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Tweet, Tweet: USC Annenberg students cover global conference

USC Annenberg graduate students Cara Lasala, left, and Brenna Clairr O'Tierney at the Milken Institute Global Conference held at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel on April 29.
USC Annenberg graduate students Cara Lasala, left, and Brenna Clairr O'Tierney at the Milken Institute Global Conference (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

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 USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism students — variously dubbed “Annenberg Ambassadors” and the “Annenberg Tweetforce” — sent out thousands of 140-characters-or-less dispatches on behalf of the conference. The annual event, held this year from April 30 to May 2, took place at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel and was organized by the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica-based think tank.

“The Annenberg students were incredible performers at the 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 conference brought together hundreds of renowned panelists and moderators from business, finance, energy, education, health, technology, public policy and philanthropy along with nearly 3,000 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 master’s candidate in strategic public relations.

Lavayen tweeted sessions regarding emerging global markets and 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.”

The opportunity for Lavayen and fellow Trojans Niku Ward, Jacques Dubois, Lauren Gelbach, Kendall Klinger and Brenna Clairr O’Tierney to participate in the event stemmed from a lunchtime conversation held in early March between Kiechel and Jerry Swerling, USC Annenberg professor and director of the school’s Public Relations Studies program.

“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.”

As a result, a partnership was sealed and seven weeks later, after divvying up sessions based on their respective areas of interest and experience, the USC Annenberg students were working in the same room as CEOs, investors and other national and international movers and shakers.

“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 at the conference.

“Self-publishing of real-time content via social media platforms 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 has a longtime interest in energy issues. She’s already spent a summer handling public relations for Shell Oil, and she has 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 conference waking up at 4:45 a.m. and returning home at 8 p.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 conference; he estimated that more than two-thirds of them came from the USC Annenberg Tweetforce.

Some of O’Tierney and her fellow ambassadors’ tweets were used by the Huffington Post as part of that site’s Global Conference coverage.

O’Tierney said she was tweeting so much and at such a fast pace — 59 times during one particular session that at one point Twitter temporarily locked her out, figuring her to be a possible spammer.

Undeterred, the resourceful graduate student composed her tweets in a word document. Once social media access was restored, she sent out the backlog. This, O’Tierney said, also happened to other members of the Tweetforce. 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.”

Trevor Steele and Cara Lasala, two other USC Annenberg students, also tweeted the conference.

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