5 Twitter tips for using conference hashtags like #ONA10

by Kevin Loker

If you’re a journalist and/or web and tech enthusiast (which I’m guessing you are) and follow people similar to yourself on Twitter (which I’m guessing you do), your feed is about to get slammed with #ONA10 tweets.

Conference hashtags can be a a blessing or a curse. Tweets containing them can be helpful — if you can find the good ones — or a time suck, if you get lost in a sea of them. Whether you plan to follow the conversation from a mobile device at the conference or from the comfort of your home (or workplace), here are some helpful tips to think about before the start of any conference, when things get all sorts of 140-character crazy.

1. Save a smart search

The easiest way to follow conversation surrounding a conference is to save a search of the agreed-upon hashtag. In the case of the Online News Association’s 2010 Conference, that hashtag is #ONA10. Save one of these as a main feed, but realize not everyone will use it. This can be for a variety of reasons, from forgetting to tag one to saving a few extra characters to squeeze a bit more content. You can’t catch everything, but save and combine searches for what you think might show up in someone’s tweet. Depending on what client you’re using for tracking, that may include variations of the tag or just related names or titles.

For this week’s conference, here are some suggestions:

  • Simplify the #ONA10 tag to a search for “ONA10.” On most clients, that will catch #ONA10, @ONA1o and ONA10.
  • Save a separate search for “ONA.” That should also catch #ONA, @ONA, and ONA. (Unfortunately – for the purpose of Twitter tracking – it’ll also catch some other conversation).
  • If you want, do the same for “ONADC” and other chapter acronyms. Consider combining it with general terms like “Online News Association.”

If you’re using a mobile device at a conference, consider HootSuite. The mobile app works well for switching quickly between searches.

2. Use topical hashtags related to specific workshops

Share the love of what you’re tweeting with a wider audience than just your followers. Use major topics and keywords as hashtags to tag content that might be beneficial to people outside the conference, including those who may not know about it. If you’re going to a workshop titled “Real-Time Coverage from Scratch,” consider tagging your tweets with #realtime. If you’re going to one called “Social Media Storytelling,” use simple tags like #socialmedia.

The ONA10 schedule actually suggests some of these for you. For Real-Time Coverage from Scratch, it suggests #rtcoverage. For Social Media Storytelling, it suggests #socialj.

3. Reply with context

Another way to help share what you’re learning at the conference is to add a bit of context to your tweet. Remember, searches on Twitter work in realtime — anyone can pop in at any time and start reading what you’re sending out. If you want people to get the most out of your content, sometimes it helps to clarify what you’re talking about. This is important to keep in mind for your topical tagging, but also for anything at the conference itself.

For instance, if I’m answering a question that my colleague @ethanklapper posed in a recent tweet, I may add what I’m talking about at the end of my message. If he asks which room the panel on The New Investigative Journalism Ecosystem is going to be, I can respond with “@ethanklapper The auditorium. Starts in 5 min. re: new investigative journalism panel, #ONA10.” That information may be useful to someone else. Can they figure it out with the clarifier? Yes. But this eliminates some clicking and keeps it a bit more open.

4. Reply with contextual links

An even better way to interact about the conference on Twitter is to use contextual links. If someone on the Wikileaks panel mentions a piece of information that you know you recently read an article about, consider doing a quick search and adding a link to it at the end of your tweet about what they’re saying. If someone’s looking for a nearby bar for a post-conference drink and you happen to know one, consider replying not just with the name of the bar, but the Google directions too.

Contextual links are also good if you’re trying to push people to your livestream of a particular panel. Again, remember — Twitter works in real-time. You could have the best livestream out there and be tweeting some great quotes, but people may miss the link if they come onto a feed ten minutes and five tweets after you posted it. If you want people to visit your livestream, be sure the majority of your tweets contain content, context and a clickable link.

5. Make a list

Following hashtags and keywords at a conference has a downside — in addition to people who abuse it for personal tweets, you often run into a sea of retweets. A nice way around this is to make a list of Twitter users you respect and notice contributing to the conference experience. I’ve started my own list for ONA10 which you can follow here.

In case you don’t want to follow the whole thing, here’s a healthy list of top-notch, tweeting attendees to follow: @ckanal, @greglinch, @webjournalist, @AssignmentDesk1, @journerdism,
@Alex20001, @markbriggs, @stevebuttry, @annatauzin, @sskalko and @coryhaik.

And some ONA accounts: @WPLauraCochran, @MacDivaONA, @vaguity, @tiffanyshack, @aeisman and @hatchjt.

And to round it off, attending members of the 10000words team: @laurenmichell, @ethanklapper, @kevinloker, and the blog’s founder, @marksluckie.


UPDATE: A reader shared with us another way to eliminate some of those retweets and make your stream a bit cleaner. If you use Tweetdeck, you can filter out terms like “RT” and “via.” There’s a chance you’ll miss good tweets with comments outside the shares and retweets if you do this, but if you really want to tidy up your feed, it may be worth looking into.