|Why use Twitter during a conference|
Douglas Wood, ICT Education Consultant, shares his views on “why use Twitter during a conference”.
One of the best uses of Twitter that I've found is the ability to use it at conferences.
I have done this a few times and, I admit, made a few mistakes. So, I thought I'd share my views as to why it is a good thing.
First of all, let me say that I do NOT think it is rude to tweet during a speaker's presentation. In fact, I think many speakers expect it nowadays and also welcome it. After all, the speaker gets their message across a bit wider via your tweets; it is good publicity for them. Event organisers also seem to benefit from it as it publicises their event and future events; which is surely worth the cost of laying on free wifi at a venue.
I do feel, though, that the tweeter needs to be sensitive and if the speaker is presenting commercially sensitive or confidential information or if they simply ask not to be tweeted, then this should be observed and respected.
One of the frustrating aspects of conference or event tweeting is that a tweet will often contain just 'so-and-so speaker at this event'. While it is nice to know who's speaking, it is more useful for the follower to know what the speaker is speaking about, what they are saying (if just brief highlights), and the tweeter's opinion or response to what is being said.
That last point is a bit controversial and I'll come back to it later.
What I prefer to do, and I enjoy others doing it too, is being told in tweets the key points in a speaker's presentation. As a follower, it does not give me the same experience as being actually present at the conference but it does allow me to have some insight into the content, argument or viewpoint being presented. This is far more useful than just being told that 'Mr so-and-so is speaking' or 'great speech by ...' or 'inspirational speech by..', unless that is genuinely the tweeter's response to the speech.
As a tweeter, giving your opinion or reaction to a speaker's presentation can be tricky. I think the key here is to respect the speaker and, if you want to give responses, respond to the argument or points presented rather than be personal. I think it is also important to remember that the speaker probably doesn't have the capacity to respond to your tweets, at least not in real time, so your tweets could become a one-sided argument. That leads on to another point, I think it is best to avoid getting into an argument on twitter during a conference, there are always many points of view and expressing them is fine but any follower really wants to know what the conference speaker is saying ... the debate can wait 'til later.
Anyone who has been to conferences will know that there will be times when delegates split into breakaway groups for different 'seminars' or whatever. Sometimes, I have found it is not always easy to choose which seminar to attend; often there may be two or more I'd be interested in but I have to select one. In such cases, it is great when someone else tweets from another seminar, that way, delegates can have a taste of what is being presented at each seminar.
One of the biggest snags in conference tweeting is the use of a hash tag; you would think this would be the simplest of problems to solve but often you see different people using different hash tags for the same event. This only causes confusion for a follower and it would be best if a common hash tag could be agreed. As a follower, I have sometimes asked tweeters to use a common hash tag and told them of the hash tags being used by others. If you are tweeting under one hash tag, you may not be aware of ones being used by others, so it can be useful if someone following, joins in and lets you know. Ideally, I suppose, a hash tag could be agreed in advance of the conference and I do often see tweeters asking what the hash tag is when on their journey to an event. In many cases, the conference organisers could set out the hash tag beforehand. There should be a general rule that hash tags should be as short as possible (so as not to use up too many characters) and as distinct as possible (so as not to be confused with other events).
There is also the issue of twitter being used as a backchannel, giving the speaker feedback on their presentation. Generally, I would say this is a good idea and adds another dimension to a presentation. However, where Twitter is used in this way, I believe the speaker should at least know about it and agree to it, ideally the speaker should incorporate it into their presentation. However, we have to remember that when presenting it is not always possible for a speaker to stay aware of a twitter stream or to respond in real time.
There is one final point, or gripe, that I have seen time and time again at conferences from other people tweeting. At the start of a conference, people will say tweet that they are at the event and they'll be tweeting this or that ... but then it all goes quiet. There are a number of times when I have followed conference tweets during the morning but then there's been nothing during the afternoon. This can be really frustrating for followers, so if you do tweet at a conference, please keep tweeting (battery and wifi permitting of course) during the whole event!
In conclusion, I feel that tweeting from conferences and events can be one of the most beneficial uses of the social media tool. It is generally good to share ideas and experiences, which is why I tend to do tweet from conferences I attend. Followers need more info in your tweets than just the fact that you're present or that so-and-so is about to speak, which is why I feel it is good to include key points or witty sayings from a speaker's presentation. It is great to follow tweets from an event you cannot attend but please, please, please keep tweeting through the whole event!
I am sure that many of us would agree that attending conferences can be good continuing professional development (CPD). That's great for those of us lucky enough to attend but what about our colleagues back at the office. Shouldn't they also be able to benefit from the conference for their own CPD? Of course they should and it would be great if they could all attend but, as we all know, that would be problematic, cost money and leave the office understaffed or with temporary staff.
I think you can see what I'm getting at ... by tweeting from the conference, the tweeter can actually share elements of the CPD with colleagues. Not only that but Twitter is a two-way tool, so the colleagues can also interact with the Tweeter by asking questions of them or getting them to ask questions of the speaker etc..
Now, I know it is not perfect CPD but I might suggest it may be a bit better than the usual cascade approach where the attendee feedback to colleagues upon return, relying upon any notes, handouts and memory but only being able to answer questions based upon their own interpretation of the presentation. I've never been a real fan of the cascade approach, finding it akin to 'Chinese whispers' where the message of the session gets slightly changed each time it is relayed. By using Twitter, however, the remote 'attendees' get a slightly better taste of the presentation/message.