Monday, September 15, 2014

Some Tips on Successful Conference Tweeting

Recently, I have heard disappointed comments about the lack of conference tweet activity for given healthcare conferences. On each occasion, it seemed fairly obvious as to why this was the case.  Having participated in quite a number of conferences by the way of Twitter, I have made a number of observations of what seems to make the difference.

1. Must Be Good WiFi

This is perhaps the greatest impediment to the success of conference tweeting. Frequently, the systems are tested when the conference centre is empty and of course everything works fine.  As soon as the conference commences and people are using the system, it comes to a grinding halt.  Once again, there is no greater impediment to conference tweeting than the lack of adequate WiFi.

2. Conference Twitter Account

This account would help define to observers what the conference is and what official conference hashtag has been assigned. This account should tweet out updates, announcements as well as interact with key twitter accounts through replies, favourites and retweeting.  This account can also act as a catalyst for activity if the twitter stream is quiet.  With this comes the assigning of a person to look after this account during the course of the conference.

3. Appropriate Hashtag

The hashtag should appear relevant to the conference and should use the minimum number of characters.  Ideally the number of characters should be no more than 6 or 7 characters.  Any more detracts from the precious 140 character count and would limit the information that can be shared to the hashtag audience.  Only one hashtag should be assigned.  Sub-hashtags only lead to confusion and in combination with the main hashtag, chew up valuable characters.

An example of a misleading hashtag was when the #uro12 was assigned to the American Urological Association meeting when the hashtag of #AUA12 would have made much more sense.  An example of wasted characters is the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons using #RACS2014 when #RACS14 would have been more appropriate.  With the RACS meeting this year, there were no fewer than 4 hashtags being used by various conference tweeters and the twitter stream from this meeting was a disaused the hashtag #CFAConf14.  A long hashtag hampers expression and detracts from participation. Including the space, #CFAConf14 chewed up 10 characters when a simpler #CFA14 would have been appropriate. With the 2014 RACS meeting mentioned above, there were no fewer than 4 different hashtags being used by various conference tweeters and the twitter stream from this meeting was a total mess.  

4. Engage KOL Twitter Users

Conference organisers should seek out the key opinion leaders who are active on twitter in advance of the meeting.  Organisers could consider requesting specific accounts to be assigned to tweet proceedings from specific sessions.  Having predetermined users involved creates a core group of participants.  People are reluctant to be a sole or one of only few tweeters for a conference. 

5. Twitter Boards

Strategically placed monitors showing the twitter feed are often a magnet for the attention of conference attendees.  The most organized meetings will have such monitors outside every meeting room as well as in the registration and trade exhibition areas.

6. Twitter Instruction

At the American Urological Association annual meeting this year, opportunities for small group or one-on-one instruction on twitter basics and how to conference tweet.  Alternatively having a course or conference session on social media as was the case at the European Association of Urology congress (#EAU14) and Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand ASM (#USANZ14) respectively was particular done well. These sessions were not only well attended but also created an explosion of activity on the conference hashtags during these sessions.

7. Publicity

The role of social media at the conference needs to be publicized and prominently implied.  The hashtag should appear on all background slides that appear at the beginning of conference sessions as well as all publications such as the conference proceedings and conference badges as examples.  Such publicity adds negligible if at all any cost to the conference but is returned many times over by increasing the engagement of those attending as well as reaching a much larger global audience in virtual attendance.

8. Register on Symplur

Registering a health conference hashtag with the Symplur Healthcare Hashtag Project is free.  This provides access to basic twitter statistics.  Tweeting these during the conference often generated interest when enormity reach of the conference tweets is realized.

There are probably other ideas that would enhance conference twitter activity that I have forgotten about so please feel free to add your comments.  One example is to allow participants to ask questions via twitter - on occasions I have actually offered this to the audience when I have chaired sessions. A few questions do come in although this is not a deal breaker for twitter engagement at a conference. I look forward to your comments.

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