Blog Post

The benefits of using a Twitter feed at an event

Yesterday, we hosted Everyday Racism, Everyday Homophobia: A Symposium on the Intersections of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. We were honored to host scholars Jack Halberstam, Marlon Ross, and Kathryn Bond Stockton as well as Duke professors Sharon Holland and Mark Anthony Neal - and the discussion was fascinating. If you're interested in viewing the symposium, archived videos of the event are available at hastac.org/everyday/video.

With only a month under my belt as HASTAC Program Coordinator, I'm still learning a lot from my colleagues about how to leverage technology to include as many participants as possible at our events. One of the ways we make sure that those viewing remotely can engage in the dialogue of the event is through a Twitter hashtag - in this case, #everydayism. (View all tweets tagged #everydayism via Storify.)

After the event, several people gave us positive feedback about our decision to project the Twitter feed at the front of the room.

Here are the benefits of a live Twitter feed that we gleaned from this feedback:

It's a discussion aid.

The Twitter feed can augment discussion by giving a voice to people viewing remotely, and allowing people to participate in a dialogue even if they're too reserved to stand up and ask a question. It also allows people to reflect on how the conversation applies to their life and research, meaning that the discussion can expand in many directions very quickly and can allow people to connect with others with similar experiences and interests. 

It's a discussion outline.

At times, the discussion veered into highly theoretical discourse. Tweets that summarized or highlighted key points helped everyone follow along, even if they hadn't read the books and essays that were being referred to.

It's a bibliography.

My colleague Fiona took the opportunity to occasionally link to a book authored or referred to by a speaker. This added a dimension to the talk - kind of a "learn more" link.

It's a placeholder.

During a 3-hour symposium, your mind is bound to wander, even if just to ponder how a discussion point applies to your own research project. Attendees told us that the Twitter feed allowed them to catch up and re-engage when they'd missed a thread of conversation.

 

I look forward to exploring more ways to integrate social media into our events, and again - I encourage you to check out our archived event videos at hastac.org/everyday/video. It was an amazing and productive discussion.

72

7 comments

Hi Hilary,

It seems like more and more conference presenters are moving toward this model; attendees will likely tweet about what they're seeing/thinking anyway, so why not harness that backchannel commentary in a useful way?  I like the idea of using Twitter as a tool for engaging the audience.

There's an interesting post by Amy Collier titled "Help! They’re tweeting in my #POD12 session!" in which she talks about this very issue.  Here's the web address in case you're interested in checking it out: 

72

Here are a few other great resources on HASTAC about the technology & best practices for blogging at events, especially academic conferences.

By Ernesto Priego:

By Amanda Starling Gould:

70

Thanks for the post, Hilary!

Fiona, Thank you for sharing here the conversations we've recently had on HASTAC about Twitter. They are provocative and thoughtful. I'll also point you to our collaborative Twitter 101 document that may be of use to those new to Twitter.  HASTAC - PhD Lab Scholars Skills Event

asg

68

Thanks for adding additional resources related to live-tweeting and live-blogging - and please keep them coming! This is definitely a topic that gives rise to many perspectives and opinions, and I'm getting a lot out of the resources you've led me to.

62

This sounds like a great idea, Hilary—I was particularly intrigued by using the feed as a way to create a discussion outline/aid and to facilitate both questions from people who weren't there or to create an on-the-fly bibliography. I think I'm going to suggest using this methodology at an upcoming event at the university here. I do have a quick question about the actual process of it though—did you have someone who was manually refreshing/approving what appeared on the screen? I could see potential issues for confusion if you had the feed being generated from a set hash tag, but then someone is tweeting entirely unrelated stuff on the same tag, etc, or if there are parallel sessions happening using the same conference tag. Does the tagging have to get more granular?

63

Yvonne - Yes, there are definitely issues raised by live-tweeting an event - and if you haven't checked them out yet, I'd strongly recommend reading the posts that Fiona linked to (which I've also added as "related content" to this post) because they provide a great introduction into some of the concerns (such as scholars not wanting their work broadcast before it's published, tweeting getting out of hand or off topic, etc.). Some recommend asking presenters for permission to live tweet during an event, and you might consider taking other measures such as encouraging attendees to tweet with a professional tone - but I think you have to judge for yourself what's needed for your event. You don't want to stifle the discussion that live tweeting can promote.

In terms of granularity, I think the key is to pick a specific and unique hashtag. Search ahead of time to see what kinds of hashtags are used. We used #everydayism because it seemed relevant, yet unique enough that there wouldn't be accidental inclusions. I went to an event yesterday that used the hashtag #DukeHP and it worked well - but possibly attracted more spam because of the HP component being confused with Hewlett-Packard. (We didn't get any errant tweets, but a few followers complained of spam in their readers, and I noticed that I got a few Windows ads in mine). Remember to keep the tag short, since it takes up valuable tweeting real estate. For a larger conference, I think it depends on your aims. Using one hashtag for an entire conference is a great way to show the diversity of topics discussed, but if you wanted a specific conversation to occur during a certain session, you might want to break those tweets out into a separate hashtag (and, of course, tweeters can use multiple hashtags).

As for display, you can use various services to show a feed based on a search term/hashtag. Twitterfall, TweetDeck, and HootSuite all have this capability. You can set them to refresh automatically every minute or so.

87

These are great tips! I haven't used Twitter clients before, so I wasn't aware of that extra functionality—I'll be sure to check them out and pass the info on to my fellow organisers. Thank you!

65