Ten Tips for Tweeting at Conferences

A nest-shaped bowl with buttons with Twitter logos, a hash and @ signIt’s no surprise that we here at ProfHacker like Twitter. We’ve covered how to start tweeting (and why you might want to) and practical advice for teaching with Twitter. I’ve found Twitter to be a tremendous boon to developing my professional networks and helping me stay on top of what’s happening in my fields of scholarship. But there’s one place where where Twitter perhaps ends up being more valuable for me than other place: at conferences.

Tweeting at conferences is a great way to share what you’re learning in a session with your followers and the wider world. It’s also a great way to be in two places at once, as you can read tweets from other sessions that you weren’t able to attend. You can read those tweets as they come in or—if you’d rather not fracture your attention—read them after the fact using a Twitter search. I personally find tweeting during conference sessions to be a great way for me to take notes; it helps me pay closer attention to what someone is saying than if I were simply working with pen and paper. It can even turn into something of a competition.

Since two of the largest conferences for scholars in the humanities (the MLA and AHA conferences) take place right after the New Year, I wanted to assemble some tips for tweeting effectively at conferences. (It’s also worth pointing out a post at MLA Commons by Roopika Risam: “A Quick Guide to Using Twitter at the MLA Convention.” Roopika’s post went live while I was already working on this one and you’ll see that we emphasize a number of the same things.)

  1. Use the conference hashtag. Perhaps the most important thing to do for conference tweeting is to use the hashtag associated with the conference. By using the conference hashtag, others who don’t follow you will still be able to find your tweets using Twitter search. Most conference organizers these days specify the hashtag: for the MLA it’s #mla14 and for the AHA it’s #aha2014. But if you find yourself at a smaller conference, you might have to choose the hashtag yourself. Just stay consistent.

  2. Use a session hashtag. The larger the conference, the more tweets that are likely to emerge. The MLA, for instance, will have 810 sessions over 3.5 days. For this reason, think about using a hashtag not just for the conference but for the session itself. This will allow people to follow not just the whole conference stream but the specific session they are interested in. At the MLA the pattern has been to tweet using a hashtag for the session number, for example #s402.

  3. Use a Twitter client. While you can follow a conference from the Twitter web interface, you’ll probably have a much easier time tracking the hashtag(s) if you use a standalone Twitter client. A client will often allow you to have multiple columns open for different Twitter searches. This will help you see multiple sessions at once or even track both the MLA and AHA. For conferences, I’m a big fan of TweetDeck, which can run in a browser or as a stand-alone Mac, Windows, or Chrome application. In past ProfHacker posts, Ryan’s written about Tweetbot and Jason has covered (briefly) Echofon, which are both Mac and iOS only.

  4. Tweet professionally. It’s worth remembering that while conferences are public events that not everyone there is counting on their presentations being simulcast into the wider world. If someone asks for their work to not be shared, then respect that request.

  5. Expect to be tweeted. Twitter is a familiar enough presence at conferences these days that people assume that tweeting is okay unless they are specifically asked not to. As such, be prepared to be tweeted unless you ask them not to.

  6. Provide your Twitter handle. You can help people do a good job tweeting your talk by providing them your Twitter handle up front, in your opening remarks or in your first slide. If you’re not on Twitter, it’s worth thinking about signing up, just so people can provide attribution for your work.

  7. Give credit. When you are Tweeting someone’s work, be sure to give them credit. You should do this by making it clear who is speaking by including their Twitter handle. If they don’t provide their handle, you might be able to find it with a quick Google search for their name, their university and the word “Twitter.”

  8. Start tweets right. The most convenient way to give credit to someone in a tweet is by adding their username at its beginning, followed by a colon and then what they’ve said (e.g. “@briancroxall: XXX”). But one of the vagaries of Twitter is that if you start a tweet someone’s username, only the people who follow you and that person will see the tweet. As such, it’s a better practice to start the tweet with another character besides “@.” I normally insert a period and then the username (e.g., “.@briancroxall:”). That allows everyone who follows me to see that tweet. Of course, if you’ve used hashtags properly, everyone following that hashtag will see your tweet whether you use the period or not.

  9. Use text expansion. By this point, you’ll notice that I’ve told you several things should be in each tweet: a conference hashtag, a session hashtag, and a username for the person speaking. You can save yourself a lot of time in tweeting if you make use of text expansion. When a person starts speaking, I create a snippet that looks like this “.@stewartvarner: X #mla14 #s402” and assign it the keyword “twt”. Then, I can simply type twt in my Twitter client and the speaker and hashtags are created automatically. The software even drops my cursor at the “X” so I can start typing right away. When the next speaker starts or when I move to the next session, I just update the snippet. It’s a little bit of work up front, but this is how live-tweeting contests are WON!

  10. Take a break. Finally, it’s important to consider that you might occasionally need a break from tweeting or reading the stream. So take a break every couple of sessions and practice the art of undivided attention. At the very least, this will help you avoid being sent Twitter jail.

Ten tips might seem a lot for a platform that emphasis brevity. But I’m pretty sure that the ProfHacker readers will be able to add some additional pointers!

What tips would you add? Why do you (or don’t you) tweet at conferences? Let us know in the comments!

Lead image: Twitter Buttons at OSCON /

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