How to Participate in a Conference Backchannel #LSCon EcoCon

CaptureThe eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Conference and Expo and Ecosystem 2014 events start next week, taking place March 19-21 in Orlando, Florida.  Attendees should now be setting plans in order to get the maximum amount of value out of the events. One thing that should definitely be part of your plan is participating in the conference’s backchannel.

For many people, the backchannel is still a new concept. A great many others may have heard of the backchannel but never actually participated in one. If you’re interested in participating in the conference backchannel, either at the event or remotely, it’s something you should prepare yourself for in advance. This post will briefly walk you through some things you can do to prepare yourself to participate and enhance your conference experience via the backchannel.

For starters, do you know what a Backchannel is? If not, check out my previous post: What exactly IS a Backchannel? Once you are comfortable with what a backchannel is, let’s look at the two critical things you must do to participate.

Step One: Join Twitter

In order to participate in a backchannel you must have access to the technology through which the sharing takes place. In most cases today, the backchannel exists predominantly on Twitter. If you want to join in the fun, it starts with joining Twitter.

Joining Twitter is actually very easy, and can be done in less than five minutes. Visit the Twitter signup page and follow the on screen instructions. During the signup process Twitter will ask you to look at your online profiles for friends and recommend celebrities you may want to follow. These are steps that you can (and arguably should) skip. Where you do what to take an extra few moments is in setting up your profile.

In Twitter users can decide whose updates they want to listen to. If I am interested in hearing what Justin Bieber is tweeting about (side note – I’m *really* not), I would choose to ‘Follow’ his Twitter account. By choosing to follow someone, any time they post an update (or tweet) you will be able to read it in the twitter feed of your account. What does all of that have to do with your account profile? Plenty.

Your Twitter network grows based on who you follow, and who chooses to follow you. For many Twitter users, the decision to follow someone is based on a few key questions, one of which is quite simple: Who are you?

When someone looks at your profile, there are a few key areas that they look at before deciding to follow you. The ones that I look at most often are a person’s Profile Picture and Bio. These are two fields that you really must take some time to complete, as they are the primary ways in which you answer the “Who are you?” question for another user. Consider my profile with that of a new Twitter account set up without completing that information.

Twitter (1)Which account do you think is more likely to be followed? If you are going to join the Twitter community, take a few extra minutes when creating your profile and tell people a little bit about yourself.

Step Two: Participate

If you want to participate in a conference backchannel, it’s important that you do everything you can to remove the barriers to participation.

The first, and most obvious barrier to participating is becoming comfortable with the Twitter tool you are going to use – of which there are many. I recommend newcomers start with a simple tool without ‘bells and whistles’ and get comfortable using that. More importantly, I recommend that you first consider what sort of technology you will use at the event. Most people that connect to Twitter during a conference are not doing so using a laptop. More often, people are connecting using a smart phone or tablet. Consider what device will be with you most often. If it is a smart phone or tablet, choose a Twitter app (I recommend Tweetbot or the official Twitter app) and start participating.  The goal here is to get comfortable with the tool, so that when you arrive at the conference you can concentrate less on ‘How to Tweet’ and more on ‘What to Tweet’.

A related barrier is understanding the language of twitter, and how that language translates into connecting with the community. Twitter’s support page has a great glossary of terms that you can reference to help with this.

presentingOne term that you MUST become comfortable with to participate in the backchannel is hashtag. A hashtag is the foundation upon which a backchannel is built. It is a concept that grew organically from the Twitter community, who realized that one thing that Twitter lacked was categories. For instance, if I was interested in seeing what people were tweeting about pertaining to the learning field, I could search for the word ‘learning’. The problem with that is it brings back any usage of the word learning, including any usage of the word ‘Learning’, regardless of the context. When I am searching for something on Twitter, I’m often searching not for the use of the word, but for people who are discussing the topic.

That’s what the hashtag provides. By placing a number sign in front of a word or acronym, I am informally categorizing my message with a topic or group. By including ‘#learning’ in my tweet, I am essentially saying that this message is connected to the concept of learning. If you remember one thing from this post, make it this: The hashtag for the Learning Solutions Conference and Expo is #LSCon and the hashtag for Ecosystem 2014 is #EcoCon.

People contributing to the conference backchannels will be adding the #LSCon and/or #EcoCon hashtags to each message they post. Similarly, anyone that wants to review or monitor the conference backchannel can do so by searching for the #LSCon or #EcoCon hashtag.

There is one additional barrier, and it is arguably the most important reason to get signed on and participating in the Twitter community as soon as you can, as it is a technical one. Any time someone performs a search in Twitter, there is certain logic being applied to ensure the search returns the most valuable information possible. Some of that logic actually works against a new user. Here are a few examples, pulled from the Twitter Help Center:

  • Twitter user search surfaces results with preference to those users who have a complete name, username, and bio on their profile.
  • It is also important to Tweet, retweet, and mention regularly to gain resonance amongst your followers so that search results are up to date.
  • New accounts may take a few days to start appearing in user search.

That last point alone should be all the reason you need to set up your account and start participating in the Twitterverse. You can even start using and monitoring the hashtags, as many people begin using it early to connect with one another before the conference begins.

For more information and resources on how to use Twitter, check out my post Twitter for Learning Professionals.

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