I often get asked about tweeting at conferences – how much is too much, is it OK to share photographs of a presenters slides and how do you listen and tweet at the same time? Listening and tweeting at the same time is a tough one and practice is the only way to master that skill, but rather than go into the how – let’s just consider the why for this blog post – here are 7 good reasons.
1. Content is recorded
Twitter is like having 500 note takers at a meeting, each one recording the same conversation through a unique lens. Many of them will confirm your thinking but others will offer a different point of view. Everyone is effectively taking notes, aggregated by a common hashtag, creating a resource that everyone can access. What’s not to like about that?
Using a tool like Storify is a great way to collate the tweets from conferences or events. A single conference Stofity would be way too long, best to create a Storify out of each session.
2. It links you into concurrent back-channel discussions
Whether you are in the front row for the key note or in another time zone and geographic location, conference back-channel discussions on social media are a fascinating way of participating. Quality conferences that are social savvy now have screens transmitting curated social media content in the main plenary or the exhibition hall. Insightful and valuable social media posts are a great way to get your company logo or your comments onto the big screen allowing the non social media connected delegates a glimpse of the action.
A good chairman is likely to be monitoring social media (via the conference hashtag) during a session to be able to relay questions for speakers from the wider audience. For those delegates who are a bit too shy to get up and ask a speaker a question, tweeting your query is an attractive and less stressful alternative.
3. Because Twitter is free
Didn’t get the travel grant? No problem – jump on Twitter to keep up with the conference conversation and take part in the Q&A. Twitter is free and once you have multiple people posting tweets to the conference hashtag, the discussion really takes shape. Often the Q&A session on Twitter is better than the one in real life. The big value of Twitter is that you don’t have to participate in real time. You can review the tweets an hour or a day after the conference session and still get the gist of the conversation or even participate in ongoing discussion.
4. It keeps the conversation going
By following someone on Twitter, you can have a long-term conversation that goes beyond the farewell reception. It’s often hard to strike up a decent conversation in the intervals or lunch breaks of a conference. Twitter means you can create a dialogue, sharing references, links to papers, introductions. The networking continues often for days if not weeks after the conference has packed up and left town.
There’s also a benefit to conference organisers. Twitter, before, during and after, enhances the conference experience for attendees, speakers and sponsors, but also serves to market the conference for next year to potential attendees. The bigger the social media conversation, the bigger the impact for everyone.
5. It connects people
I’m sure we have all been to a conference and met lots of inspiring people who we genuinely mean to keep in touch with. But then life gets busy and we don’t quite get around to sending that follow-up email. Twitter (and LinkedIn) means you don’t have to feel guilty. You can simply follow that person and interact with them on a daily basis. You’ll keep up with research, opinions, events and opportunities. Tweeting your appreciation of a speaker is a wonderful way of networking and creating a connection. Meeting someone who you know via Twitter, in person at a conference, is a fast track to high impact networking and it’s usually really satisfying to put a face to a name and tweet. I have done this often at a conference, finally shaking hands with someone I feel like I already know thanks to Twitter.
6. It improves learning and retention
Many of us learn via writing notes during lectures, recording direct comments, facts or references – Twitter is no different it’s just an alternative method of note taking that happens to be shared publicly. The great value of Twitter is that each (140 character) note needs to be pithy and precise. No time for waffle when there is a limit to what you can write or share. I frequently refer back to my tweets after a conference to recall the key elements of a speech. I also enjoy reading other people’s comments on the same topic, learning from them often enriching the discussion enormously. If you are permitted to, take photo’s of slides to share.
7. It offers objective feedback
I often go back and review a conference hashtag to determine which sessions provided the greatest discussion. Sometimes this is skewed by the topic itself. At BIO2016, any of the sessions that related to social media naturally attracted the social media smart, and the activity on Twitter was disproportionately large. Correcting for this phenomenon, the other sessions that attracted the highest number of tweets often did so because the speakers were sensational and the topic genuinely original or just plain hot.
The flip side is when speakers don’t stick to the topic brief or they simply don’t know their stuff. Feedback on social media can be pretty blunt to say the least. I have also seen an audience make some really helpful suggestions to conference organisers during a meeting such as asking for lights to be dimmed so people can see slides better or reminding the session chair to thank the sponsor (true story).
Finally….a tip on listening and tweeting at the same time. If the topic and speaker are really high value for me, and I’m desperate not to miss a thing, I’m more likely to be typing notes on my laptop and cutting and pasting into Hootsuite as I go.
And as compelling as Twitter is at a conference, don’t forget to turn off your phone and concentrate on networking at some stage. Nothing beats a smile, a real conversation and a business card.
– Michelle Gallaher, Creative Director