New Study: Conference Attendees All A-Twitter

Ann All

As I've noted on more than one occasion, I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. I haven't personally warmed to it after several months of regular use. But I have become far more open to its business uses, after reading about or talking to folks about their successful Twitter initiatives for marketing, customer service and talent recruitment.


New business uses appear to be emerging for it all of the time. Yet even Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, while being skewered by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, admitted he doesn't know the best use cases for Twitter.


A fast-emerging opportunity revolves around the use of Twitter at business conferences. A whopping 95 percent of conference attendees have Twitter accounts, found a group of European academics, and 67 percent of them used it to send messages during conferences. Nearly three-quarters of attendees send at least 11 messages a day and just over half participated in discussions via @ replies and direct messages.


In contrast with the way many folks (including myself) use Twitter on a daily basis, only 10 percent of conference messages included links to Web sites, which the academics believe means people are primarily using Twitter to share real-time information from events rather than content already available on the Web.


Interesting. I liked the idea of Twitter at conferences when I first wrote about it last April. In that post, I included a quote from a general manager of the 2008 Web 2.0 Expo, who likened conferences to media. She said:

People expect to be able to comment on articles online, and they expect to be able to comment in conferences while they're in them.

That made perfect sense to me. Though I rarely attend conferences for my current job, my last gig involved attending at least one such event a month. As I noted in my post, folks at conferences tend to mill around outside presentation rooms discussing presentation content with other attendees. It would be far more effective to do so during actual presentations. As a bonus, Twitter can offer a way to directly interact with presenters.


According to the article I cited, uber-blogger Robert Scoble liked to take Twitter breaks during his speaking engagements, to gauge the audience's opinion of his presentation and to address relevant questions tweeted to him. I wrote:

This seems preferable to waiting for the traditional post-presentation Q&A -- which is invariably filled with "quiet talkers" whose questions you can't hear, totally irrelevant queries that the presenter feels obligated to address anyway, or incredibly technical questions that only a few people in the room can grasp.

These ideas were supported by conference attendees interviewed by the European researchers. The interviews resulted in a report titled "How People are using Twitter during Conferences." A link to it is included in a ReadWriteWeb piece republished on The New York Times. (Has anyone else noticed the title of academic research tends to be as dry as Melba toast?)


The attendees said Twitter helped create a sense of community, promoted discussions among audience members, helped them connect with fellow attendees who had similar interests and allowed colleagues who were unable to attend the actual event to participate. ReadWriteWeb notes the sample size was small, just 41 people from five conferences. Still, I'd think these findings might interest conference organizers, many of whom are struggling to keep their events relevant enough to attract attendees at a time when many companies are slicing travel budgets.

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