Ten guidelines for tweeting at conferences

Many of the Genomes Unzipped team are spending the week at the American Society of Human Genetics meeting in San Francisco. This year the coverage of the meeting on Twitter is more intense than ever before, and social media is becoming an increasingly mainstream component of the conference. Chris Gunter, Jonathan Gitlin, Jeannine Mjoseth, Shirley Wu and I will be presenting a workshop on social media use for scientists this evening, and we prepared these guidelines for those interested in live coverage of meetings.

  1. Check the conference social media guidelines first.
    If there aren’t any, ask an organizer what the rules are. If there is no formal policy, you may want to take the initiative and ask speakers if they’re OK with their talks being tweeted.
  2. Use the right #hashtag when you tweet.
    This ensures that everything written about a meeting is aggregated in a single channel. When you search a hashtag it filters those posts for you.
  3. Remember that people are listening.
    Twitter is a public conversation. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t be prepared to tell the speaker to their face. Also, bear in mind that your boss and potential employers may be following.
  4. Remember that people are listening who aren’t at the meeting.
    In general, leave off the conference hashtag for in-jokes and social chatter unless it’s likely to be genuinely entertaining to outsiders.
  5. Be careful tweeting new findings.
    If a speaker is presenting unpublished data, don’t write about it unless you’re sure they’re happy to share.
  6. Do your best to ensure that your tweets don’t misrepresent presented material.
    Add as much context as you can, and actively correct misunderstandings that arise about something you tweet.
  7. Add value by contributing your specific area(s) of expertise to provide insight into presented material.
    Don’t just be the fifth person to tweet the easy soundbite from the plenary; instead, explain the unappreciated but profound scientific significance of their fourteenth slide.
  8. At the same time, don’t tweet everything a speaker says.
    One to three key take-home messages per talk is usually enough, unless a presentation is particularly fascinating.
  9. Don’t swamp the hashtag by quote-tweeting everyone else.
    Use the official retweet function, or “break the hashtag” (for instance, delete the # character) in your quote-tweets.
  10. If you’re organizing a conference, be proactive with a social media policy.
    Make sure both the presenters and the audience at the meeting are aware in advance what this policy is.
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5 Responses to “Ten guidelines for tweeting at conferences”

  • In my opinion rule 1 shows that you haven’t quite grasped what twitter is…

  • I have tried to tweet an a conference but I found it difficult. There I was, trying to absorb all that the speaker wanted to share with the audience, and tweeting away will not only cause me to lose concentration, it will also appear to the person sitting next to me that I was fiddling with my phone all the time!

  • These are terrific tips, thank you! I have tweeted at conferences before, but was really just figuring it out as I went along. I appreciate these guidelines!

  • We keep a list of life science conference hashtags at the Google doc linked below:


  • All good advice, but as someone who often follows conferences I am not attending using the hashtags, a couple of other things would be much more useful:

    a) ensure all speakers upload their slides to Slideshare and tweet the location BEFORE they start speaking. This stuff is all public domain or you should not be speaking about it in a conference that is being tweeted. The point of talking about it is to get commentary. Making it as easy as possible for people to independently SEE the scientific significance of the content on Slide 14 is by far the biggest contribution you can make to the Tweet stream.

    b) when contradicting a point that the speaker is making, please ensure to include your own web reference. It is pretty simple with Google to find whatever source on Scholar or from Books if it is literature. Bothering to verify your OWN references before publishing a tweet will save you some embarrassing discussions later.

    c) conference organizers: show the Tweet stream on a second screen simultaneously during the presentation. If the audience is calling bullshit on a point the speaker is making, it is by far the best thing for the presenter to have the chance to address their concerns right then. It will also ensure that people IN the conference can follow each other so they pick up on all the deixis going on within the group as they considered the shared artifact of work. And if someone is just tweeting garbage because they simply don’t understand the point, you catch it early.

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