I think for anyone reading this blog, you probably know I’m an avid supporter of the microblogging platform Twitter, but there have been some interesting points made recently about tweeting during events, and it’s something I’d like to discuss (particularly apt at the moment as I’m “Twitter Officer” for the upcoming New Professionals Conference in July!).

The focus for this post is on tweeting at events, not tweeting in general. My own experiences have taught me that sometimes it is acceptable (and encouraged) to tweet during an event, and sometimes it’s frowned upon. I’d also like to make it clear that of course it is unacceptable to tweet about confidential matters and therefore inappropriate to tweet internal meetings to an external audience, or to tweet any information which is sensitive or confidential.

More recently I’ve been discussing the issue of whether or not to tweet at events with my boyfriend Chris (yes we are proper nerds and spend a lot of our free time discussing such things!). It seems it’s quite a complex issue with a number of misunderstandings, as unfortunately experienced by WoodsieGirl recently. There’s been an interesting debate over on CILIP Communities today which I’ve been following with interest, and I thought I’d share my own views and some of the arguments for and against tweeting at events. I hope to present a balanced view, although I do admit up front that I personally sit firmly in the camp who advocate tweeting at events, for the moment anyway.

So, to tweet…

In the red corner, representing the tweeters – arguments FOR tweeting during events:

  • Dissemination to those unable to attend. I think this is the main reason most people attending events decide to tweet about the event – it’s a way of sharing the information with those who couldn’t make it for whatever reason. I’ve followed a number of events virtually, and I’ve also published tweets at events that I know others have followed virtually (and thanked me for them as they were otherwise unable to follow the events that they would have liked to). I imagine this will become more common in future with many staff development budgets being cut and less opportunity for funding events.
  • Extending the conversation on event topics. This might be with other tweeters also attending the event, or those following the event virtually. I often find this adds another element to what I’m hearing at the event – someone might tweet a link to a piece of research that is relevant to the topic, or share their own experiences – really enriches the conversation.
  • As a form of note-taking. I definitely do this! As Owen pointed out earlier today, tweeting is a natural progression from note taking. I sometimes quite like good old pen and paper, but more often than not I end up using my phone or laptop to check out a link mentioned in the presentation, and I can generally type better than I can write anyway so unless I’ve got diagrams to note down (in which case pen and paper are definitely prefereable!) I’ll use a laptop or my phone. I’ll either write full notes in a document, and just tweet the key points, or I’ll just stick to tweeting and listening if I’m not feeling like triple multi-tasking!
  • To group information about an event together online. For this to apply, you’d need to be using a set hashtag; many events now have hashtags that are publicised before the event. This isn’t always the case, and sometimes I have made up my own – at last year’s New Professionals Conference there weren’t many of us tweeting so I made up the hashtag #newprof09, but this year there are an abundance of tweeters, including some of the organising committee so there is a well publicised hashtag – #npc2010
  • To archive information about an event. Again this isn’t automatically the case, but whenever I tweet at an event I always use a hashtag – either one already in existence or I make up my own. I then ensure there is an archive of all tweets with the specified hashtag (I use TwapperKeeper) so that any tweets using the hashtag are archived. This helps attendees when

…or not to tweet

In the blue corner, representing those who don’t agree with tweeting at events – arguments AGAINST tweeting during events:

  • There needs to be an advantage to paying for and attending the event. This is a really tricky one and I’m not sure of the best approach to this. On the one hand, I think event content (e.g. presentations, handouts) should be online so that they add to the field of knowledge and reach a wider audience, but on the other hand there needs to be a reason for people to attend the physical event. For me, it’s the personal face-to-face networking aspect, and I don’t think Twitter can replace that, but then do you need to attend an expensive event? It’s a really difficult issue, and one I’m not totally settled on.
  • It’s distracting to other attendees. Obvious one this one, and I can see that typing away on a keyboard (particularly if on a laptop) would certainly be more distracting than someone making notes on pen and paper. Some conferences try to reduce this issue by having a separate area for people who would like to use laptops (this area is usually provided with power too), although I personally haven’t been to an event like this.
  • It’s rude to not give all attention to the speaker. I think this is a common concern, it’s certainly something I felt was happening to me a while ago when not many people were live tweeting events – I think people were presuming I was texting when I got my phone out. It’s easy to presume that someone isn’t paying attention if they are using an electronic device whilst listening to the talk, and in part is true (I’m going to be brave and own up now that I too, like Owen, have occasionally checked emails or personal tweets whilst listening to a presentation that hasn’t grabbed my attention).
  • Can encourage bitchiness in the backchannel. This is definitely a downside, although I have to be honest – I’ve never experienced it myself at conferences I’ve been tweeting at. This issue was covered in more detail by Marieke Guy over at Ramblings of a Remote Worker, and there’s some really interesting discussion in the comments.
  • Can be irritating for Twitter followers who aren’t interested in the event. A influx of tweets about a conference for a few days can be irritating, especially if it’s not something you’re interested in.

I think that covers the main arguments both for and against, although please let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed.

My own view

I personally feel, like WoodsieGirl, that most of the objection to tweeting at events is simply due to a lack of awareness of what people are doing. Generally, when you explain to people that you are sharing what’s going on at the event with others who couldn’t attend, or using it to make notes for yourself, I think people then appreciate that tweeting events can be beneficial. I tried to keep my against arguments to the point, but my personal view counter-arguments many of them. I don’t think it’s that much more distracting that rustling of papers, and the volume of the presentation should override and background noise anyway. I agree it can be rude to not give full attention to a speaker, but in the same respect you could be writing something totally irrelevant to the presentation, just doing it on paper rather than electronically. The bitchiness I personally haven’t experienced and think it’s the fault of a minority of people wanting to bitch; personally I’d appreciate comments on my presentation even if it wasn’t totally complimentary (although I appreciate there is a line you wouldn’t want to cross). And as for the irritation – it’s unlikely that someone you’re interested in following will attend an event you have no interest in at all, but if you don’t and you object to the tweets there are ways to mute their tweets until the conference ends.

I do think it’s partly the responsibility of the event organisers to run-through the etiquette for tweeting (or not as the case may be) the event, and introducing the official hashtag if applicable. It should also be partly down to the speakers themselves – I know for example Brian Kelly encourages sharing of his presentations and introduces his presentations by pointing out how people may wish to do that (he welcomes photos/videos/tweets etc., others may prefer not to). Then it’s up to the audience to respect their wishes.

As for me, I’ll be tweeting at a Librarians as Teachers: the New Professionals? event tomorrow, which has an event hashtag (#lat10) and discussion on Twitter has already begun with 73 tweets already! As an aside, I found this recent blog post (and the comments) a really useful list of advice for tweeting during a conference.

So, that’s my thoughts, how about you? Anything I’ve missed? What do you think about tweeting at conferences and events? I’d be particularly interested to hear from anyone who doesn’t use Twitter, or who objects to tweeting at conferences (I promise to take your points on board and am genuinely interested to hear!).

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  • Gill

    As a non-tweeter (no objections to tweeting just not enough hours in the day to get round to it yet!) I think if I saw someone tapping away during a meeting/conference it just would not have occurred to me that they might be tweeting. I should know better as i was recently using a Bible app on my i-pod touch at a Bible study meeting and someone else thought I was checking my email the whole evening!

    I don’t know how many people are regularly tweeting but in the circles I operate in although most of us would know about tweets and see that they would have potential to be useful not many (any?) of us are actually doing it. I think that adding tweeting etiquette to the ‘housekeeping’ instructions at the beginning of a meeting/conference – perhaps along with a show of hands as to who might be tweeting during the event would be the best way forward. This would probably have the effect of bringing the medium to a wider audience and encourage more people to start engaging with this.

    I recently attended a regional NHS libraries conference where we were sent all the powerpoints in advance…the initial thought was why bother to turn up…but of course the networking and interaction with other colleagues is the most beneficial aspect of the event. I don’t know if anyone was tweeting during the conference.

    On the other hand I do feel uncomfortable at the thought of someone speaking at a conference and only seeing the tops of people’s heads – I know how distracting it is giving a talk to people who are passing sweets, or not appearing to be paying attention – some of us still need to be giving feedback to the speaker in the form of eye contact!

    • Thanks very much for sharing your views Gill, it’s interesting to hear that even though you are familiar with Twitter you wouldn’t have thought someone using their phone or laptop during an event may be tweeting. Would you have thought they were taking notes maybe?

      I like the idea of identifying who may be tweeting the event to raise awareness, that would also help us tweeters identify the others in the room we know are tweeting but can’t find in the room! I know at some conferences they have ribbons or badges for those who are blogging or tweeting the event, maybe that’s something that could be included. Something which I think may become the norm is for people’s Twitter IDs to be printed on their name badges, at both LILAC and the Librarians as Teachers event I’ve scribbled @joeyanne on my badge, but I know for the New Professionals Conference they are hoping to print them on the badges.

      Thanks also for raising the point about lack of eye contact, I felt quite aware of that whilst tweeting today – particularly as the three of us sat in the front row were tweeting throughout! I think it would have probably been the same if we had been making paper notes rather than tweeting though. I did make sure to nod when I agreed with a point, and did make a conscious effort not to become too engrossed in tweeting.

  • I definitely agree that it extends the conversation. This happened today while I was tweeting a presentation about Summon at INFORUM. I asked about UK users and immediately had several responses back along with info on a Summon event event that had taken place the day before, plus a link to an excellent blog posting that summarised the day’s proceedings and feedback.

    As to not giving the presenter one’s full attention: I always assume that people tapping away on laptops and using iphones etc are tweeting, blogging or making notes. If they are not, then I would rather they be doing something useful if what I am saying is boring or they’ve heard it all before. The alternative is to have to look at bored faces, people staring out of the window or even falling asleep!

    • Thanks for sharing Karen, I too have experienced this at every event I’ve tweeted – sharing of relevant links or additional information provided by other tweeters.

      And I agree – although reduced eye contact isn’t ideal from the speaker’s point of view, it’s definitely preferable to a snoozing audience!

  • Lesley B

    Very interesting. I’d actually read WoodsieGirl’s blog on the subject and I must admit that prior to reading it I would have automatically assumed that anyone using a blackberry or iphone during a conference was being rude and having a (virtual) chat with his/her mates instead of paying attention to the speaker. Perhaps it’s because typing on a mobile phone type device while something else on going on around you is associated with teenagers texting under the dinner table when they been forced out of their bedrooms to have a meal with the family. Likewise in many people’s minds Twitter is associated with someone who has too much time on their hands and who tweets constantly about what they had for breakfast, lunch etc. Having read yours and WoodsieGirl’s blogs I think that next time I’m at a conference and someone is using a blackberry etc I might use it as an ice breaker and ask them if they tweet often at conferences, do they find they get useful comments sent back etc.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your point of view Lesley, I can see how that could come across that way (texting at the dinner table is a major bugbear of mine so I can totally understand how that could appear rude!).

      I’m glad the recent blog posts about Twitter have been of interest, and it’s a great idea to use it as an ice breaker the next time you see someone using their phone at an event – I just hope they’re not in a minority that are just texting their mates!

  • Gill

    Although I consider myself quite an experienced computer person I have never owned a laptop so if I saw someone using one I don’t think I would have thought they would be using it to make notes . But it will now!

  • Jana Scott Lindsay

    I agree with you… It comes down to a lack of understanding. There is this assumption that because you are on the ‘phone’ you must be disengaged from the learning.
    To me a great example would be if you felt every time students were talking in class they must be disengaged and off task. What we know now, and can assume would have been the case when we were kids, is that students a good portion of the time are on task with there peers. They are asking questions, clarifying, and consolidating their learning.
    I truly believe if we educate those who don’t necessarily understand the why and the how everyone benefits.
    I am hopeful that the next time I pull out my iPhone those around will think and understand that I am doing so much more than chatting.

  • I joined twitter last year as I was preparing to attend NECC 2009 in Washington, DC. I tweeted my way through the conference and found it extremely useful! I’ve attended other workshops/conferences throughout the year and found twitter useful there as well. My problem is that outside of attending a conference I find limited time and reason to tweet. I try it again in spurts but it has not become a regular part of what I do.

    • Brian – thanks for your views. Everyone uses tools in different ways, and it’s great to hear that you find Twitter useful during events, even though it isn’t integrated into your regular routine. That really reinforces the usefulness of tweeting at events!

  • Thanks for this post Jo, its really interesting, and has generated some really useful comments (I particularly like the idea of using the situation as an ice breaker for networking).
    I’ve just posted my view on my blog, but realise that, as is often the case these days, I don’t get time to catch up on blog discussions until a few days (or more) after they have been really hot topics, so I may have missed the boat a bit. But basically I am coming to realise that its not just a certain section of the LIS profession who have out-dated views on the professional use of mobile devices, it’s also our users – the very people we expect to be ahead of us in the game.
    My team has had experiences of students being quite taken aback when they have produced a SmartPhone to help deal with face to face enquiries – and this illustrates to me that we are not yet in a time when mobile use in a professional setting is widely accepted, even by the people we most expect to be welcoming of the changes.
    I think it will be a while yet before the glaring and disapproval goes away 🙁

    • Unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree with this (I really hope I’m wrong though!). I’ve experienced the same confused students when I help them by using my iPhone, and a few times have had to explain that it’s the same catalogue as over there, but we can access it from here instead.

      Because people know I’m a keen Twitter user, I get many questions about Twitter both from work colleagues and in my personal life and there are still a lot of people who seem to think Twitter is solely for telling people what you’ve had for your tea (although I am guilty of that today having made some gluten free pastry tarts I’m particularly proud of!). I often explain the value of using Twitter in a professional sense, but I get the impression that some people still aren’t convinced by what I’m telling them by the end of the conversation, and still see it just as a chatting tool.

      So yes – I think perceptions can be very difficult to change, whether it’s public opinion of what you’re doing when you get your phone out of your pocket, library staff using mobile devices in libraries, or even what Twitter is used for.

  • Hi Jo, great post, I’m behind with my feeds so late to the party but – it’s npc2010 for the New Professionals Conference! I did actually suggest npc10 originally but that was thought to imply it was the 10th conference etc, so we went with #npc2010. There’s a twapperkeeper already set up, although some other event has started using the same tag (grrr) so you have to sort through the foreign language posts to find the correct ones.

    On the last point, about people thinking twitter is for saying what you had for dinner etc. The trouble is, people naturally explain phenomena with reference to celebrities where ever possible. Celebrities have tens of thousands of followers and as a result get many more @replies than they could ever cope with – this in turn means their twitter streams, so often held up as exemplars, tends to be a series of statements rather than a conversation with anyone. (Plus, people are actually genuninely interested in their lunches..) Speaking as someone who was very anti-twitter for a very long time, the biggest misconception I had about it was that it was people saying what they’d had for lunch etc *in isolation*, rather than a bunch of people having a multi-way, ongoing, fluid, ever-morphing conversation that was properly interactive.

    • Thanks Ned, have edited the post to change the hashtag.

      Interesting to hear your views as someone who had to be converted to using Twitter and was hesitant initially. I totally agree that it’s the conversational element that gives the most value, it certainly helps me to develop my thoughts and hear others’ opinions.

  • Ouch! Yes I read Woodsiegirls post about this, and her article in the Gazette out this week, and I have to say that this is great for me – trying to encourage my colleagues to use new tools to aid them for note taking, and disseminating information is like walking through treacle at times, and I hope you won’t mind me pinching your blog post to use as a good example!

    Thanks for bringing these issues to the fore – its good to read about the benefits of these tools for everyday usage in information management.