Twitter 101 series: conference hashtags

This read is for those who are new to Twitter or new to Twitter hashtags …

You might have attended a conference recently, where other attendees were tweeting.

Did you feel left out? Did you wonder what was going on?

If you haven’t delved into Twitter yet, it can be difficult to understand the attraction and benefits.

Twitter encourages conference debate and opens proceedings up to people who can’t attend physically.

So how does it work?

Prakky speaking at PR Directions conference
Prakky speaking at PR Directions conference

Anyone can join Twitter and start to write updates. If you’re at a conference, you can start to comment on what’s taking place. But how do other people see it?

On Twitter, you can use a simple keyboard symbol to bring topics together for people to see. It’s the hashtag (the # symbol).  It’s like agreeing on how we’ll categorise a topic in a library, or what drawer we’re going to put the Gladwrap in.

Let’s walk through an example. Imagine you’re attending the Perth Widgets conference.

Organisers have sent you the agenda, a list of recommended hotels – and they’ve let you know that the conference Twitter hashtag will be #perthwidget.

Or, as you’re packing your bags, you’re chatting on your phone to a colleague who’s also attending. They let you know they’re going to initiate the Twitter hashtag #perthwidget and they want you to use it too.

During the first morning’s presentation, the speaker says something mindblowing about the new widget for 2011. You’re compelled to share this with the world. You grab your smartphone and share the comment on Twitter, typing in #perthwidget at the end.

Everyone at the conference searching for #perthwidget on Twitter will see your message and can respond.

People who can’t be in the room with you  (your colleagues back in the office, your employer at another session) can also read your #perthwidget Twitter updates. They may even have that hashtag as a temporary saved search, or have set up a column in Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to follow the conference hashtag easily for the day.

More and more conferences are incorporating Twitter streams into their official proceedings, because they’re recognising it as a broadcast channel and a debating forum.

Some conferences display Twitter on a giant screen for all to see. This can be somewhat distracting but also, for those used to multi-tasking and accessing more than one communications stream at a time, it can provoke more interaction at the conference rather than risking you nodding off.

Twitter hashtags also help you socialise at a conference. We’ve all seen the list of attendees at the door, but it still isn’t easy to find the people you want to network with. So if you read a #perthwidget tweet that Joe Bloggs from Widgets Worldwide is getting coffee now, or that Mary Joe Bloggs is setting up for her speech and wants to meet people with questions now, you may be able to approach them and chat.

What sort of conference hashtag experiences have you had?

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Belinda Macleod-Smith says:

    At a recent conference, the hash tag was well communicated and very well used by participants, but not at all by conference organizing body. I’m quite new to all of this, but I kind of felt like I was at a great party where the host didn’t turn up. Were my expectations misplaced?

    1. Prakky says:

      Hi Belinda, that’s a great question. I’ve seen that occur at conferences before and I can guess that the conference organisers a) don’t have resources for social media during the conference or perhaps b) don’t place enough importance on social media during the conference, leaving it in the hands of delegates. However I would advise conference organisers to participate in hashtag conversations; not necessarily as key drivers but at least to show they’re listening and they care about conference impressions online.

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