Blog Post

A "Twitter freshman" live-tweets a conference

A "Twitter freshman" live-tweets a conference

One of my first assignments as the HASTAC scholar for Vanderbilt's Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities was to help enhance their social media presence.  This included setting up a Twitter account where I could share about the digital humanities in general and some Warren Center events in particular.  

Not having a lot of experience with social media, I was a "Twitter freshman": enthusiastic, slightly out of the loop, and occasionally awkward but well-meaning.  With input from various sites and from friends, I began gaining my bearings.  I learned which tweets appear in which feeds, what a "favorite" can mean, that Twitter automatically shortens URLs (after shortening several myself--who knew?), and that when linking to a post or article it is helpful to hint about the content rather than a vague statement that it exists (another freshman misstep I made). 

I was still feeling rather uncertain about some aspects of my Twitter presence when I took on my first big challenge: live-tweeting.  After reading up a bit on what to expect, I gave it a try at a conference honoring the Warren Center's 25th Anniversary.  I am delighted to say that it went really well--even better than I had anticipated--and I learned a lot in the process.  In addition, because of the intensity and focused attention I gave to Twitter over that day and a half, a few things began to stand out to me that I probably wouldn't have learned as quickly otherwise.  These things are helping me reflect on my experience and on social media more broadly.  

Here, then, are my observations about social media--and in the comments I'd appreciate hearing any similar or contrasting experiences that you have had, as well!

  • Community participation happened, and grew more quickly than I had expected.  I didn't have many followers when I started, but over the period of the conference, several people ended up seeing and sharing my posts.  This growing conversation was facilitated both by personal interactions and by the networking potential of Twitter: at the conference, I met someone else interested in tweeting and shared the hashtag I'd been using, some friends watched for--and retweeted--my tweets, and I tried to do some strategic tagging.  Through all these means, I gained some followers, I followed some new people, and a digital conversation developed that included not only those in attendance but also those who were interested but couldn't attend.  It wasn't surprising to me that this could happen, but I was surprised at how quickly it came together.  The instantaneous nature of Twitter allowed participation to grow even during the brief duration of the conference.  
  • I listened differently (not better, not worse, just differently).  I wanted several of my tweets to include specific content from the panels, and I wanted to be faithful to the Twitter format of 140 characters (i.e. avoiding multi-part tweets).  This made me listen in new ways to the speakers, which also helped me observe differences in each speaker's style of presentation.  In some papers it was easy to identify several brief, memorable statements that closely related to the main theme of the paper.  Yet some papers were more difficult to distill in this way than others, and I was sometimes only able to pull out a random fact or to mention a general topic within the character limit.  By listening for "sound bytes" in this way, I very clearly saw the differences in presentation that different speakers used and was able to consider the ways that form influenced content.  In addition, by listening for these pithy statements, it made me consider and reconsider the the relevance of different statements to the overall point of the paper.  Although I do this whenever I hear a paper, the focused attention (and the knowledge that, for better or worse, I had to share something about the paper after the panel ended) made me much more aware of the nuances and structure of the papers.
  • Practice.  By the end of the conference, I had effectively doubled my tweet-count.  And it helped:  simply tweeting more made me more comfortable with the process.  This intense period of tweeting made me more excited to continue tweeting and developing my use of social media in an academic setting--in general and through future live-tweeting sessions (I have one up my sleeve for later this fall!).  I'm looking forward to it.


Amy,  this is all interesting.  You make mention that you "listened" differently, but you didn't feel as though you listened "better" or "worse."  This is what I find to be the most interesting aspect of your post.  Do you feel as though you were more focused during the sessions, as you were listening for "tweetable" information?  I would posit that you were.  I notice that I am.  But, once the dialogue started, did you feel as though your tweeting took away from the attention that you would have liked to pay to the session?  In my case, it would.  I guess that I am not a good multitasker?


This is a fascinating discussion, and it has many points in common with my experiences live-tweeting events this semester at Vanderbilt. I've found that live-tweeting has led me to think in terms of the medium, paying attention to phrases that will lend themselves to expression through Twitter's character limits. With more complex ideas, I've attempted (not always sucessfully!) to break them up into multiple tweets. The biggest challenge has been to faithfully represent the speakers' ideas without focusing so much on Twitter that I lose track of the content of the talk. Taking pictures of speakers during the talk and posting them through Twitter has also helped to increase awareness of the activities that we have on campus.


As a bit of an obsessive multitasker, I really find that livetweeting puts an end to my self-distraction -- no time to check e-mail, glance at the next session, or sort out where we're going for lunch.  So in that way, I feel more focused.

However, I enter a bit of "transcription mode" where I let the words wash through me and into my fingertips rather than critically engaging with the presentation.  I've done quite a bit of transcription and data entry in past jobs, so I'm not sure if this is idosyncratic.  My mind is generally trying to unspool during discussion or Q&A.

It's a lot of fun to livetweet from the panel on which you're currently sitting.  It really troubles the whole notion of the backchannel if it's coming from the front. ;)


Amy: first off, thanks so much for live-tweeting the conference (I defiinitely followed along since I couldn't be there in person!) and for posting your experience with it.  I have never live-tweeted before, unless you could the occasional sporting event, concert, or classroom activity, so better formulated, I have never live-tweeted in an professional academic setting.

I've always been curious as to the etiquette behind live-tweeting.  I suppose that given your duties as a HASTAC scholar for the Robert Penn Warren Center, you had the green light beforehand to do so.  Do you think it necessary to get clearance for live-tweeting before perhaps more traditional (i.e. less technologically oriented) academic events?  I can imagine that during conference panels and lecture series, it could come across as a distraction to see someone on their phone or laptop without knowing that they are live-tweeting.  Or even if presenters/organizers know, could that still be construed by some as distracting?  Since I am still on the fence about this, I have mostly engaged in pre- or post-event tweeting.  I would be curious to hear your thoughts!

Thanks again for sharing!


Todd, Josef and Vivan:  Those are great responses and questions.  Thanks for helping me think further about this!

On ethics:

Vivian, I did have a greenlight from the Warren Center to tweet.  In addition, each panel was being videotaped, and the format of the conference included brief responses to a general (conference-specific) theme rather than the sort of work-in-progress papers that we might hear at other conferences.  This meant that I felt comfortable tweeting about the conference in general as well as tweeting about specific ideas that scholars shared.  

When I posted this yesterday, another HASTAC post from last year appeared under "Similar Content": #Twittergate: The etiquette (and ethic) of live-tweeting a conference or lecture.  In my situation this wasn't really an issue, but the ethics of live-tweeting are definitely something I want to think more about in the future.

On etiquette:

(Related to what both Josef and Vivian said): Personality-wise, I tend toward the distractable.  In addition, I dislike it in social situations when people appear to be more interested in personal devices rather than a public event.  This meant that, during three of the four panels, I actually took handwritten notes and then tweeted from my notes at the conclusion of each panel.  Near the beginning of the conference, very few attendees had laptops or phones, and I felt that my use of them would be distracting to others.  In addition, as Josef mentioned, I was trying to avoid the tendency to transcribe and make myself focus on what was being said.  So jotting notes worked well, and it was easy to compile a set of tweets at the conclusion of each panel.

Yet by the final panel, several attendees had begun to use technology during sessions, and the twitter "conversation" among those present had developed to a degree that I felt comfortable pulling out my devices during the panel and did some tweeting and re-tweeting as the presentations occurred.  Which leads me to...

On listening:

Todd is right to suggest that when I was tweeting DURING the final session, I was less able to pay attention. This was exacerbated by the fact that I was not only tweeting but also checking to see who else had tweeted.   And, no, I cannot multitask that well, either!  For that reason, I think my "take notes and then tweet immediately after" formula was probably better, at least for me in this context.   

During the earlier sessions when I was taking handwritten notes, I did feel that I listened well--but, yes, differently.  When I listen to a paper without trying to plan tweets, I of course want to find the argument, but I also pay close attention to HOW the argument develops and the type of evidence used.  In this mode, I take note of specific pieces of evidence that I want to return to, and questions that I want to think further about.  

When I was taking notes for tweets, I focused more on the argument ITSELF.  I gave less attention to evidence and sub-points and more attention to the different ways an author described or encapsulated the main point.  In addition, I had my own audience much more closely in mind.  Rather than noting things of interest to me, I focused on things of more general interest.  

I suppose, then, that we might unusurprisingly think of the first mode of listening as private, and the second public.  Each serves a purpose--furthering my own research, or sharing big ideas with others--and I think each can be useful.

Thanks again for the comments!



Thanks for sharing your well-thought out experiences!

Our national conference (AAG) happened just after the Twittergate affair, although my niche of the geographic world is pretty technical.  Of the folks I spoke with, we generally agreed that we'd simply ask the presenters if they minded live-tweeting a few minutes previous to the session, and inform folks if live-tweeting would be ok during the general introduction.  It seemed to work fairly well, but your mileage may vary.



I like that idea a lot--both because it lets people know what is acceptable in that context and because (when permitted) it would increase awareness about the Twitter conversation among those who might not have thought to look for one. 

Until yesterday when I ran across that blog post I mentioned above, I was not at all aware of "Twittergate" and really hadn't given a lot of thought to these issues (again with my newness to the technology in general), but I'm glad to be learning and thinking about it now!