With Digital Media, What Happened in Davos Didn’t Stay in Davos

“The only way to keep Davos private would be to confiscate participants’ cell phones,” according to Matthias Lüfkens, former head of digital media at the World Economic Forum (WEF) and current MD of digital, EMEA at Burson-Marsteller. He spoke at PRSA’s Digital Impact conference on Monday in New York, where he outlined how digital media helped make the exclusive conference more public.

The World Economic Forum’s five-day invitation-only event, held in Davos, Switzerland every January, draws 2,600 influential leaders from academia, business, and government to discuss the world’s most pressing issues. Lüfkens said WEF sought to reach a broader audience, and this year the event was livestreamed on four channels and on a press conference channel encouraging audience participation. They also livestreamed from mobile phones using Qik.

“The head of WEF is not personally involved in social media, but he understands it,” Lüfkens noted. “Social media is also a good way to brand the event and is now embedded in the organization. Our strategy is to release and stagger the content.” Davos now has a presence on several social media platforms and provides a lesson in how other major events, even those with off-the-record content, can use social media to their advantage.

Twitter: “We want CEOs to engage personally on Twitter during the event,” Lüfkens said. “Curation is key, and we used Storify to select the best tweets.” More participants now are tweeting, ranging from Bill Gates to Dr. Oz, but in some cases Twitter has caught on too much. “Out of 230 sessions, only fifty were on the record,” Lüfkens explained. “However, some participants even tweeted from the ‘off-limits’ sessions.’”

Facebook: WEF used many of Facebook’s new features, Lüfkens reported. On their timeline they posted black and white photos of Davos events since the 1970s. They conducted Facebook polls among event attendees and established private Facebook groups of editors covering the forum. They held live interviews on Facebook, where they answered users’ questions. They also identified the Davos Congress Centre on the map using Facebook Places and Foursquare.

Flickr: “Five years ago the only photos of Davos were of the protests, but now WEF event photos appear in online searches,”  Lüfkens stated. “They’re portrait shots of speakers that contain metadata with tags. Participants don’t sign releases but know they’re being filmed.”

YouTube: “Davos needed a YouTube presence, and now we share full session videos to be used as an information resource” Lüfkens reported. “They’re closed captioned and subtitled so they’re accessible and feed the YouTube search engine. We also created a social media corner called ‘Ask a Leader’ for Davos participants. They can view YouTube videos and reply to comments, which are moderated first.”

However, not everything at Davos is digital or intended for public consumption. Instead of a little black book, Lüfkens carried a thick white book with him on stage. The book contains participants’ contact information, though, as he noted, attendees this year asked that email addresses be omitted in favor of Twitter handles.