To tweet or not to tweet?

Here at GARNet, we’re pretty big fans of social media, and Twitter in particular. You can find me, for example @GARNetweets, Charis is @weedinggems, and Ruth has the enviable Twitter handle @plantscience. We regularly post links to news, journal papers, job posts etc., tweet from conferences, and encourage live-tweeting at our own events too.

Left behind at GARNet Towers while my colleagues attended the Plant & Animal Genome conference in San Diego last week, I followed events virtually, via the Twitter hashtag #PAGXXIII – thanks to everyone who tweeted for keeping me up to speed!

Though once upon a time it would have been considered rude to sit tapping away at your phone during a plenary lecture, in today’s WiFi-enabled world, more and more people are using social media during conferences. As John Innes Centre (@JohnInnesCentre) student Amelia Frizell (@AmeliaFrizell) points out in this blog post, there are many advantages to live-tweeting: it’s a great way to make notes, stay engaged with the speaker, increase your Twitter follower numbers and network with peers.

But there’s an ongoing debate, known as “Twittergate”, about whether it’s appropriate to tweet during a conference, what should and should not be tweeted, and what, exactly, the “twetiquette” is when engaging with social media during live events.

A Twitter account I follow recently retweeted a link to quite an old blog post on The Guardian website, which reminds us that there is a certain level of responsibility involved in live-tweeting. At academic conferences in particular, there are unwritten rules that should be followed. I recommend reading the article as there are some very useful tips and things to bear in mind.

You see, although many of us are fully subscribed to the idea of Twitter as a way to quickly give and receive snippets of news and information, not everyone feels the same way. Not everyone is aware of what Twitter is, how it works, or just how public a channel it is. Many distrust it and are sceptical. Some academics, for example, are comfortable with presenting unpublished work to an audience of peers in the room, but less happy to have it instagrammed and summarised in 140 characters or less and whizzed around the Twitterverse for anyone to read.

Having been lucky enough to attend quite a few conferences last year, it was interesting to note the uptake, or not, of Twitter in different places. At UKPSF (@UKPSF) Plant Sci 2014 and ASPB’s (@ASPB) Plant Biology 2014, for example, tweeting was encouraged and I was among a handful or two of other delegates all using the official conference hashtags. At ICAR 2014 (@ICAR2014) however, Charis, Ruth and I were practically the only ones online.

At SEB (@SEBiology) 2014 in Manchester there were noticeably more ‘tweeps’ in the plant science sessions than there were in the animal or cell biology talks, while at SpotOn London (@SpotOnLondon), a science communication conference I attended at the end of 2013, there were so many people tweeting and using electronic devices that it was a scrum to find available plug sockets to recharge during the lunch break!

Like Amelia, I think – when used responsibly – Twitter is brilliant for conference and workshop communication, and as Anne Osterrieder (@anneosterrieder) and others testify, social media is a great science outreach tool, too. Like it or not, Twitter is a ‘thing’ now. And it’s not just a frivolous plaything for younger students or early career researchers, it’s a bona fide tool for communicating and sharing news and joining in online conversations.

Speakers: don’t be offended if people spend more time looking down at their iPads than up at your slides. If they’re tweeting or live-blogging about your work, they are helping you to communicate your science to far more people than just those in the room. If you’re presenting something you’d rather not have published on the internet, or don’t want your photo taken, just say so during your talk – the twitterati will respect your wishes.

Embrace Twitter. Why not set up your own Twitter account and start posting links to your papers or research websites? Follow people you’re interested in (like us?!) and retweet what they have to say. Tweet about what you get up to in your lab. Put your Twitter handle on your conference presentations so people can @mention you in their tweets, or even start your own catchy hashtag? Who knows, you could end up trending!



2 Comments - Leave a comment
  1. […] I’ve been reading a lot about how and why to tweet at conferences (for instance on the John Innes Centre SVC blog). I see and understand the benefits of this […]

  2. […] L. (2015). To tweet or not to tweet?  Weeding the Gems, the GARNet community […]

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