Attending scientific conferences is one of my favorite parts of my job. I get to travel to interesting places (and Mobile, Alabama), catch up with colleagues, learn about what smart people all over the world are up to, and get feedback on my own research from those smart people. Conferences help me to learn about the world, network with people in my field, and become a better scientist. To date, I’ve attended 13 conferences (including 3 international ones), and I learn something new at each one.
There are a lot of non-scientists in the world who care about many of the issues discussed at scientific conferences, issues like climate change, endangered species, overfishing, and cool new discoveries about sharks. The overwhelming majority of these non-scientists lack the resources or the time to attend conferences, and many might not even know that they’re happening. In many cases, increased public awareness of a conservation issue is exactly what’s needed to help fix the problem. If the interested public can’t attend conferences and the mainstream media doesn’t typically cover them, how can we get the word out?
Part of the answer is social media, the so-called Web 2.0 technologies that simultaneously make it easier than ever before in human history for people to share information with the world (without traditional gatekeepers like the mainstream media), and make it easier than ever before in human history for people to find information about topics they care about. One social media tool that lends itself particularly well to sharing information from a conference is twitter, and live-tweeting conferences is a growing trend. For the purpose of this post, I define live-tweeting (henceforth simply “tweeting”) as simply tweeting about conference presentations and events. This tweeting can take place during the actual conference presentation (in several cases, I’ve been able to relay a question to a presenter from one of my twitter followers during the official question and answer period associated with a presentation), but doesn’t necessarily have to be. At one conference, I simply took notes on talks and tweeted about them later- the only disadvantages of this strategy are that you can’t relay questions from your followers to the presenters and you may be discussing the same topic at a different time as other twitter users.
Presented below is a guide for conference organizers to promote conference tweeting, and a guide for interested twitter users to use the tool to maximum effect. The guide is with specific reference to getting important information from a conference to the interested non-scientist not-present-at-the-conference public. There are many other goals for conference tweeting (taking notes on a conference primarily for personal use, sharing important technical information with colleagues in your field, etc), and the strategies and suggestions below may not be appropriate for these goals.