Did you know that parliamentarians don’t just meet in their parliaments but also in large meetings that bring MPs from all over the world together? Yep, neither did I until I discovered the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) via their social wall.
IPU is the global organisation of national parliaments. Members usually meet twice a year over a few days. They discuss matters in large assembly meetings as well as many smaller meetings and workshops.
The first time IPU used the social media wall was at the 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament in Vienna in September 2021. In December 2021, they integrated a social wall displayed on large screens into the 143rd IPU Assembly meeting, facilitating engagement among members and creating transparency for non-members.
I wanted to know more about this, so I had a chat with Kate Brooks, IPU’s Digital and Social Media Editor, just in between the 143rd Assembly in Madrid and the 144th in Indonesia. Kate told me about how IPU came to use a social wall and the positive effects it has had at the IPU Assembly.
Social Media Editor, Inter-Parliamentary Union
What happens at an IPU assembly?
The IPU Assembly is usually held twice a year. Basically, it’s the biannual convening of parliamentarians from around the world, particularly our members. MPs get together under a specific theme to debate global issues.
Pre-COVID, there was always one in Geneva and one overseas, outside Switzerland. But that’s obviously changed a little bit with the pandemic. In 2021, we had our first fully virtual Assembly. Since then, one was hosted by the parliament of Spain in Madrid at the end of November. Our next one will take place in Nusa Dua, hosted by the parliament of Indonesia.
I’m relatively new to the organisation. I’ve only been here a year. But I’ve used it briefly, 2–3 times, in my previous job at the OECD, managing communications for a team called the Champion Mayors. I used the wall for a Champion Mayors meeting in Seoul in 2017 and found it a great tool. So when I started here at the IPU, I initiated it for our first in-person event, which was in September 2021, post-covid, because I knew how engaging it was for members.
You’re showing the wall on a physical screen during meetings, right?
Absolutely. So in both Madrid and Vienna last year, we had two or three big screens in these big auditoriums. One had a projection of the speaker, one might have a slide, and then the second or third screen would have the wall.
There are a couple of things. Ever since COVID, it’s been a tool that’s allowed us to project what is happening to people who are not at the meeting. So that’s been a positive. It’s not why we did it, but it’s been a positive consequence.
I think the big benefit is that when our participants see the wall projected, it encourages them to engage more on social media. So it’s a bit of a carrot to get them to jump on Twitter or Instagram and participate because they see the wall projected. Participants want to see their images and contributions projected for everybody else to see. So I think for me as a comms person, that’s the biggest benefit of it. And then there’s the practical side, where it’s just a great way to combine all of our activity around the event and have a visual representation of that.
Would you say it’s about creating transparency for the public as well?
Some of the sessions are publicly streamed, and people can watch them, and we share a lot on social media. So a lot of our proceedings are public. Throughout the event, I will also share the link to the wall on our social media channels so people can access it to see what’s happening. Our primary audience is parliamentarians, but we also want to increase awareness of the organisation among the general public. I wouldn’t say transparency is the prime motivation for us with the wall, but there’s definitely an aspect of that to it.
Oh, they love it! Because their contribution is being shown to other MPs in the room. In fact, we had people coming up and asking, “why hasn’t my post gone up?” Or, you know, “why can I not see my contribution?”. It was because they hadn’t used the hashtag correctly, so it just wasn’t happening. So yeah, we definitely had positive responses, and the staff really liked it as well.
So what do you do to make it easier for people to post?
There’s an educational aspect to it. I was also contributing from our corporate accounts, so I would be posting and tweeting out some instructions: “if you want to appear on the wall, this is the way to do it.”. And there was a bit of education happening on the ground as well, with myself and some of my colleagues telling people how they could feature on the wall.
Did you have to moderate the wall?
We started with the wall set to automatic, but given how much people were posting we found there was a need for moderation. Eventually I disabled the automatic function and started moderating to ensure we had variety and substance.
So you basically switched mid-assembly?
It was about two hours in when I had to do that.
How much work did you find moderation to be?
It was a lot of work. It was so busy, particularly in certain sessions! Once I switched to manual moderation we had more control, but when traffic was high, the moderation was a lot of work.
Do you have any idea how many posts you were getting?
It really depended on the session. And the numbers are not reflective because, for example, we had certain delegations that came with a huge media team. So they were sending the same post from, you know, 15 different accounts, which is obviously not an accurate reflection of how many people are posting. But in the busy sessions, such as the opening ceremony and the high political stakes sessions — if I had to guess a number on it, we would have a post every five seconds or so.
What’s the hashtag you used?
We normally use IPU, the acronym, and then the number of the Assembly. So for Madrid, it was #IPU143. For the one in Indonesia, it’s going to be #IPU144.
That’s pretty straightforward. You just need to remember the number.
Yeah, you’d think it’s straightforward! The number is everywhere, but you’d be surprised by how many participants would forget to include the hashtag. It will be interesting to see what happens at this next Assembly regarding engagement because it won’t have been participants’ first exposure to it; MPs will have seen it at the previous Assembly. We’ll see whether the uptake will be — I don’t think it would necessarily be higher, but maybe it will be quicker, with the audience understanding how it works.
In an ideal world, all the posts would be quite substantive, message-based and heavy. The posts that we were doing from the corporate account were very much about the substance of the event. I mean, there were a few “thank you to Madrid for hosting” posts and this kind of stuff, but the majority of our posts were substantial. We had a few MPs, who were quite good with that, and their posts are quite meaty.
As it was the first time MPs were using the wall they are still getting used to it, and it’s easiest for them to promote their attendance and bilateral meetings. I’m hoping more and more content will be meatier rather than just handshake posts!
But I guess that’s also engagement, right?
I mean, none of it is bad, right? It all shows engagement. It all shows the fact that we were having this event, and it was done quite safely. Everybody was obliged to wear masks, and COVID regulations were very strict. So none of the engagement is negative; we would just like to frame it more around the substance of the meeting going forward, as much as that’s possible.
We fully intend to use it for the event coming up in Indonesia, and we’ll have our second Assembly later in the year, around October/November, and we plan to use it for that as well. We’ll activate the wall for a month, so we can have some promotion in the lead up to the event and a bit following the event as well.
Previously I’ve always had it activated a good two weeks before the event, then we have the event, and then you have a little bit of time afterwards where it’s still active. We sometimes get participants tweeting and participating in the lead up to the event, which is what we like as well. And then inevitably, afterwards, you have some people who manage their social media retrospectively. So they’re still posting things a few days after it happened, and we’d like to capture that as well.
The question is whether or not there are other things that we want to use a social wall for. For example, if we have a very high-level webinar or a very big release of a publication or a paper, it would make sense to use it there as well. But I don’t think we’re at that point yet.
Once the wall is activated, I will share it on social media. But the real traffic we get is from the event itself, from participants seeing it up and seeing instructions live.
Walls.io has been a fantastic tool for us on-site at events. Unquestionably, it increases the engagement of participants, which is what we were looking for. I mean, we still want them to be paying attention, obviously. But it’s also a great way for us to capture the participation and involvement of those attending.
We can use the data collected through the wall to show what the meeting was like, how involved people were, and if there was anything particularly interesting that was said by anybody. So it’s kind of like a time capsule for the event, which is useful.
IPU has only recently started using social walls at Assembly meetings, but they’ve already been able to figure out what works and how to tweak things to work better. So there are lots of things that we can learn from this showcase.
Our IPU showcase demonstrates that while you may have one or two main motivations for setting up a social wall in the first place, you could easily end up with a few nice side benefits from it as well.
IPU’s main reason for the social wall was that they wanted more engagement from participants at the Assembly. And they got that. But they also got the following bonus benefits:
- They were able to show those who couldn’t attend the Assembly what was happening outside of official streams.
- They can use the wall to increase awareness of the organisation among the general public.
- They could collect all the social media activity around the event in one place — what Kate called a “time capsule for the event”.
You can change your mind about moderation
IPU’s use of the social wall also shows that your decision about how to handle moderation doesn’t have to be final. You can absolutely change your mind, even mid-event, and adjust based on what you need.
With Walls.io, switching your moderation settings is super easy. Maybe you find out that your attendees aren’t using the social wall quite as you expected. Or perhaps your needs and that of your event have changed. Or perhaps you just need different content handling during day events and evening events. You can always switch back and forth between automatic to manual moderation, even multiple times if that’s what you require.
Maybe you need to slow things down with manual moderation in busier times or when you’re tackling more incendiary topics. Other times you might be perfectly fine with automatic moderation.
No shame in moderation
The “handshake moments” that Kate mentioned are great on a social wall, but if you notice them taking over, there’s no shame at all in moderating to bring meatier posts to the forefront, as Kate and her team have done.
Keep in mind that what attendees see on the social wall will also influence what they post. Even just asking staff to publish some posts can be a helpful example to guide attendees in the right direction. You can also make it clearer what kind of content you’re looking for by moderating posts accordingly.
And don’t forget, it’s also absolutely okay if attendees take a while to get the hang of using social walls at an event. Initially, it’s mostly fun and exciting for most people who’ve never interacted this way before. But once the novelty wears off, people do start to think about how they can use their social media posts and the social wall to create and communicate more meaningful content. I’m pretty sure Kate and her team will start seeing MPs post much more in-depth content during upcoming IPU Assemblies.
Want to start making your meetings more engaging with a social wall too?
Featured image: Fawzia Bint Abdullah Zainal, Speaker of the Council of Representatives Bahrain, photo by IPU