How to Use Twitter (Especially at Conferences)

In fall 2012, I attended a series of conferences on various topics (housing, student affairs, and fire). While at these conferences I was part of a group of people who were using twitter. They were following and participating in the conference backchannel. We were live tweeting from sessions, reconnecting with friends and colleagues, meeting new friends and colleagues, wishing safe travel to colleagues in 140 characters or less.

There was also another group of people who secretly, and even openly, didn’t ‘get it’. They do not understand the value of social media, and of twitter in the professional conference setting in particular. The classic (even cliché at this point) perspective that the differences were generational has some validity; however, some of the leading tweeters at these conferences are senior housing and student affairs leaders. Also, many of these people are really active Facebook users.

While speaking with my colleagues who are not tweeple (Twitter people = tweeple), I found a few threads that may be at the root of why they don’t, can’t, etc. use twitter effectively:

1) The “I don’t care what you had for breakfast” perspective;

2) The “I’m too old for that” perspective;

3) The “It’s rude to be on your phone / computer / tablet / mobile spaceship during a presentation” perspective.

At first, these perspectives that seem valid but, I argue, they are not (or are rarely). Here are my counter arguments:

1) The “I don’t care what you had for breakfast” perspective;

Neither do I, unless it was really good and is from an awesome, awful, hard to find, cheap, expensive, unique, waste of time, etc. restaurant that the rest of us might not find on our own. The purpose of twitter and other social media is to share with the crowd the awesome and terrible things that are out in the world. If your omelet was the best thing in the world and only cost two dollars, or if it was gag-me gross at an outrageous price, please do tweet about it, because we want to know if that breakfast place is worth our time.

2) The “I’m too old for that” perspective;

No, you’re not. Do you do Facebook? Pintrest? Status updates are basically Facebook versions of tweets. Some of the vest tweeters I have met are senior housing and student affairs officers.

3) The “It’s rude to be on your phone / computer / tablet / mobile spaceship during a presentation” perspective

This used to be true, when people were messing with text and email that had nothing to do with the session / reception / etc. they were in. But the point of twitter in these, and other, settings is to engage more with the sessions, the speakers, and the entirety of the professional field that is not in that session. Well-done tweeting actually provides presenters with MORE value for their session.

Now-a-days, many conferences actually encourage twitter use and presenters will often suggest that you tweet to them and about their session. Of course, please always respect the wishes of the presenters if they say that tweeting, or the use if twitter, is unwelcome during their session.

Now that we have addressed and responded the different perspectives about why not use twitter, let’s talk about ways to use twitter effectively:

General Advice: – a really great overview of Twitter basics. – a great video introduction to Twitter. – A really robust resource all about Twitter.
– An excellent listing (perhaps even overwhelming) of articles and resources about Twitter.

Twitter at Conferences:
– From the perspective of a graduate student using Twitter at academic conference. This article is relevant to all types of conferences. – Does a good job of explaining why using Twitter at conferences if a good idea.

Plain Ol’ Good Blog About Social Media in the Context of Higher Education: – Eric is a bona fide expert on social media. If you want to learn a lot about all of these things, read his stuff.

Finally, if you are not yet convinced of the power of social media, please watch this video – The Social Media Revolution 2012 (youtube=

Thanks for reading. Occasionally I tweet something interesting @mcolpitts on twitter and post something interested on my blog See you out there!

Matthew Colpitts is a student affairs and emergency management professional who works for Housing and Residence Life at Utah State University. He is also a firefighter and an Ed.D. student researching emergency management in higher education. He also identifies as a beer snob and as a Vermont expat. Any opinions here are his own and do not represent his organizations unless otherwise noted.

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