an acceptable delay, but the internet moves at the speed of light, not the speed of molasses. Two days is a LONG time on line.

Oh, and respond to other online communications too, even if it’s a auto reply saying they have to use the email address.

That might seem like a lot, but there’s a little more simple stuff that can be done.

Find out early what wifi is available in your venues, hotels and convention centers. If it’s paid, or free, or nonexistent. Publicize that information, EVEN (especially) if it’s nonexistent.

I would MUCH prefer to show up knowing that I’m going to have to step outside to make a phone call, or get my email, than finding out an hour in. Or thinking I just can’t find the right network because there are three “MyVenue” networks but none of them are public.

This goes for cell service too. I’ve been in one convention center that had cell service on one landing of one stairway because there was a correct-facing window there. The second year there were signs to that stairwell and nobody was grumbling like the first year.

Provide room for an internet meet-up. We don’t have a formal internet stamp club. But we’re everywhere. Schedule at least one, early on, where there can be a meet-and-great for internet philatelists.

We won’t have to wander the halls wondering who is a twitter follower of ours. We can make in-person friends that we can see again and again throughout the show.

Put up a selfie station. Everybody loves selfie stations – well, those below a certain age do. They used to be called photo-ops and everybody loved them.

They can be as simple as making a poster-sized stamp, laminate it to a board, and cut out a hole to put a face through. The huge number of US portrait stamps come to mind as something to do this with.

Have you seen my logo? Take a US no. 1 or a Penny Black, cut the center out, and let everyone put their face in there and have their picture taken. Adjust that to your national taste, of course.

Or get more elaborate. Have a first day ceremony? Use that stamp. Put them up in a couple different places.

But! Make sure your show name is above, and official hashtag is written in big letters right below the stamp! How many people can you get to put that online for you?

Give them that hashtag and your show may even trend on Instagram by the end of the day. It’s possible.

Now, for some more daring stuff.

Put us in the programming. Have an “Internet for Philatelists” talk. “Online Exhibits 101.” If you’ve got one, how about “meet your local online celebrity “? Think broadly. Maybe two audience members will show up. Just don’t put them at the beginning or end of the day. Play nice.

On your vendor/bourse applications, add a checkbox asking if they will make themselves available for social media interviews. They can set parameters, but are they willing to be asked?

Do the same with your speakers, and people representing clubs.

Compile that into a list. Don’t indicate they _will_ , just that they’re willing.

Depending on how big your show list, post it somewhere or hand it out to registrants who have checked a similar box on their form asking if they are a social media media.

We online hobbyists fall between normal attendees and the mainstream media attendees. Some of us are torn about registering as “media” because we only want to take a few pictures and post them, but we might want want to grab and interview with someone if we’re told they might be open to it.

Just request us to mention the show! Most of us are happy to oblige if you’ve made an effort to make us feel welcome. We might do it anyway, but we’ll feel good being asked.

We may have a plan, maybe not. But having a list of those willing might mean we don’t bug those unwilling.

You might also consider having a couple of chairs somewhere, with a big plant and a neutral background (with your name and hashtag). Tape off some area so we can ask people to stay behind the lines, which protects our tripod. Social media people could sign up to use it for, say, 15 minutes, and do an interview out of the way of the crowds.

And we become part of the show if you have some standing room around the chairs.

Finally, exhibits.

Ask all your exhibitors to provide scans of their exhibits to put up online. Putting them up “forever” would of course be ideal for most of us online, but show-time plus X would be great. X equaling a week or a month or whatever.

If they can’t provide scans but are willing, find someone to do it, or at least take reasonable photos of the exhibits.

I don’t know if there’s a real central repository for exhibits. If the national clubs aren’t doing that, it’s a shame. I know some, including the APS has some donated exhibits on paper, but as of this writing they may not be collecting digital exhibits. I hope they will.

The big dreams.

Would I like there to be more? Of course.

Complete live-streaming of everything. Complete catalogs of all the bourse vendors, with 24/7 chat and buying. Security camera-like footage of the hall. Two way communication with the talks and meetings.

Do I think it will happen? Not until we’re all attending virtually with interactive holograms.

For now, I’d be very happy to see some of these steps taken.

So: What’s your show’s twitter name and hashtag? I’ll send it out.

One final note to show runners. This blog has a subscription base of 1,500 people. My overall audience seems to be over 2,000.

I’m small potatoes in the online philatelic world. But wouldn’t you love the problem of 1/3 of just my readers visiting or at least talking positively about your show? No promises, but think about that possibility.

Have a kitten.



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