Since I joined Twitter in 2010, I’ve attended and tweeted from quite a few conferences and events, from half-day single-session events to multi-track conferences over a few days. But, if I’m honest, I don’t think I ever gave how and why much thought until attending Learning 2012 last week.
The different environment, a number of conversations from the conference itself, and feedback from Twitter followers in the UK all combined to make me really examine why I tweet from conferences, whose benefit it’s for and what impact it makes.
Thinking back to past events, I suppose my use of Twitter has been a little erratic. I would sometimes tweet quotes or points that might be of interest to others. I’m not sure I gave much thought to whether those ‘others’ were people at the conference attending different sessions, or people following the conference backchannel from further afield. I would sometimes use it to follow tweets from other sessions, if I was either torn between two options or disappointed by the one I’d chosen! Very often, I would retweet other people’s thoughts, if I particularly agred. And, probably more than any of these, I would tweet general feedback on the overall structure, atmosphere and success of the conference.
So what changed at Learning 2012?
First of all, the people. At UK conferences, I’m generally surrounded by people I know and am already connected with on Twitter. Learning 2012 took place in the USA, with a fairly small UK contingent, so it was a whole different group of people contributing to the backchannel. Without really thinking about it, I suppose this just made me hesitate before jumping back into old habits and simply doing what I’d always done before.
Second, I had a few conversations with people during the conference about Twitter, how I use it and how I derive value from it. I was surprised by the number of people who use Twitter as their note-making tool. I’m still very much a pen-and-paper girl – although I increasingly find myself looking back at my own tweets and those of others to supplement my written notes – so I’m clear that, when tweeting from a conference session, it’s not for my own benefit. It follows that I’m tweeting for the benefit of other people, and when I gave it some thought I realised that the people I’m picturing are those who aren’t at the conference in person. I want to give them a taste of the atmosphere and the benefit of the learning. Just going through this thought process made me pay more attention to whether my approach actually delivers on that goal.
Finally, I noticed some feedback on the backchannel from L&D folk back in the UK. There were comments that the tweets coming out of Learning 2012 lacked context and clarity, more stream of consciousness than useful sharing for non-attendees. This may well be, in part, a result of the fact that many attendees were, as mentioned above, tweeting as a way to take notes for themselves and therefore thinking less about what others could take from their tweets. Or it may be partly cultural: perhaps the concept of the backchannel varies in different parts of the world, with contributers and followers having differing expectations. I’m not sure – people like Dave Kelly, Kate Graham and Don Taylor may be able to shed more light. Whatever the reason, this feedback made me sit up and examine my own tweets as well as the backchannel in its entirety.
So, on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the conference, I resolved to really focus hard on my contributions to the Learning 2012 backchannel. These are some of the things I did differently:
- Started each session with a tweet confirming the name of the session and the speaker, so that anyone following my stream or the hashtag could identify if this was something they might want to keep watching.
- Tried to send a tweet for each key point of the session, so that both live followers and people reviewing the stream later could see the broad structure and skeleton of the presentation.
- Took photos of key diagrams or slides provided by the speaker, rather than trying to copy down lots of text or describe graphics in a 140-character tweet!
- Where relevant, distinguished between points that I was quoting from the speaker and points that were my own additions, opinions or reflections, to avoid misrepresenting any speakers and confusing any followers.
- Posed questions from the session on Twitter, to invite non-attendees into the discussion sessions; I also made sure to collate and share as many responses as possible from the room on Twitter, and vice versa.
- Tried to send more tweets about content and learning than about atmosphere, location and new connections; I think both are important but there’s a balance to achieve.
I can’t claim to have affected the conference backchannel to any great degree, but I think that my own tweets out of Learning 2012 became more meaningful and more useful to my intended audience as a result of these changes. And I’ve definitely not mastered it overnight – there are other things I’m planning to do differently or in addition at the next event I attend:
- Decide on my session choices further in advance, allowing non-attendees to send me questions beforehand that I could bring into the face-to-face discussion.
- Prepare myself with links to session descriptions or speaker bios and add them to those start-of-session introductory tweets, to provide more context to followers.
- Consider setting aside some time to blog summaries of or reflections on sessions at the end of each conference day, offering something more substantial to non-attendees more immediately than I’m doing now, for example.
The organisers of conferences can also do their part to really maximise the value of the backchannel, for both attendees and non-attendees. I mentioned in my previous post that this was something of a missed opportunity for Learning 2012 and look forward to seeing if they take a more organised approach to the backchannel next year. I’m also really excited to find out what Don and Kate have planned for Learning Technologies 2013, as I know they’ve been talking extensively about the backchannel and how to build on previous years’ successes in January. And, for anyone else who – like me – wants to start thinking more deeply about the value of what they tweet from a conference, Dave’s blog has some great posts and tips (including this one about what a backchannel actually is and this one curating the Learning 2012 backchannel resources).
Let me know whether you contributed to or followed the Learning 2012 backchannel and what your reactions were, as well as any other suggestions you have that I can take on board at the next event I attend.