Taking Conference Tweeting to the Next Level: From the Speaker’s Perspective

Live conference tweeting has grown to become quite commonplace in recent years. Conference organizers will often designate a specific hashtag for enhanced and engaged communication among attendees and non-attendees alike during the day(s) of the conference. Some of the basic concepts related to live conference tweeting have been discussed by Nikita Joshi (@njoshi8) and Bryan Hayes (@PharmERToxGuy) on the Academic Life in Emergency Medicine blog, and Rob Rogers (@EM_Educator) hosted a pro-con debate related to live conference tweeting on his blog, iTeachEM. Several studies have been published related to the live tweeting from medical and pharmacy conferences (1-7), many of which have characterized the types and general content of tweets generated from respective meetings.

Tweeting from conferences is no small feat, and there are certainly many caveats that exist when it comes to composing the ideal tweet of 140 characters that not only captures the take away point of the speaker, but also ensures that the information is accurate and reflects the perspective of the speaker. Throw in a reference and/or picture, and you may be literally thrown in for a loop. Even one word within the tweet may open up dialogue between those individuals following the conference hashtag and may unintentionally escalate the flow of communication, especially for those topics that may be controversial.
But this is quite noteworthy; that is, engaged dialogue between attendees and non-attendees of a conference in such a medium that probably not would have happened otherwise is remarkable. One could even argue that the use of Twitter at major conferences can potentially serve as a means of assessing the knowledge gained by attendees of various sessions. But where is the speaker of the session in all of this? How can we really determine whether the tweets actually reflect the intended pearls that the speaker aims for the audience to gain following the educational session?
A group of emergency medicine physicians from the United Kingdom asked this very question in a recent study published in Emergency Medicine Journal aptly entitled “Are you a SCEPTIC? SoCial mEdia Precision & uTility In Conferences” (8). Following an emergency medicine conference held in the United Kingdom in 2013, the investigators set out to determine the level of correlation of the tweets generated from respective session with clinical pearls that speakers aimed for the audience to learn and gain at the end of each respective session as well as specific feedback related to sessions by surveying the speakers themselves. A total of fourteen speakers of 16 sessions of the conference were surveyed, and the results were rather telling. Most of the speakers did agree that tweets from their sessions did indeed correlate with their intended pearls, but there were three tweets of the 37 reviewed that the speakers indicated were not an accurate reflection of the content of their respective sessions. In addition, five (38.4%) speakers indicating that they would more likely consider using Twitter as a source of feedback.
The authors do raise a number of essential points associated with the use of Twitter for the purposes of tweeting from live conferences that are important to note. It may be difficult to determine the true intent behind tweets generated from sessions of conferences, especially if it is indeed a misrepresentation of the speakers’ presentation. It may be that the tweeter may have misunderstood a specific concept presented by the speaker that may get be shared on Twitter; or, the content of the tweet may be altered to generate a specific response from the followers of said tweeter. In addition, as mentioned above, constructing the ideal tweet may offer itself as a challenge, and the tweet may be taken out of context of the intended message of the speaker.
The question here is: How can the speaker ensure that tweets generated are an accurate representation of the content of their session(s)? One solution may be for speakers to generate tweetable pearls of their session prior to, during, or after presentation of the session. Some speakers may be quite savvy and schedule tweets to be shared as they present through the use of any number of Twitter-based applications or alternatively, via embedded tweets within the presentation itself. In addition, it may be worth for the speaker and/or conference organizers to delegate the task of tweeting from a session to select individuals, especially for those generated from accounts of organizations, to ensure that the tweets are representative of the content generated from the session. However, this may not prevent the generation of inaccurate tweets from personal accounts. Whether or not they choose to take the onus of tweet generation related to their educational sessions through these and other activities is completely their prerogative, but nonetheless, it is important for speakers to be aware of that the extent of dissemination of the content of their sessions through social media platforms.
Conference organizers should also be cognizant of the impact of such potential practice-changing tweets as well, and in sharing the results of research studies like these and others to be published in the future, they may become more willing to not only to share the official conference hashtag prior to and during the meeting itself, but they may also share some best practices related to live tweeting with attendees that may help guide the tweets generated from educational sessions of the meeting. In addition, conference organizers may also ask the speaker to compose tweets of selected specific pearls (with attached references, if necessary) ahead of time to be shared through any number of social media platforms during the session itself.

The authors are commended for taking research related to live conference tweeting to the next level and offering a perspective from the speakers of sessions of one such conference. This and other forms of research will undoubtedly serve as a means for future directions related to this area of communication at conferences. Yet, we should not lose sight of the idea that sharing such information from conferences through social media should generate further reading and critical review of the literature surrounding clinical topics.

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