One of the coolest uses I have seen for Twitter is as a conference back channel. Twitter has grown enough so that there are usually enough people to keep it interesting even if you aren’t there. The only problem comes in organizing the Tweets so that they are easy to find. After all – what is the point in tweeting if no one sees it?
Usually, the conference tweets are easy – just use the organizational acronym and that is it. There are a few issues, but more on that in a bit. The real problem comes when tweeting about specific sessions. You don’t want to have to explain in every tweet what session you are at – right? The solution is usually to start numbering sessions and adding that to the conference tag.
Last year, I worked with the Texas Distance Learning Association on this issue. We had 150 or sessions, so just add a number to the end of the tag and you are done: #txdla101, #txdla102, etc. The problem is, we ran into a huge problem with searching for tweets. If you want to just find #txdla101 – no problem. But then what if you want to see #txdla102? That is a separate search. Multiply that by 150 sessions and then the conference tag (which won’t show up when you search for #txdla101) and you have a tiresome problem that would hinder the back channel due to search exhaustion.
I tried wild cards, but the results were spotty at best. And I was shocked to see how many random link generators that spammers use ended up containing “txdla” in them. So we came up with a simple solution.
Just put a dash in the tags (like #txdla-101) and your problems are over. A search for “txdla” will show every session tag AND the general conferences tags – all in one search. Easy. Or, if you do want to see a specific session, then search for it (like “txdla-101”) and your search is easily narrowed.
Once we figured that out, we had to discuss the general conference tag a bit more.
The discussion that we had was whether to use the year in the general conference tag – #txdla vs #txdla2010. Ultimately you would need the dash in there to help with searches. But we also ended up with confusion over whether to use #txdla-2010 or just #txdla-10.
Most conference only happen once per year, so I say the year is unnecessary. Twitter searches in 2011 are not going to find anything from a year ago. They just don’t go that far back. But, if someone does somehow find an old tweet and wants to know the year, they can just look at the time stamp and quickly find out what year the conference happened. Overall, I would say that it is unnecessary to identify the current date in any Tweet – they are all time stamped.
Another controversy I have read online is over whether conferences should officially announce Twitter tags or allow them to be used by presenters. Some say that this would keep some back-channelers from being totally honest if they knew that it would be seen by the person up front.
To this, I say “hogwash.” (guess my Southern roots are coming out).
Look, Twitter is a public forum. If you have a problem with what you are about to say being read by the person up front, then maybe you should consider whether it should be Tweeted at all. But even if that is not enough, then I still have to come back to Twitter being public. If you don’t want everyone to read it, then make your feed private, or go to a different method of back-channeling. But don’t claim that a public forum is going to shut down honesty and openness because it is being, well – public.
Now, if your conference or event has less sessions or happens more than once a year, you might have to come with a different set of guidelines. But these are the ones I found work best with year conferences with large numbers of sessions.