There’s a whole lot of tweetin’ goin’ on this week at MPI’s MeetDifferent 2010, with the association’s Virtual Access Pass streaming content to a wider audience and bringing in ideas, input, and questions from off site.

From the segment of the industry that has embraced social media, we’re getting great snapshots of how online interaction can integrate with on-site programs. But for every advance, there are also limits—limits to seamlessly and effectively linking live and virtual audiences, to the wider industry’s acceptance of social media, and to the quality of content that actually makes its way from the session hall to the online world.

Two breakout sessions on Sunday pointed to some minimum practices for combining live content and Twitter streams in real time.

In one of them, general-session moderator Glenn Thayer acted as a technical facilitator, fielding online questions and comments from virtual attendees who were monitoring the live video stream. Thayer stationed himself in the audience with a microphone, chiming in just enough to add updates coming in from Twitter without throwing the live presenter off stride. The interface worked well, the conversation was dynamic, and the session pulled in knowledge and ideas beyond the expertise in the room.

The outcome was different in an earlier breakout. The video stream worked, but there was no mechanism for collecting or integrating input from virtual participants. A smattering of unhappy Twitter traffic began about 15 minutes into the session, but by that time, it was too late to close the loop between the two audiences.

One thing I’ve noticed about our social media colleagues is that their enthusiasm and feistiness outweigh their numbers … which is a polite way of saying that social media integration hasn’t quite hit prime time.

Lurkers in any online discussion far outnumber the active participants, and the VAP is no exception. But there’s something else going on here: Although they’re all attending the same conference, there’s a disconnect between the social-media innovators and the presenters who express discomfort about circulating their content to a wider audience and seem uncertain of their ability to connect virtually.

This isn’t a criticism of either group. It’s just one more reminder that remote access is no silver bullet, particularly not for the large segment of our industry still clustering around the edges of the virtual transition.

Meanwhile, virtual content providers are still figuring out how to create hybrid events that are genuinely different, rather than repeating mistakes from face-to-face meetings. In the session where Thayer did such a good job as technical facilitator, we heard that the verbatim video formats that most participants find unwieldy on DVD will somehow, magically, become usable and convenient, just because they’re available online.

Some of our best virtual practitioners still think a 140-character tweet conveys substance, rather than very brief opinions, and that 90-minute videos of speakers at podiums will draw rapt viewers post-conference. Hybrids can incorporate smarter alternatives, but that story is still a work in progress.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president and CEO of The Conference Publishers Inc., one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to