We have already had an extremely heated discussion on this blog about the value of live, real-time, coverage of the many events of interest to the Media140 audience. In a debate which we dubbed “Sifting the News from the Noise” Brian Condon and Steve Jackson, not to mention several engaged commenters, engaged in a lively exchange of views on one of this forum’s busiest days to date.
Media140 regular Caitlin Fitzsimmons has already posted valuable tips about Twitter for bloggers, #FollowFriday and other thorny matters of web etiquette. Here, she suggests some original ways to carry on live covering, without drowning out the rest of “the Conversation” –
If you are going to a conference and you use Twitter, then you may be tempted to tweet about what’s going on at the conference. But if you want to add value and not annoy your followers, then you should think carefully about the why and the how. Personally, I think Twitter can be a fabulous tool for conferences, but most people should think twice before using their own accounts for this purpose.
Live-tweeting is a controversial issue and we’ve heard from two opposing viewpoints on this blog already. Brian Condon (aka @brian_condon) explained why tweeting conferences and live events has value, while Steve Jackson (aka @ourman) argued that a lot of it is just noise and crawling to Twitter powerbrokers.
I think they are both right. I also think there is an easy solution.
There is no doubt in my mind that Twitter can enhance a conference experience and extend its reach. There will generally be a conference hashtag set up for any tweets about the event, so it can provide an immediate camaraderie and means to communicate and collaborate. Tweeting about what is said in sessions can amplify the salient points and spark discussion and debate and further questions. If there is a critical mass of people tweeting then it can help break the ice – after all, one of the biggest reasons to go to many conferences, is the opportunity to network with other attendees.
Hopefully, so the theory goes, the Twitter back channel can also bring the conference to a wider audience. It lets people who are interested but couldn’t attend in person know what is going on and feed back their own thoughts and questions.
The problem is that Twitter is a broadcast medium so it is also reaches a lot of people who are not interested. It’s all very well to say that you can always unfollow someone – this is true, but not very useful advice when any one of your followers may attend a conference and suddenly start tweeting like crazy at any moment in time. You may also want to follow the conference-attending tweeter on any other day of the year, when they are not at a conference. Supposedly the Twitter Snooze tool, which lets you temporarily unfollow someone, can help with this, but it didn’t work the one time I tried it.
One alternative is live-blogging, which is 100% opt-in and offers a permanent record of what happened at the conference. The disadvantage is that it’s not as collaborative and fun as tweeting.
I think setting up a separate Twitter account for the conference is the obvious answer. I’ve done this twice and it works beautifully.
The first time was for FIPP 2009 World Magazine Congress in London in May. I was hired to write news stories for the conference website and I pitched the idea of an official Twitter stream. I did this as @fipp2009 and provided updates, mostly on what was said at the conference but also a few colour updates, such as from the opening party at Kensington Palace. FIPP threw their public relations team behind the effort, promoting the Twitter stream on the website and in communication with attendees, so there was a reasonable following by day one. By the end, we had more than 700 followers, both attendees and people around the world with an interest in the magazine business. We even had a Brazilian guy retweeting me in Portugese! It was a huge success. (More about this on my professional site).
Then in August, I attended the Book Passage Travel Writing and Photography Conference in Marin County near San Francisco. I connect with a lot of travel writers and bloggers on Twitter, and many of them were disappointed they couldn’t go and specifically asked me to tweet. So I did. But again I decided to set up another account. That way, I wouldn’t have to ration my conference tweets – I could give as much volume as I wanted, without alienating those who were not interested.
I tweeted from Book Passage as @niltiac_bp. Unlike with FIPP, I didn’t have a big PR machine to spend months getting the word out about the Twitter account. Not that I wanted this of course – I’m a person, not an organisation, so it would have been kinda weird if I had. Still, since I only decided to do this the day before the conference, I was a bit nervous that I would be talking to an audience of zero and the whole thing would just be a vanity exercise. I remembered how long it took me to build my followers in the early days of Twitter and I assumed it would be similar with a new account. It wasn’t.
At the time, my main @niltiac Twitter account had 1500 followers (it’s now more). I let all my followers know at least once a day that I was tweeting at @niltiac_bp and I also used the #bptravel hashtag to connect with other conference tweeters. Around 100 people followed by the end of the conference. I didn’t tweet constantly – some sessions required my full presence and participation, and some things were said off the record – but I tweeted most of the keynotes and a few reflections and thoughts. A lot of non-attendees thanked me for the updates, and most of the attendees and faculty knew who I was. I was glad that people were interested but I was even more glad that I wasn’t boring my friends like @ourman who weren’t.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. This was just an experiment that worked for me. I urge you to try it and see for yourself as what works for one person, won’t necessarily work for everyone. If you do decide to live-tweet a conference from your own account, please keep the volume light and consider your wider audience, not just your fellow attendees. And don’t be surprised if you do lose followers, even if you gain others.