hashtagged to death: will social media kill conferences?

Watching the stream of tweets from this week’s EduWeb Conference (hashtag: #eduweb) brought back a debate I see percolate from time to time in social media: When everyone live-tweets and blogs the details from a conference, does that take away the appeal of attending in person? Or do 140-character summations only provide a tiny peek at a bigger picture?

The debate gets downright heated sometimes, as some folks on Twitter and in the blogosphere have declared the live-tweeting of sessions foretell The End of Conferences. If you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on travel, registration and hotel and still read the most important lessons, they argue, why go?

And while this is an acute observation, it’s a chicken-and-egg argument: If conferences ended, how could people live-tweet from them? Then how would new information be disseminated from experts and studies? And would that come free? Not likely. Sure, Webinars could still exist, but they come with a fee, and ultimately the collective cost could still mount to conference level.

I would also argue that not only do live-tweets fall short of telling the full story of any individual session, but they only represent one piece of the puzzle. Conferences are, as much as anything, a social function. Sure, we can network on Twitter, sharing ideas and commiserating, but only 140 characters at a time. Is tweeting back and forth with a friend the same as having dinner and a conversation with them? Absolutely not. Same goes with conferences: Meeting face to face with people in the same line of work, sharing questions, frustrations and solutions IRL and in real time makes even the best Twitter interactions pale by comparison.

While others may fret the end of the conference as we know it, I feel fine. I’ll go out on a not-so-fragile limb and declare that while conferences may evolve, they are not at all headed for the ashbin of history. I’ll book my calendar if you invite me to discuss a historical perspective on the Era of Conference Concern at any conference in 10 years. I’m confident the worrying over the end of conferences, as a meme, will pass. Conferences themselves will remain.

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8 responses to “hashtagged to death: will social media kill conferences?

  1. jesskry

    I was thinking this as well. But, I ended up thinking the exact opposite was true: now I want to attend conferences I didnt even know about because I followed on Twitter. I want to meet those people and be around like minds. I now have a way to find information and follow up the previous year if I missed a conference registration.

  2. insidetimshead

    That’s another great point. A couple people kvetched about my live-blogging from the SUNY CUAD conference this year. But a much larger group of people had never even heard of the conference and was impressed with our speakers and messages. I also had never even heard of many of these cool conferences, so this is, in every way, very informative.

  3. Some of these thoughts were rattling around in my head too in recent days. But, like Jessica, I think it spurs me to get back to some of these conferences and meet and interact and glean information from people. When that can’t be done (we do have limits on our professional development budget🙂, following the streams works great.

  4. Jake Daniel

    I tweeted my first conference last August (Ragan’s Corporate Comm and Social Media) and it worked out well. Working in higher ed, it’s a rare day when more than one person from a department can attend a professional development seminar, workshop, or conference; using Twitter allows more of us to get something out of each event and further establish our collective knowledge.

  5. I agree with Jake (and I’m not just saying that because I share his office and he’s much bigger than me.) I enjoyed reading his tweets from the Ragan thing, as I’ve also enjoyed scanning this week’s #EduWeb tweets.

    I do wonder, however, whether excessive tweeting by any particular individual causes that person to miss out on what’s actually being said IRL at a session? And when does furtively punching out 140-character messages on one’s phone while someone is giving a presentation cross over into outright rudeness?

  6. insidetimshead

    KEVIN: Agreed. It’s not an either/or. If the money streams work out and we get to a conference, great! If not, live-tweeting is second-best and I think helps build expectation for future conferences.

    JAKE: The dissemination angle’s a good one. When I started here and attended CASE conferences, I’d put together a multipage report I gave to (potentially) interested parties. Other than my boss and often the VP, I’d never know who read it. Yet turning my hashtags into a blog entry on the lessons of the SUNY CUAD Conference resulted in a widely viewed report on campus and off. In short, I know it was read.

    CHRIS: Ha! Anyway, I’m not the world’s fastest or most competent texter, even on the iPhone, so I think I sometimes missed something while fumbling with a tweet. Then I had to hope someone else caught and tweeted that point. I’m not sure how disconcerting it is for speakers … tho those into social media would probably be fine if they know it’s tweeting and not ignoring what they’re saying.

  7. Pingback: eduWEB 2009 Reflections | .eduGuru

  8. Pingback: eduWEB Takeaway: It’s About the People | .eduGuru

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