Students live tweet Milken Institute Global Conference

Six M.A. in Strategic Public Relations students played key roles in summarizing, analyzing and distributing comprehensive real-time social media content during the 2012 Milken Institute Global Conference. The students – variously dubbed "Annenberg Ambassadors" and the "Annenberg Tweetforce" – sent out thousands of 140-characters-or-less dispatches on behalf of the Global Conference. The annual event, held this year April 30-May 2, took place at the Beverly Hilton hotel and was organized by the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica-based think tank.

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"The Annenberg students were incredible performers at the Milken Institute Global Conference," said Conrad Kiechel, the Milken Institute's director of communications. "Their hard work, engagement and creativity enabled us to tweet from all 130 panels during the three days."

The Global Conference brought together hundreds of world-renowned panelists and moderators from fields such as business, finance, energy, education, health, technology, public policy and philanthropy along with 3,000 or so audience members.

"I am incredibly amazed at the level of discussions I was part of and extremely honored to have been part of this experience," said Stephanie Lavayen, a Strategic Public Relations master's candidate scheduled to receive her degree this week.

Lavayen tweeted sessions regarding emerging global markets and also the future of the U.S. economy. She said she found tweeting the remarks of former President Bill Clinton to be particularly memorable. "The Global Conference not only elevated my awareness and understanding of the many complex issues facing our nation and the world," Lavayen said, "but left me with the desire to continue growing my knowledge about world issues and contemplating solutions." Added Lavayen: "It was one of the most memorable experiences I had during my time at USC and I know I will remember it the rest of my life."

The opportunity for Lavayen and fellow Trojans Niku Ward, Jacques Dubois, Lauren Gelbach, Kendall Klinger and Brenna Clairr O'Tierney to participate in the Global Conference stemmed from a lunchtime conversation held in early March between Kiechel and Jerry Swerling, a USC Annenberg professor and director of the school's Public Relations Studies program. Two other USC Annenberg students, Trevor Steele and Cara Lasala, were also involved in live-tweeting the conference. Steele was already involved with the Milken Institute and Lasala with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, a related organization located in the same building. "I mentioned that, though we post videos of every panel at the Global Conference, I wanted to find ways to further unlock the incredible content," Kiechel said. "The thought that immediately crossed my mind," Swerling said, "was, we should be able to solve that problem." So, a partnership was sealed and just seven weeks later, after divvying up sessions based on their respective areas of interest and experience, the Annenberg students were sitting and working in the same room as an abundance of CEOs, cabinet members, investors and other national and international movers-and-shakers. [A complete speakers list is here.] "They were able to hear from some of the best minds in the world about the latest thinking in those areas of interest," Swerling said of the students. "On top of that, their tweeting put them squarely at the center of one of the hottest phenomenon in communication: the sharing of high-value information."

Public relations professor Matthew Le Veque joined the students and Swerling at the Global Conference. Le Veque at times sat next to the students at panels while he monitored their Twitter streams via his iPad. "Self-publishing of real time content via social media platforms such as Twitter are part of the skill set used by modern public relations professionals," Le Veque said. "For students to move from the classroom environment to the real world environment and apply what they have learned is an invaluable part of their education process." First-year Strategic Public Relations master's candidate O'Tierney hales from Anchorage, Alaska and maintains a longtime interest in energy issues. She's already spent a summer doing PR work for Shell Oil as well as worked on an account for a biofuels enterprise. "They gave us a ton of responsibility and freedom, which I really appreciated," O'Tierney said of both the Milken Institute staff and the USC faculty. "Social media can go viral, so they took a big risk on us. I believe it paid off." O'Tierney said she spent the three days of the Global Conference waking up at 4:45 a.m. and returning home at 8:00p.m. She attended Tweetforce morning planning sessions and evening debriefings – as well as 12 Global Conference sessions. She tweeted some 700 dispatches via the handle, @migcenergy. Kiechel reported that the Institute sent out 5,379 tweets during the Global Conference; he estimated that more than 2/3 of those came from the Annenberg Tweetforce. Some of O'Tierney and her fellow Ambassadors' tweets were used by the Huffington Post as part that site's Global Conference coverage.

Others were re-tweeted across the Twittersphere. Gelbach, a first-year Strategic Public Relations master's candidate from Warrensburg, Missouri, reported that the favorite tweet she sent out during the confab was: "@mikko: 500 of the Fortune 500 companies are hacked right now." She composed that tweet during the panel session, "Cybersecurity: When Hackers Attack." Said Gelbach: "I liked how attention-grabbing it was and how it emphasized the need for companies to be proactive in their security measures." O'Tierney said she was tweeting so much, and at such pace – 59 times during the one-hour session, "Economic Development: Heating Up the Arctic" – that at one point Twitter temporary locked her out, figuring her to be a possible spammer. Undeterred, the resourceful grad student composed her tweets in a word document. Once social media access was restored, she then sent out the backlog. This, O'Tierney said, happened to other members of the Tweetforce as well. Chalk up another, albeit unanticipated, learning opportunity. "I feel like I have a better handle – no pun intended – on Twitter now," O'Tierney said. Laughing, she added, "And writing in 140 characters is now something I dream about." Read the Annenberg students' tweets via the Milken Institute Global Conference's sub-handles: @migcind, @migcind2; @migchealth; @migcfinance; @migcfinance2; @migcmedia; @migcenergy; @migcregions; and @migcregions2.

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