The Twitter Back Channel
The term “back channel” generally refers to an online conversation about a conference topic or speaker. Twitter is now used extensively by both delegates at a conference and also by those wishing to follow tweets made by those attending, as a means of engaging in conversations relating to conference keynotes, workshops and other activities taking place, and as a way of sharing to their followers snippets of useful information. For many it also serves as a tweet event diary – a means of taking notes on key points throughout a talk or the event as a whole. The audience for conference and event tweets extends beyond those attending and opens up engagement from anyone following the hashtag or even happening upon tweets made by people they follow.
Preparation before an event
Choose a hashtag: You will need to choose a hashtag for your event. This should be short and succinct – ideally 6-8 characters (letters/numbers preceded by #). Remember those tweeting at your event only have 140 characters per tweet so a long hashtag (aside from being hard to remember) does not want to take up too much space within the message. It is important to check your chosen tag to make sure it is not already in current use. You can do this by entering the hashtag in the search bar of Twitter. If no tweets appear containing the hashtag, it’s safe to assume it is not being used for something else (at that time). Adding the year can sometimes be helpful if your chosen word is already being used. For examples #teachconf15 or #teachconf2015. Hashtags are not case sensitive.
Blog or website: Your event landing page is likely to be the first place people find detailed information about your event. Make sure that the event hashtag is prominent on all pages along with the Twitter handle you will use to promote the event. Display as a banner and encourage readers to follow the @EventTwitterUsername and #EventHashtag for conference updates.
Communicate the hashtag: The agreed event hashtag should be included in all communication and be clearly placed within emails relating to the conference, and also added to the organisers email signature(s). Promotion posters, invitation cards, conference fliers, name badges and the programme should all include the event hashtag. If an event Twitter account is to be used, then this also should be included. In place of this you may use the organisation’s Twitter account. Choose the one that will be used to tweet messages about the event.
Event registration: When asking people to register for an event you should include a field to capture the delegate’s Twitter username. This is a useful addition to the delegate list which is often shared in conference packs or as a downloadable PDF on the conference website. This will help participants make new connections and build their network.
Speakers: Capture all speakers Twitter usernames and add to the programme after each name. Tweets promoting speaker sessions should include their Twitter username and the conference hashtag. Encourage presenters to add their Twitter username to their own presentations. Where an event Twitter account is being used you may wish to consider creating a new Twitter list of those presenters who are on Twitter. Others may then choose to follow this list and follow the individual presenters if they so wish.
Engage with potential attendees: Send out regular Tweets leading up to the event with snippets of information to promote the event, a call for papers, details of the venue, list of confirmed speakers, places to visit, how to book accommodation, speaker abstracts etc. Links included in the tweets can direct readers to the event website or to short ‘talking head’ videos of interviews with the keynote speakers. Look out for RTs and mentions and reach out to these people to thank them for sharing information about the event. Respond to questions raised. Chances are by responding as a Tweet you will also help others with the same questions. Update your website if information needs further clarity.
Encourage promotion of the event: To help others promote your event you can use http://clicktotweet.com/ to write a short message that you’d like others to share via Twitter. ClicktoTweet converts the message into a short url which you can add to the web or blog page you are using to promote your event. When the reader clicks on the link it will automatically direct to Twitter, opening a Tweet dialogue box. The reader simply clicks Tweet and sends this to their followers.
Prepare a Twitter back channel: It has become popular to display the conference tweets by curating those which include the conference hashtag on a screen so that everyone can see the tweets.
Back channel tools
Websites have been developed to showcase this Twitter back channel. There are a number of sites that offer this service, and include options with and without pricing plans. (Note: as with many online offerings the PRO versions may offer customisation and additional features). The examples below are at the time of writing FREE to use.
Event badges: Add the twitter username of attendees (speakers, delegates and organisers) and the event hashtag to name badges. This helps to highlight who is presenting and those involved in organising the event.
During an event
Promote how to connect to the Wi-Fi: Ideally this should be given out at registration within the conference pack, clearly written on notice boards or on the back of badges. Remind people how they can connect to the Wi-Fi at the start of each day. Make it easy for them!
Event organisers and helpers: For large events it may be worth considering investing in tshirts for helpers so that they stand out. Adding the event hashtag will help to encourage tweets.
Opening presentation: Tell the audience that there is a conference hashtag and highlight this on a slide. Include the conference hashtag in the corner of each slide as a reminder. If you are curating the tweets after the event you may wish to mention this too. Also if you are displaying a Twitter back channel, let the audience know and tell them where they can view this. Typically these are either displayed on a second screen in the main conference room or on a TV screen where refreshments are served.
Presenters: It is helpful if presenters share their Twitter username at the start of their talks so that participants can provide attribution to quotes and photos they tweet relating to the presentations. Where audience interaction is encouraged, presenters may wish to consider having an additional hashtag for their session. Questions or polls can be shared and responded to via Twitter. Where there is a session chair, questions can be invited from those following the event hashtag and relayed to the presenter. Speakers should expect to be tweeted, so if they do not want their work shared via Twitter, this should be made clear at the start of a session.
Delegates and Participants: Anyone following the conference hashtag will be able to view the tweets. Whilst both those at an event and anyone interacting virtually should be encouraged to share, question and comment upon information about the conference and presentations, all should be mindful that Twitter is a public forum. In the event a speaker asks not to be tweeted about, this should be respected.
Event networking: Use Twitter and the hashtag to build your network by following people that are interesting. Reach out to other attendees to meet for dinner, take an early morning run or arrange informal discussions on a topic of interest. Create your own list of event speakers and attendees you share an interest with.
Twitter dashboards/clients: When following conference tweets you may choose to open multiple tabs so that you have one to tweet from, another to view all tweets containing the conference hashtag, plus one to keep an eye on the tweets from the conference organiser. Alternatively you can use a dashboard like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck which allow you to set up multiple columns which you can view from the one tab. Additional features enable you to schedule tweets which may be useful for event organisers.
Conference Twitter etiquette
- When tweeting a quote made by a speaker include the speaker’s name (preferably their Twitter username) and place the quote within speech marks
- Separate your own comments about a topic from those made by the speaker
- Engage with tweets from others by replying to them and including the event hashtag
- Summarise points concisely and consider inclusion of a photo of a relevant slide
- Ask permission to take photos of speakers
- Add to the conversation by sharing useful links to relevant websites, articles, books
- Avoid sarcasm, snarkiness and bad mouthing of any sort
- Be mindful that by including the conference hashtag in your tweets you are contributing to a professional forum that others will be following
- Use Twitter to express appreciation
- Remember to add the designated event hashtag to each tweet if you want it to be seen!
Thank the speakers: Organisers can send out a thank you tweet to speakers along with a link to the conference programme or if presentations are uploaded to Slideshare a link to this. Participants might also want to send out a message of appreciation if they enjoyed a session.
Curate the tweets: Storify is a useful free tool to use to capture the tweets relating to a hashtag. The tweets are pulled into a storyboard and additional text can be added. This can then be saved as a story. This is a useful way to save all tweets to look back on later for both participants and organisers. Organisers should share the Storify they create via Twitter along with the event hashtag. The link to the Storify and an explanation of what it is, should also be added to the conference website (on some web platforms the Storify can be embedded as a slideshow).
Speaker presentations: Encourage presenters to share links to presentations uploaded to Slideshare through Twitter and to include the conference hashtag. Use reply on Twitter to add thanks to the presenters for sharing their presentations and also retweet. This makes sure that anyone following the event twitter account but not the event hashtag gets to see these tweets.
Participant reflections: Encourage delegates or anyone participating remotely to share blog posts about the event. Look out for these tweets and again acknowledge by retweeting and replying.
Analyse the tweets: As an organiser of an event you can pick up useful feedback from the tweets. Should there be any issues these can be dealt with promptly. Find out what went well and use this feedback for future events.
Creating a Twitter account: When setting up a new account, consider the length of your chosen user name and whether it will be easy for others to remember. Complete the space that allows you write a short 160 character personal bio and add a photo. This will help others make the decision to follow you. Include a link to your company website, your own website/blog or your LinkedIn profile.
New to Twitter? Prepare before an event: Take time to practice some tweets so you become familiar with how to post a tweet, RT someone else’s tweet, favourite a tweet, add a photo to a tweet and send a private direct message.
You can find out more by taking a look at Getting Started with Twitter