How to livetweet and survive to tell the tale

Photo by Brian Kopp | Used here under Creative Commons 2.0:
Photo by Brian Kopp | Used here under Creative Commons 2.0:

I posted a while back about why you’d livetweet, and promised a practical follow-up post about the actual doing of it.

I’m writing this post not because there’s a scarcity of info on how to livetweet out there – hello, over-saturated internets! – but because it gives me a chance to throw in my 2 cents worth, while showcasing my favourite strategies and processes from other people.

The kind of livetweeting I’m talking about in this post isn’t just the casual stuff that might happen because you want to tweet out a few pithy observations about a presentation you’re at.

This post is aimed at those who have been tapped on the shoulder – or have tapped themselves on the shoulder – to livetweet an event in a more consistent, formal way. It’s focused mostly on academic conferences, and shamelessly based on my own experiences and biases.

To give you insight into the level of preparation and types of considerations livetweeters should have on their radar, you should browse these great posts:

  • These 10 simple rules from Ekins and Perlstein (PLoS) take you a long way towards livetweeting academic conferences, the protocols, and other good things to do.
  • This excellent guide on How to live-tweet a conference by David Schiffman is well worth reading. It’s especially good for conference convenors who want to ensure their event is ‘social-friendly’.
  • 10 tips for tweeting at conferences by Brian Croxall.
  • And to remind you that all’s not universally love-ins and sunshine on the livetweeting front, here’s a very recent post by Terry Wheeler on the issue of being given permission to livetweet (at LSE Impact Blog).

So let’s get to the nitty-gritty that I promised! When I’m prepping to livetweet an event, these are the steps I go through:

  1. Find out the event hashtag, or help the organisers create and finalise an official one.
    When doing this, make sure you search the hashtag to check for other events or topics that may use the same tag. This prevents you having a hashtag that is mixed up with another conference or topic. These instances can lead to confusion, embarrassment, and/or hilarity. While the tag #AHA, for example, could be the Australian Historical Society, it could also be the Australian Hotels Association, or the tag to refer to the Norwegian band that did ‘Take on me’, A-ha. Event hashtags should be as short as possible, unique, and logical (e.g. annual conference tags should be in series – #ARMS15, #ARMS16, etc).
  2. Find out who’s on the program and what their Twitter handles (@-names) are.
    If they’re not on Twitter, my Plan B connective move is to use their institutional handle or hashtag. For example, a non-tweeting keynote will appear as “#UPlace’s Toni Adoni”.
  3. Before the actual event, start promoting the event and your role in it.
    Connect people and organisations into tweets through mentions. Target those that you know would be interested in the event and potentially attending. Institutions and organisations are always keen to know who’s talking about them and will often retweet (RT) shout-outs that present them in a positive light. Getting the conversation started before the event even takes place can set up conversational, reciprocal dynamics that play out smoothly when the event is on.
  4. Start building up a cache of pre-written tweets that provide context and additional links.
    Aim for information that enriches what the theme/topic of the event is. These might be recent items that can be fed into the livetweeting stream to add another dimension to the academic material under discussion. For example, if someone’s talking critically about post-PhD career options, drop in a tweet with a link to a recent work on postgraduate outcomes.
  5. Turn up slightly earlier to the venue(s) and check where you may need to set up.
    If you’ve got a laptop, you may want to be near a table or not near an aisle, close to a powerpoint, etc. I try to set up where I’m not in direct line of sight for the speakers. Even though they may know what I’m doing (and not resent it!), it’s still a distraction to have someone tapping away in front of them when they’re talking.
  6. Decide on your livetweeting style.
    Are you only reporting from the event? Will you include your point of view about various issues within your livetweeting? Do you paraphrase, or only direct quote? The posts I’ve linked to earlier provide pointers about how to structure livetweets so that you attribute comments properly and include the hashtag – check them out and work out how your style would work. I tend to go with:
    [Speaker’s name/handle]: [summary, or quote in quotation marks] [hashtag]

And, though I love livetweeting, these are the elements I found challenging, and had to work around or accept:

  • I came to realise that I have little time to do anything else at a conference. You’re not likely to be chatting with others between papers or at start/end of the session; you’ll be heading to the next one. Of course, you get all the break times, same as others, but I tend to have less time during these as I’m prepping for the next formal session.
  • When you’re dedicated to livetweeting a whole event, you need to think about consistency and coverage. If it’s a conference with multiple streams, how do you decide which you’ll attend? Are you going to try and capture Q&A sessions? My answer to this latter one is usually no – I find it very difficult to capture such organic and mobile conversations, but others may relish it.
  • You will be tethered to your laptop. Depending on venue, you may not be able to leave your stuff around while you go for morning or afternoon teas and lunches, so your devices often need to go wherever you go. If your battery’s dying, you may find yourself baby-sitting your laptop at the only powerpoint you can find in the convention centre – the one that’s used by the cleaners after hours, and happens to be near the major corridor for the toilets.

Having said all this, the main thing to keep in mind is what Ernesto Priego said:

“Enjoy it. Live-tweeting should be fun, empowering and inspiring. It should create positive opportunities. It’s all about engagement, community building and widening participation.” (10 rules of thumb)

I’m always pleasantly surprised at how appreciative people are with livetweeting efforts.

And if you Storify those tweets afterwards? That’ll be a resource that everyone can access beyond the event itself, and it contributes longer-term to online field or discipline discussions.


  1. Good advice Tseen especially about choosing hashtags. I have seen some people put hashtags in front of all sorts of words without checking other tweets using the hashtag with the consequences that the event ends up in twitter streams about TV shows in Spanish, people talking about sex… The problem Australian historians have with the initials of the Australian Historical Association is that they are the same initials used by the American Historical Association and you know who got there first! I hadn’t thought of the Australian Hotels Association. How awkward that could be?

    There is only so much one person can do to cover a conference with parallel sessions. Even in the same session people will tweet different things. A conference twitter stream is so much richer the more people tweet it. This year I asked the organisers of the Australian Historical Association conference if they could print the conference hashtag in the conference program which they did. It made a big difference. This not only advertises what the hashtag is so we don’t have multiple hashtags, but it also shows that the conference organisers encourage the live-tweeting of their event. In some disciplines people may be reluctant to live-tweet a conference thinking that this is not really approved of by the more senior academics. It also helps all conference attendees understand that a person typing on social media is making a contribution to conference – they are not rudely chatting with friends online during the keynote presentation. Some may be new to the conference, not used social media professionally before and not thought of live-tweeting the event until they see the hashtag in the program.

    I’ve been reflecting on our experiences live-tweeting the latest Australian Historical Association conference in a series of posts on my blog. One issue that arose was the problem that a conference attendee had with the noise of people typing in the conference. Has anyone come up with a way of dealing with ‘The Loud Sounds of Many Fingers Typing‘ at conferences?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Yvonne, for your insight on this front. I’ve been enjoying reading your posts post-AHA, too!

      There’s a lot that convenors can do to make their event social media-friendly, and it makes a huge difference. Even simple things like having re-charging stations for laptops/other devices, and tweet-ups as part of the formal program (rather than spontaneous afterthought…as fun as those may still be!).

      I’ve yet to be at a conference where the activity on keyboards was significant enough that it was an actual problem!

      Having said all these things about livetweeting and how great it can be, etc, I do acknowledge that there’s still significant dismissal and resentment/frustration about it. Not everyone is on board with taking things beyond the 4 walls of the conference venue!


      • I like that idea – a tweetup as part of the formal program.

        Tweeting conferences is just part of a larger cultural revolution that is occurring in academia, and a revolution it has to have whether it likes it or not. It is all part of breaking down the walls that shutter academia off from the rest of society and the walls of the silos inside academia. As with any revolution it shocks and it is strongly resisted… and nobody knows what the result will be.


      • Having it as part of the formal program goes a long way to acknowledging the activity as desirable and inclusive. I’m convening a conference in late November and I’m aiming to include people’s twitter handles on the contact information, and in the conference abstract booklet. Save people scrabbling about trying to find the right name!


      • Yes! And add people’s Twitter handle to their conference badges. Sometimes you only know a person by their Twitter handle and many people don’t have their face on Twitter so it is hard to recognise them at a conference.


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