Transforming academic conferences through Twitter

I have attended several conferences in my life. Some inspiring, some boring, some well organised and some a terribly mess. I have also not attended a lot of conferences in my life. Either due to lack of funding or lack of time. Conferences which were not relevant enough or where only one session was really interesting. I have sometimes wished that I could use some Harry Potter tricks and through a portkey transport myself around the world to participate in one session and then hurry home again. Or use a time-turner so I could go back in time and not miss out on a parallel session to the session I chose to attend.

Portkeys and time-turners are to my knowledge still not widely spread, but then the next best thing might work: Twitter. Conferences are a different thing when Twitter is involved – both for the good and for the bad. My first conference Twitter experience was at Science Online London 2011 and I must say I was quickly hooked.

Now Lisa Harris and Nicole Beale from University of Southampton have decided to investigate how social networking can change the conversation at academic conferences. They just finished collecting tweets and photos and videos and are ready to analyse. I’d recommend reading their blog post “If you don’t have social media, your are no one: How social media enriches conferences for some but risk isolating others” on the LSE blog Impact of Social Sciences. There are some nice reflections on the good and bad sides of Twitter for conferences.

And if you haven’t tested out your conference Twitter legs yet, do give it a try.



What’s the point of this “academic twittersphere”?

“I don’t have time to Tweet.” “I’m not interested in what various celebrities are doing.” “I don’t know what I would get from it.”

These are typical responses I encounter when I ask academics if the are on Twitter. And I don’t blame them for their replies. Until you’re into the Twitter world it is difficult to grasp what it is all about and how in the world it can be of any use in professional academic life. For some reason it is just really hard to explain in words. The LSE Twitter Guide called Guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities is a great starting point, but explaining what it is useful for is still difficult.

On the LSE Blog Impact of Social Sciences, Mark Carrigan, a third year PhD student in Sociology at the University of Warwick, gives an attempt at explaining the point of Twitter in an “academic twittersphere”. He outlines what academics can get out of the social media service and tries to illustrate that motives for academics to be on Twitter may be no more different from what motivates academics to give presentations at conferences. The reasons to go onto the podium and give a presentation or a talk may be different from person to person:

Twitter is no different. It’s a spot on the internet that’s staked out as yours. What you do with it is up to you. Some people choose to wander over to their podium every now and again, make an announcement and then wander off. Some people give their presentation at the podium and then leave, only returning when they want to give another. Some do their presentation but thrive on the Q&A afterwards. Some might not like the feel of the podium and eschew a formal presentation to go and chat more directly with their audience. Likewise some people just want to listen and ask questions of other speakers. Others would rather ditch the conference and go straight to relaxing at the pub.

Most academic users of Twitter fall into one or more of these categories. Likewise people move between categories. But the interpersonal dimensions of it are fundamentally no different to a conference

Illustrating reasons to use Twitter for academic purposes by passing on the experience from various academics gives a good feel to what Twitter can be all about and why a lot of people end up finding it incredibly useful.

Academics who are not yet on Twitter, but are considering it may find reading Mark Carrigan’s blog post useful. I at least found some good arguments to use next time I enter into a Twitter discussion with a non-tweeter.