Dog in an office chair, like a bossAs I write this I’m sitting on my couch, waiting for the big MSU vs. North Carolina¬†basketball game to start on ESPN. Even with the game, and all the #BreslinLockdown buzz, I’m distracted by work. I’m STILL thinking about the great social media presentations I heard today at the two conferences I attended this afternoon. Through my job I had the privilege of attending a pre-conference workshop as part of the Council of Graduate Schools Annual Meeting in San Diego at noon. I also attended the Higher Ed Social Media Conference, organized by Higher Ed Experts and hosted in Montreal, Canada. At the same time. I walked away with my head spinning with new ideas that I can’t wait to implement. How did I manage to be in two places at once? (No – my employer has not invented human cloning. Yet.) I did it through the magic of Twitter backchannels.

For those new to Twitter, or who aren’t familiar with “backchannels,” I’ll explain. A backchannel is a term referring to the background discussion of a live event that takes place on social media. For example, while the keynote speaker or presenter is giving their presentation, audience members may discuss the presentation as it happens, raising questions, giving hints and advice to each other, and sharing relevant links. The benefit of this when you’re at a conference is that you can interact with other attendees virtually and then, if you like, meet up in real life. You can also keep a record of ideas and links to reference later. We all learn from each other and this platform provides great opportunities for teaching new tricks to others. The added benefit? You can “attend” a conference without even being there!

I’ve casually paid attention to backchannels before, but it wasn’t until this past March that I really learned the benefit of the conversation. That was when I was able to “attend” several (dozens!) of sessions at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference that I missed because I was in other SXSW sessions while they were going on. Today I put it to the test – monitoring the twelve sessions from the #HESM13 hashtag for the Higher Ed Experts conference (which I was officially “attending”) and two sessions from the #CGS53 hashtag from San Diego (which I was not officially “attending,” but monitoring what others were saying).

Here are a few tips for your own backchannel adventures:

Know the hashtag before the presentation(s) start!
This probably seems obvious, but no one likes having to scramble to find the hashtag and risk forgetting the best points to tweet. Write them down and keep them handy.

Bring the goods.
If on a webinar, use technology that allows you to view the presenter’s slides and your Twitter feed simultaneously. This could be a laptop and an iPad, a phone, whatever. This was my setup today, allowing me to watch the presentations (projection screen), the Adobe Connect conversation (small laptop), and the conversations for both conferences (individual columns on HootSuite on the large laptop). I was also getting notifications on my phone of replies to my tweets. You don’t have to get this complicated – but it’s fun.

Use a Twitter dashboard, such as HootSuite.
This will allow you to set up streams for the hashtag that constantly update. Whenever someone – even someone you’re not following on Twitter – uses the hashtag, you’ll see their tweet. You can retweet, reply and favorite the tweets as you normally would on Twitter.

Engage with other “attendees”!
You only get out of this what you put in. You need to tweet commentary on what you’re hearing in the presentations. What quotes and comments do you find to be most enlightening? What great ideas did the presentation inspire? Retweet what others are saying if you agree with them. Reply to their questions if you have an answer or insight. You’ll be amazed by the “friends” you’ll make – you might even find some at nearby organizations that you can meet up with in real life.

Take notes.
Do it old school if you have to. For one of the presentations, I printed out handouts of the slides ahead of time to jot down my ideas for work so I didn’t have to tweet everything. (You don’t want to give away your secret sauce. Hold back your best ideas that may only work for your unique situation – but write them down so you don’t forget!

BONUS: If you’re a presenter, put your hashtag in your presentation. On every slide. Make it easy for your audience to remember what the hashtag is and give them a gentle (and constant) reminder to engage.

DOUBLE BONUS (See what I did there with the sports lingo? The game started.) Presenters may also consider including “tweetable moments” – points that are key takeaways to prompt people to start tweeting.



Photo: Snappy Pixels