Backchannel Etiquette Served Up

96470895_2f812e3159 Joe Thornley rocks as a twitterer! I have said this many times. The content he delivered and I monitored during the 2008 PRSA International Conference and tweet-up was amazing. Recently, though Joe’s live coverage caused a bit of a stir at the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media. True to his nature, Joe transparently addresses the controversy on his blog. His post and commentary propelled me to write about conference etiquette using social media tools.

Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of attending all of the events pertaining to my industry. I rely on live blogging/tweeting and the insightful content of follow-up blog posts. I remember the uproar surrounding live blogging a couple of years ago and I even I questioned whether actively communicating conference content real-time was permissible. Everything looks different in hindsight. Now the backchannel is integrating itself into conference culture…full speed ahead.

As both a conference speaker and university professor, I must admit that I find speaking to a room full of people with heads down and furiously tapping at the keyboard intimidating. Are they listening? Are they aimlessly surfing the web? Are they fact checking my content? Daunting, to say the least, but this fear keeps me on my toes, incentive to be accurate and think before I speak. Amazing that Jeffrey Veen’s 2005 post, Is anyone listening? Wifi and the new ADD, is much more relevant today due to increasing backchannel technologies. Veen recently addressed how the backchannel must be embraced:

“Once again, I realized that the content on stage is merely the spark of a broader conversation, and that the backchannel is rapidly becoming the whole point.”

Based upon Veen’s experience, and mine as well, knowing what was going on in the backchannel allowed for redirection. A method too good to be true? Hmmm…well, as Veen stated, “It felt a bit like cheating on an exam.” Of course said feeling exists if you are able to favorably readjust. In the example presented by Thornley, and of course the SXSW Zuckerberg incident, the backchannel was like angry villagers with pitchforks. Is the backchannel a distraction rather than an advantage? Heckling versus real conversation? In a “normal” (what’s that?) setting, one would dare not disrespect the presenter by whispering sweet-nothings to the person across the aisle, so why the freedom with technology? As with any social media tool and conversation, the answer is unique and requires balance.

I asked Twitter, what should be part of conference etiquette for an attendee employing social media tools?

Conference Attendee Etiquette

  • Send live blog and tweets to presenter following conference. (happykatie)
  • Tag well. (happykatie)
  • Stop every two minutes to look up and make eye contact with a human being. (happykatie)
  • Don’t be a power strip hog! (happykatie)
  • Have a quiet keyboard. (lalunablanca)
  • If lights go dim, follow suit with computer screen. (lalunablanca)

What tips would you add?

My two cents:

  • Be constructive.
  • Be polite.
  • Be community-minded.
  • Generally, I inform the presenter before the session that I am live blogging/twittering.
  • I prefer using my smartphone to live blog/tweet to lessen any distraction.
  • Turn off laptop noise.
  • Ladies, trim your nails BEFORE typing!
  • Don’t tweet/blog anything you would not say directly to the presenter.
  • Follow-up gut/superficial tweets with questions directly to presenter and then publish reflective blog post.

If you are or have organized a conference, what are you doing to accommodate social media tools? Do you embrace the back channel? Why or why not?

(Photo courtesy numberstumper.)

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  • Tom O’Brien

    Good post. At the recent WOMMA conference, I think attendees had already gotten the message as a few speakers who should have gotten flamed did not.
    Do unto others . . .

  • Lauren Vargas

    Too true. Sorry to say, common sense is elusive.

  • Robert Rowe

    Great post. I haven’t been to many conferences, but coming from my edu background, most liveblogging/twittering would not be tolerated. I like your suggestions for etiquette.
    I plan on saving this for the next conference I attend or present at.

  • Jen Zingsheim

    I’m not a fan of the live-twittering, primarily because it just seems so horribly rude. And, in a recent piece on NPR, they profiled a piano player who was asked to do different tasks as he was playing. He couldn’t do it. You can only really focus on one thing at a time–the entire point of the piece was that it doesn’t matter how great you *think* you are at multi-tasking, something always takes a hit.
    If you’re tweeting, you aren’t really focusing on the content of the presentation.
    Another NPR piece equated pulling out the BlackBerry to a crossword puzzle. If it wouldn’t be appropriate for one to pull out a crossword and start doing it, then it’s probably not appropriate to do so with a smartphone.

  • Skaareworks

    I experienced this ““continuous partial attention” when I lectured a class in computer-mediated communication and offered my insights in a blog post: