9 tips for following conference Twitter hashtags

Twitter Wall at a software conference (courtesy gerard0 at Flickr CC)One of the best social networks for professional development is Twitter.

It is not only an extraordinarily fast news grapevine, but with hour-long knowledge tsunamis like #tourismchat you can get a whole lot of helpful information without paying a dime for it or schlepping luggage onto a plane (plus you’ll connect with a lot of smart people.)

Another way to learn from Twitter is to follow conference hashtags.

Using the hashtag in a tweet allows people to follow all tweets about one particular event or topic. Even if you aren’t on Twitter, you can plug in a hashtag on Twitter’s search engine and see what comes up.

Many hashtags start buzzing well before the event (BlogWorld and New Media Expo West in Los Angeles in November – #BWELA – where there’s a tourism track, is already busy.)

Others go year-round, like #SoMeT for the Social Media Tourism Symposium, #TBEX for the Travel Blog Exchange conference and #SOBCon, the business blogging conference.

Some Tips for Hashtag Participation

Here are a few tips for enjoying the wonders of conference hashtags….

1 )  Notice someone tweeting really good stuff? Go follow them; send a quick tweet to say hi, and tell them that you appreciate their efforts. This includes supporting the speakers.

2 )  Notice when someone new comes onto the hashtag. At conferences, many people finally decide to join Twitter or get active on their long-dormant account. Support them by following and saying hello.

Many times these newbies are executive types who don’t yet really know what they’re doing, so cut them plenty of slack, including being patient about them not knowing how to change their default egg avatar. 🙂

3 )  Don’t promote your product, service or upcoming event on the hashtag. It’s just tacky. People will see your avatar joining the discussion, and they are perfectly capable of reading your Twitter bio to see what you’re about. If they want to talk business, that’s fine, but take it off the hashtag.

4 )  Don’t be a carnival barker. I’ve noticed more and more vendors at trade shows filling the hashtag with hourly “Come by our booth and win an iPad!” sorts of tweets. This is annoying noise and makes them look desperate. Cut it out, booth babes.

5 )  Be sensitive to services that automatically tweet when you do something. For example, no one cares about seeing your Klout score sent from Klout in the middle of a conference. We’re not that into you.

6 )  Don’t just sit there RT-ing (retweeting) what everyone else is saying. As Troy says in his helpful post about how to tweet at a tourism conferenceadd context, value and insights.

7 )  Be sensitive to how busy people can be at a conference, trying to keep up with things, and don’t expect real-time replies just because you see them live-tweeting….good tip from Sarah Vela of the awesome startup HelpAttack!

8 )  Take it outside, folks – don’t get into arguments on the hashtag. As my friend Connie Reece says, “You can pack a lot of heat into 140 characters.”

I’ve seen a Twitter cruise hashtag devolve into an online dogfight between ship passengers and environmental activists, and a tourism conference this week had someone stomp into the middle of it to yell about the host state’s liquor laws.

When I feel a rant coming on, I move it over to certain circles on Facebook, or here to the blog. There’s more room for discussion, it doesn’t hog the hashtag and most importantly, my blog and my Facebook profile are MY “house.” Conference hashtags are not.

And finally….

9 )  Remember, you aren’t physically there. You’re an observer. Don’t parachute in and run your mouth too much; kinda like IRL….In Real Life. Otherwise, you’ll get reactions like, “Who the hell IS this person, and if they have so much to say, why didn’t they pony up the conference fee and show up in person?”

I know, sort of cranky and piggy, but the thought WILL cross people’s minds.

Did I miss anything? Tell us in the comments down below – thanks!

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14 Responses to 9 tips for following conference Twitter hashtags

  1. Great stuff Sheila. Brilliant tips, and truly must-read prior to any conference.

    Love #3, #4 + #6…of course.

    Entering into any conversation on Twitter is simple. Just think of it as a real-life situation. If you are at a meeting, conference or dinner party, how would you approach and join a group already in a conversation?

    You certainly would not run by, screaming ‘come over to my house next week for dinner’ and then leave the room.

    Be thoughtful, helpful and a valuable addition to the hashtag or conversation.

    Great article, kudos.

    – Troy

  2. Katie Cook says:

    Love the post Sheila! I know you feel the same way, but as someone who is employed by the tourism and meetings industry I have to state that following a conference hashtag on twitter is never as valuable as attending the conference itself. The importance of face-to-face meetings is still valuable and relevant. I hope that younger generations don’t lose sight of that. While budgets get slashed and web meeting technologies get better, I hope people still make an effort to attend at least one conference every year. I’ll get off my soapbox now. 🙂

  3. Sheila says:

    Thanks, Troy; I didn’t want to sound as though it’s some sort of scary etiquette minefield, but I’ve learned SO much myself from conference hashtags that I want more people to know about them, and not feel awkward about participating.

    Oh, and thanks for sending over your link, too! 🙂

  4. Sheila says:

    Hi Katie, couldn’t agree more, of course. Even a super-active hashtag with lots of different attendee voices can’t compare with all the ways that you can connect with people when you’re at an event in person.

    I will say, however, that conference hashtags were, and still are, important to the educational work we do at Tourism Currents. Especially in our first year of growth, I was parked in front of Twitter watching more state and industry conference hashtags than you can imagine, trying to see what was on people’s minds and who the “players” were.

    If we’d had to pay to fly all over to learn all that in the flesh, well, let’s just say that I’d have had a short and impoverished career as an entrepreneur….

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  12. Brett Taylor says:

    Thanks Sheila…as mentioned, some (like me) revive dormant Twitter accounts at conventions and see the power of Twitter for learning, especially at a conference. My field is adult ed and ed tech.

    BTW- I am hoping to find a place to see a list of upcoming conferences and their hashtags…Do you know of a site like that? I tried buying http://www.ConferenceHashtags.com on GoDaddy but someone already has it, but is not using it…oh well..

    Brett

  13. Sheila says:

    Hi Brett, Since I’m married to a teacher (and an “edu-geek”) I know there’s a lot going on with Twitter for educators, but there’s not a central place to find hashtags that I’m aware of. I usually have to Google the name of the conference and the words “Twitter hashtag” to see if I can find anything.

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