"Attending" conferences via Twitter?

Guest blog from Jessi Wortley, a.k.a, @MiniJ on Twitter:

While the rest of the world (or so it seems) was at the 2008 International Public Relations Society of America conference in Detroit, I “attended” via Twitter. Using Twitter Search and the keyword #PRSA08, I followed along with every aspect of the conference, from the keynote speakers, to the individual sessions, to Tweetups. I’m even aware of the serious lack of heat, coffee and free Wi-Fi.

I thought it would be a good way to hear some great advice and see what’s going on in the larger PR world. However, after two days, I don’t think I learned what I hoped to.

I tried to keep up on it while at work, but due to the never-ending stream of tweets I experienced information overload. I would look away for 5 to 10 minutes while I do real work at my desk, and come back to at least eight new tweets; more if something exciting is going on, like a keynote speaker. Heck, I went out for lunch and came back to close to 200 new tweets.

Now, I couldn’t afford to take that much time to read them all, so I just skimmed a couple pages worth. What I discovered is that while I was reading a lot of interesting comments people are garnering from speakers and presenters, I didn’t have the context to put with it. So, a 140-character or less “catchphrase” means nothing to me.

I also found that with so many tweets, it was hard to focus, remember and key-in on everything being said. There may be some brilliant messages, but when a new tweet is being fired off every 30 seconds, there is no time to soak it in before the next one comes across.

The ones I do remember came from the keynote speakers, where every person is commenting on the same speech, so single messages get multiple tweets, and have more chances of being ingrained in my memory. Two memorable ones: “Bankruptcy is not an option for GM” and “Job hop, have great sex and blog.” Technically, I still don’t have any background for them, but I’ve at least remembered them. I suppose that’s a start.

I’d hoped to learn something via my “Twitter attendance,” and I believe I have, it’s just not what I expected. I’ve learned that too much information all at once can be counter-productive. Maybe everyone who tweets constantly from conferences should instead spend more time appreciating that they are actually at the conference, pay more attention to the speakers and come home and blog about it – in detail. To me, reading a full-length summary, which I could save for future reference, would be much more useful than a few tweets of 140 characters.

I’ll continue checking Twitter periodically for updates from people attending conferences in case some earth-shattering news breaks, but I also plan to start saving my pennies so I can attend in person next time.

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