Using Twitter at Conferences: It's the hashtag!

Jan 13, 2010
Oshyn Labs

I was recently discussing, on Twitter, why there was not a lot of tweeting going on at the Gilbane CMS conference earlier this month. One conference that seemed to have quite a bit of tweeting, Open Text Content World, used a fairly short hashtag.

What's a hashtag?

It's a keyword prefaced by the hash symbol "#". For example, #cms for Content Management Systems. Using a hashtag in Twitter makes it easy for people to follow a certain topic. At the conference that had less tweeting, the hashtag was fairly long.

The problem with long Twitter names and long hashtags is that they further reduce the number of characters available to write a tweet: limit is 140 characters.

So Why is Tweeting at Conferences Important?

We've all been there. Lots of people roaming the exhibition floor, standing outside meeting rooms, sitting together in session not always a lot of networking or 1-to-1 discussions. Lots of people are shy by nature its difficult to get out of the comfort zone and approach total strangers. Of course at conference, you want to! There are bound to be great networking opportunities at a conference of people that share common interests but finding those people can be like digging for a needle in a haystack. This is exactly what makes part of social media so powerful it's much easier to engage the world from an electronic device of some form than making face-to-face in the flesh contact. It's less personal if JoeySandwich replies to a thread saying he disagrees with you via a social media platform than to your face. BUT if you are at a conference and JoeySandwich is talking about a topic of particular interest to you its easy to contact Joey to meet face-to-face. Why? Because when you meet, you've already made an online connection and you know you share a common interest.

What Will Increase Tweeting at Conferences?

Personally, I believe that conferences should start posting a short hashtag far in advance of the conference. The hashtag should be displayed on Twiter page, conference website, promotional materials, emails, and yes on the doors of the conference when you are walking in.everything. Why?

Hashtags Increase Engagement

If everyone at the conference knows that they can use the same hashtag to follow conversations rather than a mixture of sponsor and attendee created hashtags a tighter community will be created.

Open Text Content World is a Great Example

At Open Text Content World, the hashtag #otcw was announced via the conference website and various Open Text tweeterati. It was well used. Even though I was not able to be at the conference, I was able to read a lot about what was going by adding a #otcw search window to TweetDeck. For the virtual version of the conference they used #otvcw. Both hashtags were very short: easy to type, easy to remember and didn't use up much of the 140 characters.

Bring Your Fully-Charged Smartphone to Conferences (and a charger!)

The CMS crowd is embracing Twitter more by the day. I see this by the various growing Twitter CMS lists and the volume of CMS-related tweets. A great way to make new friends at conferences is to have a charger handy to help out a friend who forgot theirs!

A note on Tweckle

Don't be the guy heckling conference speakers with Twitter. You might make a few people laugh but most people will remember you as being unprofessional and distracting. And as many Social Media experts will tell you that's bad because the internet will record it and make it searchable for a seeming eternity.