Pros and Cons of Conference Twitter

MLA is the only group to use Twitter at a conference.  Twitter has become the latest technology trend for online discussion at meetings and conferences.  There some who tweet to help keep those who can’t attend in real life informed. Others tweet to discuss amongst themselves and questions and comments about the event or speaker, almost as a side discussion.  Instead of whispering to their neighbor they tweet.

Recently a paper by Wolfgang Reinhardt, Martin Ebner, Gunter Beham, and Cristina Costa was presented at EduMedia Conferencein Salzburg, Austria. The paper,  “How People Are Using Twitter During Conferences”, shares the findings from surveys conducted at five conferences. 

The authors looked at the tweeting that occured before, during, and after the conference. 

Before the conference most Twitter activity is centered around announcements of workshops, presentations, reminders, and registration information.  Organizers used Twitter to build excitement and interest while attendees used Twitter to organize and share information and planning about the trip or conference.

During the conference organizers used Twitter to keep attendees updated on last minute changes, upload picture, link to blog entries.  Attendees Twitter use primarily driven by their personal Twitter style.  Some people used Twitter to take notes, others used it to ask questions, while others used it to discuss specific topics with other attendees.

After the conference organizers used Twitter most often to thank attendees, post reflections, promote upcoming conferences, and gather feedback.  Attendees used Twitter to post links to their blogs containing more indepth information. 

Most of the respondents had Twitter accoutns prior to the conference (95.%).  Of those that have Twitter accounts it appears that most people use their Twitter account for personal and professional activites and have just one account to do so.  Unfortunately, the article and Figure 2 are unclear exactly as to what percentage of people this really is. 

Those who actively Twittered during the conference reportedly sent between 11-20 messages per day and the main reason to tweet was to share resources, communicate with others, participate in parallel discussions, take notes, establish an online presence (I am not sure what that refers to) and pose questions.  Surprisingly posing questions was the least common reason for Twitters. 

Despite collecting data from five different  conferences the authors had a rather small sample size, 41 respondents.  I can’t tell the reason for the small number of respondents.  I don’t know whether the number of people Twittering a conference is still very small, whether the number of conference attendees was small, whether they had a poor survey return rate, or whether there other factors. It would be interesting if a study can be done where the sample size is much larger.

This year MLA worked to provide information to members during the annual meeting through the blog and Twitter.  Because Twitter is still a relatively new technology that many of our members were just beginning to use, I chose to focus our primary efforts on the blog.  Even though it was not our primary focus there were quite a few librarians on Twitter during the conference.  There were over 150 followers of MLA2009 and MLA2009 was following 137 people.  Several people tweeted a couple of sessions while others used Twitter to meet up with each other. 

Unfortunately I did not keep any statistics, conducted any studies or surveys on MLA membership usage of Twitter.  But unofficially, I think I can say that it was used and helpful to some of the membership.  It will be interesting what we see happens next year.

3 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Conference Twitter”

  1. The annual NASIG conference was held June 3-7 and we used Twitter throughout the conference. The NASIG president set up the Twitter feed for the conference in May. So, MLA is NOT the only group to use Twitter at a conference.

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