Twitter is a great medium to use during a conference. Participants can share news from the conference to people who are unable to attend. It is another way of publicising great work by the presenters and showing the world that your professional community is contributing valuable work to society. At its best Twitter conference streams can put you in touch with the latest and greatest research and researchers even though you are not attending the conference. It is not the same as being there, but it is a good second-best.
Twitter can enrich your experience of attending a conference. It is a real buzz being part of a crowd tweeting an event. You are making a small, but positive contribution for the benefit of a community. I am never lonely at conferences because a conference is a chance for me to meet people who I have connected with previously on Twitter and I can meet new friends through the conference Twitter stream.
You never know where in the world a person might be following your conference from. During this year’s Australian Historical Association conference I was staying in a caravan in sub-zero temperatures at the bottom of a hill in Tasmania. Thanks to the conference participants I was able to follow along while keeping a wary eye on some creatures above me…
You are providing a valuable service when you tweet a conference (distraction from spiders is one benefit!). While sifting through many conference tweets over the years, I have noticed that the best conference tweeps follow some basic principles. Here are my top ten conference tweeting tips:
- Use the conference hashtag. This sounds basic but it is surprising how often the first day of a conference sees few tweets because people don’t know the conference hashtag. Organisers have a big role in establishing the conference hashtag before the conference and making sure that the hashtag is on the program and announced during the first session. One trap for people (like me) is forgetting to use the conference hashtag when replying to someone’s conference tweet. Many interesting and relevant comments are lost this way. So remember to add the conference hashtag in your replies to conference tweets!
- Tweet the name of the presenter and the title of the talk at the beginning of the session. It is difficult for those following from afar to make sense of your tweet if they don’t know which of ten concurrent sessions you are tweeting from. It would be great if you could tweet the abstract as well by taking a photo of the abstract in the conference paper.
- Use the presenter’s Twitter handle if they have one. The presenter has put in a lot of work and it is nice to reward them by using their handle when tweeting so they can easily see the tweets of their presentation afterwards. If you can fit it in, start the tweet with the Twitter handle of the presenter or their surname. You no longer need to precede a Twitter handle at the beginning of a tweet with a full stop since the change of Twitter rules last year. It would be helpful if the organisers include the Twitter handle of the presenter in the conference program but I don’t know of any history conferences where this happens. When I am planning which sessions to attend I look up the presenters on Twitter and write their Twitter handle (if they have one) on my program.
- Be clear when quoting or paraphrasing the presenter and be clear when it is your own remark. I assume that all tweets are paraphrasing the speaker unless quotation marks are used or your tweet clearly states that you are tweeting your personal openion.
- Conversations about the conference on Twitter can be good. Continue the conference discussion online by responding to a conference tweet with your thought and questions. Keep in mind that while people are in a session they may not notice your response until a break, but then they will see your response and an interesting discussion can ensue. A relevant conversation about a paper makes the conference Twitter stream richer for everyone. But remember rule 1 – include the conference hashtag in all your replies!
- Tweet conference slides. Some conference slides are very informative and help those following online to understand the presentation better. The first slide of a presentation might be useful if it has the URL for the presenter’s website and details of their affiliation. The most important thing about tweeting a conference slide is to make sure that the slide is in focus. It is also important to use the zoom facility if you are at the back of the room so that the writing on the slide is readable.
- Not all sessions are tweetable. Sometimes a session is about a sensitive topic. When condensed into a 140 character tweet it could be taken out of context and cause unwanted controversy. Other times, it takes all your brain space to absorb what the presenter is saying and you can’t compose tweets at the same time. In these cases you might want to simply tweet an overall comment at the end about how impressed you were and maybe the reason you did not tweet it. These types of sessions are often conveyed better through a blog post.
- Good photos attract attention. Good photos light up the conference Twitter stream. They can be used by the organisers to further publicise the conference and by people blogging the conference. Don’t tweet photos if you want to retain full copyright over your photos, but if you are happy to share, go for it! When taking photos of people, it is nice to show them the photo and ask them for permission to tweet their photo.
- Presenters should tweet too. Tweet the title of your paper as well as the title and room of your presentation in advance. This will help encourage conference attendees who are on Twitter to attend your paper. It will also let people know that you are on Twitter and what your handle is should they be tweeting your paper. You should send this type of tweet a couple of times in the lead up to your paper, but make sure you are tweeting other papers as well. People like to support people who support others. Ideally you would want to tweet the title of your paper and maybe a link to your blog/website a couple of minutes before your presentation, but most of us are too nervous to be wanting to do that. If you google “scheduling tweets” you will find a number of services that allow you to compose a tweet and schedule a time for it to be sent. For details about how I did this and more tips for presenters, see my post ‘Presenting at a Conference in the Social Media Age‘.
- Use other relevant hashtags. Let people around the world know about papers that are relevant to their interests by including another hashtag in some of your tweets. Examples of other hashtags historians could use are #dhist (digital history), #digitalhumanities, #envhist (history of the environment), #hischild, #womenshistory, #familyhistory, #genealogy, #publichistory etc. Australian hashtags you could use are #historyNSW, #historyQld, #chinozhist, #awhn (Australian Women’s History Network).
I am sure that you can think of more tips that could be added to this list. Please share them in the comments so that other people can benefit from your experience.