In 2018, as the first Media Officer for the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) Graduate Student Caucus, I organized and hosted the inaugural Twitter Conference to accompany the annual ASEH conference, #ASEH2018Tweets. This conference had sixteen presentations and averaged 60,000 impressions each day from the main @ASEHGradCaucus account alone. I was thrilled at the success of this event and the way in which it made environmental history content accessible to a broader audience both inside and outside the academy. This Twitter conference is now an annual event.
Recent event and conference cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic have many of us scrambling for alternatives to in-person meetings. I have had several folks reach out to me for advice on how to run a Twitter conference. In response, I’ve put together this step-by-step guide to the basics of hosting a Twitter conference.
BEFORE THE CONFERENCE
1. Decide on the Scope and Theme of the Conference
- Is this Twitter conference replacing or accompanying an existing in-person conference? If so, who is invited to participate?
- If not, is this Twitter conference a standalone event? What is the goal of the conference?
#ASEHTweets conferences are designed to both provide a digital space for ASEH presenters to present a shortened version of their conference presentation and a space for people unable to attend the conference to present. ASEH presenters are invited to condense their ASEH papers and posters into a 10~12 tweet thread. Individuals unable to attend ASEH are welcome to pitch original research to be presented in a 10~12 tweet thread.
Conversely, the Beyond 150: Telling our Stories Twitter conference, was a standalone event organized by Krista McCracken and Andrea Eidinger that featured Canadian History. #Beyond150CA was “designed to encourage collaboration, public engagement, and spark discussion about Canada’s history in a way that [was] accessible to everyone. It also aim[ed] to uplift diverse perspectives, unrepresented histories, and support the work of early-career and emerging scholars.”
2. Decide on a Name and Hashtag
- If your conference is connected to a larger conference or organization, you may want to choose a name and hashtag that reflects that.
- If it is a standalone conference, take time to choose something both descriptive and catchy. You want to catch peoples eye and make it easy for folks to understand what it is about.
- Choose a hashtag that is closely related to the name of the conference.
- Test your hashtag. Many academic acronyms have overlap with other organizations! Make sure your hashtag is not already being used regularly.
3. Decide if You Want to Create a Website
- You should ideally have access to a website of some kind to publicize your conference on. You can archive elsewhere.
- Creating a specific website for your conference is a lot of work and not necessarily critical. Reach out to organization websites and academic blogs, like NiCHE and ActiveHistory.ca, to see if they are willing to help you publicize and archive your material.
4. Decide on a Managing Account
- Either use an already-existing professional account or make an account specifically for your conference.
- An advantage of using an already-existing account is that it may already have a significant follower count.
- An advantage of a separate event account is that it can serve as an additional archive (the first being the #). A disadvantage is that the account will likely be dormant after the event.
For #ASEH2018Tweets, I used the @ASEHGradCaucus account to host and manage the conference.
5. Decide on a Time-Frame
- How many days will the conference be?
- What time of day will the conference run?
- How long will the presentations be?
#ASEH2018Tweets took place over two days. March 8 and 9th, 1-5pm CST (2-6pm EST). I chose these times because we had presenters in North America and Europe. The conference had eight, thirty minute presentations each day: fifteen minutes to present and fifteen minutes to answer questions. I think that twenty minutes is the shortest time frame one could get away with for one Twitter conference presentation.
6. Create a Presenter’s Guide
I created this guide for #ASEH2018Tweets. I borrowed heavily from the #Beyond150CA guide. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! That is why I’m writing this post. However, it is appreciated if you credit those folks who did the work before you.
7. Call for Participants
You’ve got your dates, you’ve got your accounts and hashtags ready, and you’ve got a guide for your future presenters. You are now ready to put out a Call for Participants. See this year’s ASEH Twitter Conference CFP for an example.
8. Schedule Participants
- Find out when your presenters are available to present using a Doodle poll or similar scheduling tool.
- Presenters can schedule their presentation tweets ahead of time using Hootsuite or other social media software, but it is optimal that they are able to do it live and be available to answer audience questions as they roll in.
9. Create an Audience Participation Guide
- One of the benefits of a Twitter conference is that anyone can “sit-in” and participate. Make sure you let people know how they can do this and that they are invited! Not everyone is Twitter savvy. Here is the Audience Participation Guide graphic that I used:
10. Publish Your Conference Schedule
Publish your schedule on your website or partnering website. Publish your schedule on H-Net. Publish your schedule as a Twitter Thread.
11. Advertise Advertise Advertise
- Advertise your schedule
- Advertise your hashtag
- Advertise your presenters and their Twitter accounts so people can follow them beforehand.
- Advertise your participants guide.
- Use all social media and internet channels available to you. You are in charge of getting the buzz going!
- Consider creating a Facebook event
12. Consider Lining up Supporting Twitter Accounts
- If you can, line up other individuals and organization Twitter accounts that will retweet and interact with the conference tweets. This will ensure that more people will see your conference content.
- For example, during #ASEH2018Tweets, I used the NiCHE account (@NiCHE_Canada), NiCHE New Scholars account (@NiCHE_NS), and my personal Twitter account (@JessicaMDeWitt) to retweet all conference content. You may not have access to this many accounts! That’s okay! Ask around.
DURING THE CONFERENCE
1. Create Buzz
- The day of the conference (and several days before), get people excited and restate what they should expect from the event.
2. Introduce the Presenters
- The host account should introduce each presenter and their presentation title.
3. Presenters will Present
- The presenter will tweet out their presentation thread from their personal account.
- The presenter should average around one tweet per minute.
- After using half of the time to tweet out the thread, the audience will have ten to fifteen minutes to comment and ask questions.
- Make sure that every tweet in the presenter’s thread includes the conference hashtag.
4. Remind People How to Participate and View Presentations
5. Retweet and Encourage Active Participation
- While the presenter is presenting, you should be retweeting all of their tweets and the comments and questions from the audience.
- Encourage people to interact with the presentations. Mention folks in the thread comments who might find the presentation of particular interest.
6. Conclude Each Presentation
- Acknowledge when each presentation is over and invite further audience interaction.
- If there is time remaining, announce how long it will be until the next presentation starts.
AFTER THE CONFERENCE
1. Have a Plan for Archiving the Presentations
- I used Twitter moments to archive all of the presentations and make them and the audience input easily accessible in one place. Unfortunately, Twitter has decommissioned this feature, though you can still view old moments. Storify, which #Beyond150CA used, is also no more.
- The Thread Reader App is a good option for archiving the presentation threads and making them more accessible.
- As one can see in this post, it is quite easy to embed tweets into most websites, so consider having a website to archive the presentations on for posterity, if not for the public.
2. Retweet Presentations for a Period of Time Afterwards
- One to two weeks.
- If your conference is connected to an in-person event, retweet the Twitter presentations during the main conference.
3. Continue to Advertise the Conference Hashtag
4. Encourage Post-Conference Audience Participation
- One of the best aspects of a Twitter conference is that you don’t have to be there in the moment to read and react to the presentations. One can even still go back through the 2018 and 2019 ASEHTweets conferences and engage!
There you have it. Those are the basic steps to holding a Twitter conference. Each event will be different and have its own needs, and you’ll find ways to tweak these steps to work for you. I also hosted the conference singlehandedly, and some of these steps might look different if you are working with a team. More folks have hosted their own Twitter conferences in the last couple years. If anyone has anything to add to these steps or has any questions, please feel free to start a conversation in this post’s comments section or on Twitter or Facebook. Happy tweeting!
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