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!).