Twitter at Conferences, Part 1: Non-tweeters

Abigail Stevens is an astronomy PhD candidate at the Anton Pannekoek Institute, University of Amsterdam. Her research is on spectral-timing analysis of X-ray binaries.

Image credit: HST/Twitter/A.L. Stevens

This is the first post in a three-part series on Twitter at Conferences, aimed at non-Twitter-users and all conference attendees. There have also been a few AstroBetter posts on Twitter at the AAS meetings over the years (see as215, aas217, and aas219). Links to the other two posts aimed at Twitter users at conferences and conference organizers can be found at the above links.

This past May, I attended the Netherlands Astronomy Conference 2016, organized this year by my institute. I was asked by the LOC to be on my Twitter game throughout the conference, and I’m really proud of the concerted effort made by everyone involved — our conference hashtag #NAC2016 was even trending in the Netherlands for a while!! After fielding Twitter questions from a variety of organizers and participants, it seemed like a good idea to centralize and condense my advice.

In astronomy, I’ve noticed that Twitter awareness and usage at an astronomy conference loosely correlates with the median age and median country of origin of the participants — for example, it seems that younger and/or U.S.-based attendees tend to tweet more. However, I don’t think it should be limited to those demographics. There are definite benefits for the larger astronomy community, like being able to follow what’s going on in real time at a conference you couldn’t attend (which I’ve done on multiple occasions), follow one parallel session while attending another (which I’ve also done), promote the work of up-and-coming researchers, and give exposure to exciting new results. Twitter isn’t just for science outreach and education — you’re communicating with your colleagues as well. So, I want to spark the minds of the Twitter-averse and provide an access point for the Twitter-aware-but-not-active with some tips and recommendations in regards to conference tweeting.

It’s important that we all start off on the same page, so here are some definitions:

  • Twitter– An online social network service/social media platform. The “social” aspect means you can connect and interact with other users.
  • tweet– A 140-character message on Twitter; can also be used as a verb, as in, “to tweet something.”
  • hashtag – The thing that starts with ‘#’; this is like a tag or keyword that is used to link related tweets.
  • account, handle – The thing that starts with ‘@’; this is a username that’s been registered on Twitter and sends out tweets.
  • retweet – When you send out a tweet that wasn’t originally written by you; can be thought of as signal-boosting or similar to the “Share” button on Facebook; sometimes abbreviated “RT”.
  • feed, stream – A list of tweets, typically a list of tweets with the same hashtag or from the same account.
  • trend, trending– A hashtag or topic that has amassed a critical density of tweets; trending topics are listed in the left sidebar of a user’s Twitter home page.
  • at – A verb meaning “to tweet at,” represented by the ‘@’ at the beginning of someone’s Twitter handle.
  • the Twitterverse – Slang for the “Twitter universe”; everything on Twitter.
  • tweeps – Slang for “Twitter peeps” (which itself is slang for “Twitter people”); friends/colleagues/peers on Twitter.

For active or soon-to-be-active tweeters, the Twitter glossary has more useful terms.

Here are some tips for all conference attendees in regards to Twitter:

  • If you do not want anything (or a specific thing) from your talk to be tweeted, say so at the beginning of your talk or on the slide before it’s relevant. I personally don’t know any astronomer who would not respect the request. This is a good idea if your results are under press embargo, or if they’re preliminary results and you have competitors.
  • Include bite-sized summaries of your motivation, technique, and/or result to make it easy for the tweeters. Otherwise they’ll need to distill something short and sweet from your ramblings, and if they’re not in your sub-field they may get it wrong.
  • Include your email address and a paper link/reference on your conclusion slide and leave it up for the questions, so that someone can tweet a photo of it. (h/t Beatriz Mingo)
  • To paraphrase Kelle’s comment on this AstroBetter post: If you disagree with the use of Twitter at academic conferences, remember that you disagree with what you imagine Twitter to be, not necessarily what it actually is. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it!
  • You can still read the tweets if you don’t have a Twitter account — just click on the hashtag in a tweet, go to the ‘Live’ tab, and there you go!

Hopefully this post has provided some context for those of you who are less familiar with social media in academic events! I like to scroll through tweets about my talk during a break afterwards — it makes immediately clear to me what points got through to the audience and what needs work. And while it’s not the same as being there, keeping an eye on a conference hashtag from home feels more fun and engaging than waiting for the conference proceedings to come out. Have you ever followed a conference on Twitter? Has your talk or poster ever been tweeted?

12 comments… add one
  • Erik Bray Jul 7, 2016 @ 3:46

    Great post!

    I’m definitely in with Kelle’s attitude of “don’t knock it until you try it” and the work you’re doing here to help promote the idea and ease people into it. I’ve been on Twitter practically since it started.

    But will this series also address how people are left out when they’re not on Twitter and/or don’t want to be (often for perfectly valid reasons), and what we can do to not make them feel as left out? I’m not sure what the answers are there, but it’s a discussion worth having…

    • Peter Edmonds Jul 7, 2016 @ 14:46

      I think Abigail at least partly addresses your point where she says:

      “You can still read the tweets if you don’t have a Twitter account — just click on the hashtag in a tweet, go to the ‘Live’ tab, and there you go!”. This is an excellent point. If this option can be more widely advertised then it’s easy to show that (1) people don’t have to feel left out even if they’re not on Twitter and (2) that conference tweeting has a lot of value.

    • Abigail Stevens Jul 8, 2016 @ 12:21

      Hi Erik! Thanks!

      I wasn’t planning to address your point of people not on twitter feeling left out, but I can definitely see how that could arise. And I don’t have a good answer. I’ve found, just through conversations with colleagues at conferences, that informing non-tweeting colleagues that they can read all the tweets without needing to have a twitter account can help them feel as though they’re at least aware of and can follow the conversation, even if they’re not actively participating in it.

      I wonder if anyone else has ideas?

  • Magnus Persson Jul 7, 2016 @ 5:09

    Great post! Although I must admit I don’t tweet enough during conferences or follow conferences on Twitter that much. I have even seen people cross-post to both Twitter and Facebook during a meeting. The Facebook part is a bit trickier though, because without tweaking it will just go to everyone (including non astronomy friends and family). About #NAC2016, I just saw that there’s also the “National Achievers Congress” which have the same hashtag. Luckily not running at the same time.


    • David Redeker Jul 7, 2016 @ 7:46

      Dear Magnus,

      We were aware of the National Achievers Congress. It was quit a dilemma. First we thought of using a longer, difficult hashtag, like #NAC2016_NL. But that is not very user friendly. Then we decided to use #NAC2016.

      Then we had to find a work-around for our twitterstream at our website. Because that stream was, initialy, hashtag based. We decided that @_NAC2016 was better for a stream. Then we had to retweet #NAC2016 postings from our account @_NAC2016.

      We were glad that we moderated it, because when we got trending, spambots (and naked ladies) used #NAC2016 too.


    • Magnus Persson Jul 8, 2016 @ 3:46

      Hi again,

      What about #NAC2k17 (for next year)? That’ll probably also have duplicates eventually. It is a difficult task avoiding spambots.


    • Abigail Stevens Jul 8, 2016 @ 12:26

      Hey Magnus,

      Thanks! As David points out, our main way to streamline the conference tweets was for the conference account (ran by David) to keep an eye on the hashtag and retweet the ones about our conference. And, as David says and I will point out in the 3rd post (coming in two weeks, I believe), it’s *very* important to moderate the tweet stream before it goes on the conference website or coffee break slide!!

      And in case anyone cares, my suggestion for next year’s hashtag is #NACNL17. Yes it’s a bit redundant with the N of NAC and NL both being in there, but that might help reduce tweet competition! And using just “17” instead of “2017” gives you two fewer hashtag characters! 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *