How to live-tweet a science conference

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People are always hungry to hear about the latest breakthroughs in treatment, diagnosis, and care. Scientific and medical conferences are often where these are made public for the very first time.

Social media – and Twitter in particular – is a great way to share the very latest developments from conferences with the people who care about your charity’s cause.

Twitter is fast-paced and so lends itself to ‘running commentary’, where you’re reporting back all the talks and presentations as they are being delivered. Live-tweeting is useful for all kinds of situations, including talking about TV with your audience.

It’s also a useful (if unconventional) way to take meeting notes. Condensing a talk into a series of 280-character tweets really makes you think about what the most important information is – for your future self, your colleagues back in the office, or even key donors.

In this guide, I’ll be sharing some advice about how best to live-tweet from a science conference. As well as giving you some tips for how to prepare to make the most of the opportunity, I’ll be making you aware important things you need to consider before click that ‘Tweet’ button.

Grab a cuppa and let’s dig in:

Who is live-tweeting most useful for?

people in a crowd

As with any communications, it’s crucial to know who you are aiming to speak to.

Live-tweeting provides a running commentary of everything going on at a conference. The people that will find this most helpful are the conference audience – either people attending the conference, or people who want to be there but can’t.

At scientific and medical conferences, this audience is therefore going to be scientists, doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, and so on – we’ll call them ‘professionals’ for short.

But what about your charity’s other audiences? Patients, carers, patient advocates, your charity’s supporters, and other people like them?

Here’s the thing: some amongst this ‘lay people’ group might want to follow a conference live via Twitter. They might have a deep interest in scientific and medical topics, and they even might be attending the conference (or have done so in the past).

However, I think they represent a minority in this broad audience. I’d wager that most people don’t have the time or the desire to be glued to their screens, waiting for tweet-by-tweet update from a science conference.

There are better ways to reach this group with content from a conference, in my opinion. For example, I recently did some work with the charity MQ: Transforming Mental Health, aiming at reaching their lay audience with some blogs about their annual research conference.

I go into a lot more detail about conference content for lay audiences in this blog post here.

Should you tweet from the charity account or a personal account?

a man in a suit holding a smartphone

How do you decide whether you’ll be mostly tweeting from your charity’s account, or from your own personal account?

It might seem like the best option is to go with the charity account. Unless you’re really famous, chances are that the charity’s account has a bigger audience and a more recognisable name. In theory that means more engagement with your posts.

But there’s one question I think is important to consider: what is the overlap between the conference audience and your Twitter audience?

Let’s make this easy with an example – let’s say you’ll be attending a fundamental science conference, which will be attended mostly by scientists. You’ve decided you’ll be live-tweeting throughout the conference.

But wait – is this the kind of thing that your charity does normally? Is your Twitter audience mostly made up of ‘professionals’, rather than ‘lay people’? Will your average follower, looking at your timeline, be expecting to see lots of detailed discussions about science?

If so, great – crack on.

But if not, then your Twitter audience isn’t likely to engage with that content.

That’s not too much of a problem for Twitter – because it is so fast-paced, your followers don’t necessarily see everything you put out anyway.

However, it’s a bit of missed opportunity, when there are a lot of other ways you could share updates with that lay audience that will resonate a lot more with them.

If your charity’s Twitter audience doesn’t match up with the conference audience, I’d recommend tweeting from a different account. This could be your own account, if that is the sort of stuff you tweet about. Some charities also have a “research/health professional account” from which they engage with those audiences (e.g. Epilepsy Research UK, Children with Cancer UK, and Parkinson’s UK).

Your charity’s Twitter account can still get involved, however – and increase the reach of some of your coverage in the process. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Asking people to follow another account for updates:
  • Retweeting (with comments) any highlights
  • Sending out any round-ups you put together (blogs/twitter moments etc.)
  • Advertising to journalists to get in touch with the press team for comments

What will you be tweeting?

someone in a meeting taking notes and using a smartphone

So now you’ve nailed down who you’ll be speaking to, but what will you say?

We’ve already mentioned live-tweeting as an option for covering a conference. I like to think of it like commentating from a football match. Summarise the content of the talks, but give your reaction too – is the talk exciting, moving, thought-provoking, terrifying? (Or a load of rubbish?)

You could include things like interesting quotes from the speakers, photos of slides (if you can get a good photo), or links to relevant information.

Practically, the best way to organise live-tweeting in a conference is through threads, i.e. replying to your own tweets in sequence. You could do one thread per talk or per session – but either way, all the tweets will be connected, and it’ll make it easier for someone to follow what’s going on.

Check out this example I did at a recent fundraising conference:

Remember to use the conference hashtag in every tweet you send. The conference audience will be searching for tweets that use this hashtag – I guarantee you they will not be looking elsewhere.

But using Twitter during conferences doesn’t have to stop at live-tweeting. There’s lots of other things you can do to provide useful commentary and start interesting conversations. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Highlights – even the experts will appreciate someone summarising the talks for them. What’s the one thing that you’d want people to know? Imagine someone asked you in the coffee break “so what was that last session you attended about?” Answer with your most exciting summary that gives them some serious ‘session envy’.
  • Videos – how about a nice introductory video welcoming people to the conference?
    Or if you’re confident in front of a camera, why not record a one-minute video giving your highlights from each day? For someone following the conference hashtag, it’ll be a refreshing break from all the text-only tweets.
  • Relevant scientific content – for example, you could tweet links to papers mentioned by a speaker, or a relevant review article. Clearly it would help to have some knowledge of who will be speaking and what they’ll be talking about – more on that later.
  • Questions to invite discussion – Invite attendees (and those outside the room) to give their opinion on the topics raised during the conference. Note this could be on a specific talk, or a general theme that keeps on coming up – or even something you chatted about over lunch.
  • Engage with other tweets – it’s called social media for a reason. What are other people saying about the talks and the conference on the conference hashtag? Can you answer any questions for them? Can you introduce two people you know? Anything you particularly agree with? (or disagree with? Be polite, though!)
  • Anything relevant your charity is doing – do you have a research grant round coming up? Are you organising your own event which attendees might be interested in? Are you looking for views from scientists on a policy issue? Make sure people know about it! (This would be good content to send out from your charity’s Twitter account as well).

Bear in mind that, depending on the conference, there might still be a wide range of people attending from lots of different disciplines. Therefore, even though the audience is largely ‘experts’ it’s still a good idea to write clearly, using as little jargon as you can get away with.

How should you prepare for live-tweeting?

someone writing on papers and using a smartphone at a desk with a computer

You can see that there’s a lot to think about when it comes to tweeting at conferences. CharityComms hosted a great blog all about live-tweeting at events, written by freelance writer and editor Sarah Myers. Sarah had some great ideas for things you can prepare in advance to make life a little easier. I share a few of these below alongside some of my own.

  • Twitter handles for speakers – You’ll not want to be making the mistake of @-ing the wrong person when mentioning their research. Some conferences will include relevant twitter handles for the speakers in the programme. But if not, then you might have to do a bit of digging (university/institute webpages might have this information).
  • Know the conference hashtag – Most conferences these days have their own hashtag. Again, the conference organisers may have shared this in advance. But if not, you could ask them, or search for the conference name on Twitter to see if anyone has started an ‘unofficial’ hashtag. Make sure to use it in every tweet you send about the conference, and spell it correctly – people will not go looking for your tweets otherwise.
  • Opening tweets for different talks and sessions – If you’re live-tweeting using threads, you may want to start each thread with an ‘intro tweet’, e.g. something like “Next to speak is Prof Jo Bloggs, who will be talking about her research into…”. Save yourself a bit of time and prepare these in advance, basing it upon the summary of their talk in the conference programme. Include the speaker’s twitter handle if available – and the conference hashtag of course!
    • BONUS TIP – if you’re tweeting from a laptop you can have these saved as a word doc, ready to copy and paste. If you’re using you’re mobile phone, the official Twitter app will let you save tweets as drafts, which you can send out when the right moment comes. And as of May 2020, you can now also save tweet drafts (and schedule tweets) on the main Twitter website too.
  • Know what will be coming up – The scientists have done their research – you should do yours! Will there be any results from major trials announced? If so, familiarise yourself with what the trial is about, and what the outcome could be. Is a speaker going to be discussing their recent paper? Have a read through in advance. Knowing even just the basics of what will be presented will make it a lot easier to pick out the relevant points, and tweet them to the world. It’ll also help you tailor your tweets to the audience you’re writing for.
  • Links to relevant papers / blogs you’ve written – If you want to share a relevant blog or a speaker’s latest paper, have a link to them in a Word doc, ready to copy and paste and tweet. Better to do this beforehand than trying to find the relevant article in the middle of someone’s talk on patchy conference WiFi. 

I hope that these tips have been useful – if you have any you’d like to share, please do get in touch via Twitter (of course).

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