Conference Tweeting: Helpful or Rude?

I just signed up to attend the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference in April. However, there are loads of interesting conferences and workshops throughout the year that I wish I could attend. Thankfully, via Twitter, I sometimes do feel like I’m at these conferences. I follow the Twitter streams and hashtags. Although it’s certainly not the same as attending in person, I usually do pick up a good nugget or two of information.

But I often wonder if tweeting at conference sessions crosses the boundary into rudeness?–specifically “live tweeting” while a presentation is happening. If I’m attending a presentation, I devote my attention to the speaker(s). I may be taking notes–even taking notes on my iPhone–but I’m not tweeting. I am there to learn. I do not want to be distracted–or be a distraction. Maybe it’s because I’m an instruction librarian? My pet peeve is students Facebooking or texting during class! What must it be like to a presenter to see attendees with their faces staring down at their mobile phones, iPads, and laptops?

I get the point: “live tweeting” brings the information to the masses. And as I stated, I have followed tweets on sessions from the comfort of my own office. Moreover, conference “backchannels” can share some great information. Also, I’d say there’s a difference between tweeting at a large plenary session where over a hundred participants could be assembled, as opposed to a small session which may require group interaction and discussion.

However, with conference session tweeting, context can be lost. Take for example the ruckus caused at LITA’s Board meeting at ALA Midwinter in San Diego. I saw an avalanche of tweets come across my computer screen admonishing LITA. These tweets did not have the full facts, nor were many of them tweeted by actual witnesses. This was soon followed by a stream of tweet “apologies” and “corrections.” But I guess with Twitter, anyone is a commentator or reporter–which can be both good and bad! Cue the importance of information literacy, here. :)

Some conference sessions now provide twitter streams on large screens during presentations. This is a great idea for posing questions from the audience to the presenters. However, occasionally things go awry. See the Conference Humiliation article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, and it’s follow-up: Tweckling Twitterfolk. Just in the past couple of months, comedian/actor Steve Martin was involved in a Twitter controversy at the 92nd Street Y. Lecture attendees did not like the questions being asked and took to the Twitterverse to complain. Professor Saul Carliner provides a good overview of the event. My take: it’s ok to challenge and question on Twitter, but don’t be mean-spirited and petty.

So, do you “live tweet” during conference sessions? Take my totally anonymous (and unscientific!) poll:

By the way, I don’t plan on “live tweeting” my upcoming conference. However, I do plan to compose some blog posts here. I need time to take in the information, reflect, and expand on what I learn at conferences. For me, the platform I find most useful is blogging.

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7 thoughts on “Conference Tweeting: Helpful or Rude?

  1. I think it’s largely dependent on the conference. I live-tweeted my way through Educause Midwest, but everyone was carrying laptops/iPads/netbooks/mobile phones around already, so you don’t “stick out” by using one to take notes during a session (and I simply take “live” notes via twitter – I don’t comment on the presenters or make snide “side” remarks). Also, even “small” sessions there were at least 30+ people in the room.

    If I had been at a smaller conference without as much technology, and panel attendance was lighter, I probably wouldn’t have tweeted.

    I completely agree with the need for people to avoid being petty and mean-spirited. General rule: don’t tweet things that you wouldn’t want said about you when it’s your turn to present! At Educause, I think people stuck to this pretty well – during boring and poorly put together presentations (and there were one or two) people simply stopped tweeting, rather than make nasty comments.

  2. It should be up to the presenter; either allow it completely, don’t allow it, or better yet, have someone backstage doing official tweets for the presentation, and mention that at the beginning, i.e., “Special thanks to Bob backstage who was kind enough to volunteer to tweet for us during the presentation. If you’d like to receive or re-tweet our official tweets, check out TWEETACCOUNT @ Twitter.com.”

    Personally, if I were the presenter, I’d go with the official tweeter backstage. But that’s just my opinion.

  3. By the way, the blog comment program automatically made my example twitter account (in the comment above) into an email link. Please ignore it, it’s not a real email link, ha ha.

    Joe, could you edit out that link?

  4. If you think live tweeting from a conference could be rude, then take a look at this article about live-tweeting from a murder trial http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/live-tweeting-murder-trials_b21103 – I think live tweeting any trial is wrong based on the fact that people have a tendency to decide on the innocence or guilt of a person based on opinions being tweeted. Same thing w/ media.

    Also, the same idea can be applied to tweets from a conference, people are getting facts from a person tweeting….and sometimes they might miscommunicate something that is said, giving a speaker bad rep. SO, it takes a responsible level headed logical person to live tweet, and that’s why organizations/speakers now assign a person in their office to be the official live-tweeter based on their competency. lol

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