Thoughts on tweeting from a conference

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I was fortunate enough to attend the International Cancer Education Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan from September 19 – 22. I shared some of the great discussion points on twitter, as I tried to create an online presence for the conference.

Over the 4 days, I used symplur.com’s healthcare hashtag project to track and analyze the virtual presence of the conference while making notes about what I experienced as a conference attendee. Here are my observations:

  • Twitter and the hashtag were most active on Thursday between 9 am – 1 pm. Though there were workshops and some events on Wednesday, Thursday morning was when the conference truly kicked off. As the conference progressed, there were fewer tweets from the conference and fewer responses from the virtual attendees.
      • I believe the decline in conference tweets was for a few reasons. Most obviously, the spotty wifi/wireless connectivity at the conference likely discouraged people from trying to tweet. The novelty of using twitter at the conference likely wore off as attendees got more involved with what was happening at the conference, and as the number of online participants declined. On Friday afternoon, the conference agenda included business meetings and poster sessions, presentations that are more difficult to tweet about than oral presentations, and by Saturday morning, many conference attendees had already left.
      • The decline in responses from virtual attendees were, in part, because of the decline in tweets from the conference, but also because Friday and the weekends are usually slow twitter days anyway.
  • 19 different people used the conference hashtag during the 4 days, and from what I can tell, 7 were actually at the conference while the other 12 were following virtually. Aside from the conference tweets made by myself and Sheryl (my conference co-tweeter), most mentions of the hashtag were retweets. Sheryl and I were the only two participants who tweeted more than 5 times. Based on these metrics, participation seems rather low, however these numbers don’t track lurkers. Throughout the conference, 6 different people introduced themselves to me and said they were following my tweets, yet only 2 of those people tweeted with the conference hashtag.
  • There were a number of people who expressed interest in using twitter at the conference, but many of those people were new or had never used twitter before. Although I offered to help some get active, the conference schedule was pretty tight and free time we had went to networking or catching a (mental or physical) break.

It’s become common practice for people to tweet from technology- and media-related conferences, and we’re just starting to see that interest spill over into other disciplines. Though activity this year was fairly small, there are several opportunities that the conference planning committee could take advantage of for next year:

  • Offer a pre-conference workshop on using twitter. Sheryl had suggested that one of the pre-conference workshops could easily be used to get attendees comfortable using twitter during the conference. Having a designated time to show people how to use twitter before the conference kicks into high gear would mean catching people when they’re most excited about the conference. This workshop would also give attendees the opportunity to connect with each other face-to-face before taking it online, and I feel this might lead to more online conversations and stronger ties among attendees both at and after the conference. An online webinar a few days before the conference is another possibility, though it would lack the energy and personal connection from meeting in person at the conference.
  • Promote the hashtag with the conference. This will help to generate interest and attendees can prepare to participate before they arrive by bringing whatever mobile device they find easiest to use. It will also let those who are unable to attend know that they can follow along online.
  • Write blog recaps of the day to capture the mood and discussion points. One difficulty with twitter is that the tweets move fast; if you’re not there to read them in real-time, you’re much less likely to read them. To help sustain the messages, twitter can be used to capture point form notes as they happen from multiple perspectives, while a blog can thread these tweets together into a full summary or opinion piece. For an example, read a Storify I pulled together on Dr. An’s presentation on internet use among cancer patients. These posts can also be used to continue the discussion or as a resource for information long after the talk or the conference is over.

Have you tweeted from a conference before? What encouraged you to participate?

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on tweeting from a conference

  1. thanks Alaina. I find many tweets from conferences incomprensible or irrelevant. Frankly I dont care whose speaking now or next. I want to get the insights of the tweeter on what the speaker is saying!

    • As someone who’s tweeted from a conference before, sometimes I find myself tweeting an introduction to the speaker and their presentation just to set the stage for what’s to come only to find that there was nothing “tweet worthy” in their talk. I also feel that it’s important to give credit to the speaker, even in the limited 140 characters, to acknowledge their idea but also to let other people know who’s speaking in case they want more information.

      With that said, I do see what you’re saying about wanting the insights and I’d like to see more of that. Sharing talking points on twitter is only as valuable as the discussion it leads to.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Great post! I’ve tweeted from conferences before. One thing I find about live tweets is that they’re often without context. Blog posts or videos (after the conference) may work better to capture conference moments. And you’re absolutely right. Spotty hotel wifi is definitely an issue. And as I got more involved at the conference, my use of technology during the conference decreased.

    • Thanks Samuel!
      Have you done a recap blog post after any of the conferences you’ve attended? I really like the idea of using Storify to capture tweets from multiple perspectives of the same presentation. It could add some extra depth to the post.

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