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Lessons from Live Tweeting

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Author: Jonathon Hurley / Code: CC21 / Published: 26/01/2015

Last week, I attended the Northern Emergency Medicine Conference, a one-day conference held in Sunderland and organised by higher trainees in Emergency Medicine from the Northern Deanery. As well as speaking at the conference about FOAM, I was live tweeting – the first time I’d done this on a large scale. This article contains some of the lessons I learned doing this. I’m going to look at some considerations for both conference organisers and delegates.

Live tweeting is becoming a common way to share the learning from medical conferences beyond the audience attending. Key points from speakers’ presentations are tweeted in real-time by members of the audience. There is often a dedicated conference hashtag to allow for categorisation and searching of the relevant tweets. Twitter’s international audience means that the conference can have a reach far wider than the place where it is held. It also encourages and allows debate on the points made, again in real-time.

Preparation

Preparation is key to successfully tweeting a conference. Before the day, make sure that batteries are fully charged and that you have all the cables you might need. Wifi is often provided in conference venues, but a backup means of accessing the Internet and Twitter is a good idea. During the Northern EM Conference I found the venue’s wifi would become very slow from time to time, and accessing Twitter by tethering to my phone was much more reliable. Wifi can also easily become overloaded at large conferences.

The Hashtag

Conference organisers should decide on a hashtag for the event early on. This gives a way of identifying all relevant tweets before, during and after the conference and allows people to search for them. This needs to be publicised on conference adverts and other material, and through Twitter itself.

Symplur (http://www.symplur.com) is a website which tracks healthcare-related hashtags and provides analytics and statistics on the Twitter reach. Registering a conference hashtag with this service provides visibility and automatically generates statistics about the tweets sent. Again, do this as soon as you have decided on a hashtag.

Hardware

Your choice of hardware is very much dependent on what you prefer to use to tweet. People tweet from phones, tablets and laptops during conferences. I chose to use my MacBook, mainly because I find it easier to type quickly on that when trying to follow a speaker’s presentation. Use whatever is comfortable.

One thing I did find is that plugs are not always easily accessible. Make sure your devices are charged before you go to the conference. Try and find a seat near a plug, or find one to use in breaks to give a quick top-up. Turn off Bluetooth and close unnecessary apps to try to prolong battery power. Depending on the venue, lunch is a good time to plug in and recharge – make sure you have adapters for each device you are using so you can charge them at the same time.

Software

Again, familiarity and ease of use is key. Use whatever you are most comfortable with. There are a multitude of Twitter clients available – I used TweetDeck during the conference, which allowed me to keep several columns open to monitor my own Twitter account as well as the conference hashtag feed. The ability to monitor several streams at once gives you the means to interact with others on Twitter as well as just tweeting key messages.

During the Conference

If you are organising a conference, have someone dedicated to managing Twitter. It’s near impossible to be organising speakers and dealing with problems on the day as well as tweeting and responding to tweets.

If you are attending a conference and tweeting, make sure that your tweets support your own learning. There is no point avidly tweeting from a conference if you are not actually getting anything out of it. Tweet the key points as the speakers make them and add the conference hashtag to each tweet. If there is a conference Twitter account, consider including this in each tweet as well – but remember this cuts down the amount of characters available for your text.

Everybody is different and some will find that they can follow the presentations while tweeting in real-time. This is how I tweeted at the Northern EM Conference. Others will find that trying to do this during a presentation causes them to miss information. In this case, taking notes during the conference and tweeting them at breaks might be more useful. Find a style that suits you and lets you get something out of the event.

Some conferences invite questions via Twitter, and some people following the conference on Twitter may ask questions. If, as an organiser, you have someone watching conference activity on Twitter then they can ask these questions and tweet the answers. This adds a layer of interactivity to the conference feed.

Networking

Most events now have more than one person tweeting from them. Search for the conference hashtag to find other tweeters and if you can, seek them out and make contact in real life as well as on Twitter. This is an ideal opportunity to network – I found that I met several likeminded people who were interested in collaboration.

After the Conference

Conference tweeting doesn’t just stop when the conference finishes. As tweets are retweeted, information continues to be spread and discussion will carry on. It’s useful to find out what the Twitter usernames of the speakers are – this lets you involve them in discussions.

Remember to look at the statistics for conference tweets as well. This is where services such as Symplur come in. A significant number of impressions were created for the Northern EM Conference. If you are organising the conference, share these with your followers and with the hashtag so that those involved can see their influence.

The other thing to consider is creating a summary of all the tweets made relating to the conference, collecting them in one document. A web service such as Storify (www.storify.com) can help with this.

If You Are Speaking

If you’re a speaker at the conference, there are a couple of extra things to consider.

Firstly, you can schedule tweets to be posted at a future time – this means that you can appear to be tweeting while delivering your presentation. This can help to emphasise your planned take home messages – research has shown that these can sometimes differ from what your audience believe to be they key points [1]. There are several tools to allow you to schedule tweets – TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com), Buffer (www.buffer.com) and HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) are all web-based tools which offer this. (One word of note – scheduling tweets can prove a little difficult if the conference is running late! I had to quickly change the times of the tweets I’d scheduled as we were a little behind; otherwise your own tweets will get mixed up with those about other sessions and there will be a deafening silence while you’re talking!)

Secondly, search for conference tweets and get involved in discussions for those relating to your presentation. This is a great way to level the field and engage with your audience and encourage interest in your subject. It’s also a good way to gauge how the audience received your talk!

Summary

Hopefully these tips will help you in future, whether you are organising a conference or planning to tweet from one. I’d encourage anyone to have a go. You don’t need to send hundreds of tweets – every single one shares learning.

Give it a go! And above all enjoy it!

References

  1. Roland, D. et al. ‘Are you a SCEPTIC? SoCial mEdia Precision & uTility In Conferences’. Emergency Medicine Journal (2014): Online First, Accessed 23 Jan 2015. doi:10.1136/emermed-2014-204216

About the Author

Jonathon Hurley is a higher trainee in Emergency Medicine in the North East of England. He has a keen interest in social media and medical education. He is happy to answer any questions @DrJHurley.

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