How to live tweet effectively at academic conferences

This useful post on the Pickle Jar blog offers some pointers about effective live tweeting. I agree it’s important to remember that most (?) people reading your live tweets won’t be in the room with you and thus will be confused by any features of the context you take for granted in your tweets. In that sense, I think this is excellent advice:

Context is key. If you’re sending a tweet out into the world, assume your audience knows very little. If you hear something interesting, try to share it as if you’re sharing words of wisdom with someone who wasn’t there. Feel free to paraphrase, and take pictures of the slides if there’s just too much amazing stuff on there for 140 characters. Those who aren’t there will get something out of it, and those that are will have a reminder that they can re-tweet or favourite.

http://www.picklejarcommunications.com/2015/04/15/a-bluffers-guide-to-being-useful-at-conferences/

But surely live tweeting also serves a purpose for people within the room? The experience of live tweeting has often lived up to the rhetoric of the ‘back channel’: offering an outlet for both exchange with and awareness of other people at the event, many of whom I’ve never previously met. There are obviously risks posed by this (a topic for another post) but it’s also something that can introduce a novel sociality into what might otherwise be a large and impersonal event.

This is why I think it’s important to distinguish between the official live-tweeter (scene setter, context communicator and summariser in chief) and the voluntary live-tweeting of others at the event. Part of the role of the former is to encourage the latter through regular retweets and rapid responses to any questions. But another crucial part is to provide a sufficient sense of the context to ‘outsiders’ for the flurry of activity taking place amongst ‘insiders’ to be comprehensible and engaging. The insider activity isn’t a threat to the quality of the live tweeting, it’s rather what can make a hashtag fascinating to read if there is someone mediating between the two in order to ensure that ‘insiders’ don’t exclude ‘outsiders’ by taking their shared context for granted.

There are numerous ways to establish context: regular reminders of what the hashtag is (e.g. “We’re live tweeting from  @BritSoci conference day 2, #BritSoc15″), taking pictures of the venue itself to convey a sense of place, regular statements of the schedule (e.g. “Our next speaker is @mark_carrigan from @SocioWarwick talking about social ontology of social movements”) and signalling openness to queries (e.g. “If you have any questions about #BritSoc15, whether you’re here or not, please get in touch!”). This kind of activity can help if you’re subsequently using the hashtag as a basis to compile a report of the event by providing way marks to make sense of what can be a vast stream of activity. But more importantly I think it also contributes to the accessibility of the event, structuring what might otherwise be an intimidating mass of communication and doing so in a way which encourages it to grow.

There’s a really important suggestion later in the Pickle Jar post which I’ve only recently started doing myself:

One way to really add some useful background is to start digging up links. Is the person on stage mentioning a project they worked on? Dig up a link to that project (or better still, a video about it), and share that on the conference hashtag. Do they have a personal site, with background detail? Go find it, and share it. It may seem like a bit of a slog, but Google is your friend here.

http://www.picklejarcommunications.com/2015/04/15/a-bluffers-guide-to-being-useful-at-conferences/

I prefer to live tweet on a phone but I’m planning in future to always use my laptop for this reason. If someone mentions a paper they’ve written, look it up and tweet the link! Tweet the institutional profile of the speaker and always ensure you link to their personal twitter feed and tag the department as well if they have a twitter presence.  In this sense, the official live tweeter does a large part of the ‘networking’ in order that other people don’t have to.

There’s suggestions later in the post which I’ve experimented with in the past but found people quite reluctant to participate in. Perhaps it’s how I’m phrasing it? But the promise of Audioboom for micro-podcasts with speakers really fascinates me and I’ve love to find a way to suggest this possibility to speakers that doesn’t immediately make them recoil in horror:

While you’re there, how about tracking a few speakers down for an audio interview? We’ve already chatted about the possibilities of platforms such as Audioboom, and you can use these with little more than a smartphone and a quiet sideroom or corridor.

If video’s more your thing, why not provide some great content for curators and your followers by capturing a quick chat or a tech demo using Youtube CaptureVine, or Instagram Video? Or if you’ve got an audience that isn’t in a wildly-different timezone, why not livestream an interview or a quick event summary using Periscope or Meerkat?

http://www.picklejarcommunications.com/2015/04/15/a-bluffers-guide-to-being-useful-at-conferences/


Categories: Digital Sociology

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2 replies »

  1. Very nice, helpful. ALSO: in my experience Twitter can often be useful in those meetings where the panel or speakers share a reactionary position and the structure of the event – or lack of confidence among critics in the room – prevent a serious critical debate from taking place. Tweeting among audience can build another narrative and – who knows – embolden critics to push in to the debate.

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