Friday, June 6, 2014

The elephant in the room—Live tweeting conferences

Live tweeting from conferences has become very popular, but I'm not sure why. The biggest problem is this—lucid communication of a point made by a speaker using more than 140 characters at a time is difficult to capture in a tweet.

The tweets tend to be filled with obscure abbreviations and references to previous tweets that may seem quite clear to the tweeter but not the tweetee. Some also post out-of-focus photos of the dreaded PowerPoint bullet slides taken from acute angles. Lacking context or explanation, they tend to be useless.

What about the one doing the live tweeting? How can you fire off 15 or 20 tweets in an hour and continue to pay attention to what the speaker is saying?

Please don't tell me what Symplur or some other data disgorging company says a meeting's impressions were. Here's an example from the recently concluded meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. (#ASCO14) for May 30 through June 4.

There were 38,896 tweets generated by 7,284 participants. Let's very conservatively estimate that it took each tweeter 1 minute to compose a tweet, type it into a mobile device, and send it. That is 648 hours worth of tweets. The leading tweeter at ASCO produced 975 tweets or 16 hours worth of tweets.

You might say, "Hey, there were 134,569,479 impressions. That number represents over 40% of the population of the US." But hold on. Impressions are the number of tweets delivered to a follower's Twitter feed and potentially available to be viewed. There is no way to determine if anyone has actually read a specific tweet.

Other than counting retweets or replies, which apparently is not done by Symplur, there is no way to measure engagement. And even a retweet does not guarantee that a tweet was read. [See my previous post on this subject.] Favoriting (yes, that's a Twitter verb) is not a countable Twitter metric and even if it was, it's not a surrogate for reading.

Most of the time, I solve the problem by temporarily unfollowing someone who is live tweeting a conference.

What do you think about live tweeting of conferences?

6/7/14 ADDENDUM: 

More about why live tweeting conferences is bad. Link here.


Mike McInnis MD said...

I *love live tweeting conferences... it often starts conversations with other attendees, and often with non-attendees who just happen to follow the hashtag (or follow me personally). It also helps me stay more engaged with the presentation--I feel a bit like a reporter sharing the knowledge with others.

I understand about the temporary unfollow, especially if the conference isn't one you're interested in. But overall I'm a big fan of live-tweeting medical conferences.

Anonymous said...

As a urology resident who isn't able to attend a lot of conferences, I find live tweeting conferences very useful. While I agree that its hard to convey a complex point in 140 characters, it can be done. At least, enough of the idea can be captured to entice me to click on a link to a paper, abstract, or video.

Recent conferences such as AUA 2014 and ASCO have been live-tweeted well -- usually just the topic / conclusion of a presentation are in the tweet, but this is enough to prompt a question or comment from someone else and sometimes lead into a longer conversation.

It's certainly no substitute for listening to a presentation live or having a conversation with a poster presented. For now, though, it's better than nothing.

DD said...

As usual, thought-provoking post.

It's something I've wrestled with. I'm about to attend or present at a few conferences, and been deliberating over how many tweets it would take to alienate my Twitter followers.

But I think there are three key reasons to support live-tweeting. Here's why:

1) Live-tweets aren't necessarily additive—they replace some of my note-taking. If I tweeted it, it was usually a point I wanted to flag and remember. And now it's searchable on the Web.

2) As a journalist, it's an incredibly useful way to write a story after the fact—you're able to draw on crowd-sourced comments, photos, and more. (

3) It's also a way of connecting with other attendees—a savvier way to network.

Like so many things on Twitter, context matters. Live-tweeting a speaker's every sentence isn't useful. But smart Twitter users can figure out how to cultivate a real-time conversation that supplements a conference.

Anonymous said...

I like it as a way of disseminating key info to colleagues who couldn't attend. I also like that my students can learn & be connected to the professional community.

We do have to be aware of the issues of copyright though. Tweeting someone's slides can be seen as unauthorized reproduction. Don't do it.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I appreciate all your comments. I have come across some interesting new information pertinent to the discussion. I just put up a new post. Here's the link:

Anonymous said...

When looking at the your opening paragraphs, I see that the main problem is not the tweeting peer se, but the quality of the tweets. Given that, it is safe to assume that if the quality of the tweets were to improve, then you would have nothing to complain about (as far as tweeting is concerned).

Chris Porter MD said...

I like conference tweets for the sense of semi-participation. Sorta like having the TV news playing in the living room while I'm in the kitchen - when something interesting happens, I'll engage. Otherwise, at least I didn't miss anything.

I research topics and people I learn about via live tweets. Also,
I've asked live-tweeters to further explain a tweet, on occasion.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Chris, if it works for you, that's great. I hope my message got through. Maybe people will be a little more selective about what they tweet from conferences.

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