Wading into a Conference Tweet-Stream

The author tends to pair her mid-air tweeting with Ginger Ale.

The flight attendant just rather ominously announced that the third and final beverage service is underway, snapping me back to the reality of seat 27F. With an empty middle seat and strong wifi, I’d lost track of time, catching up on emails and keeping tabs on the conference I’d just left – the American Geophysical Union (AGU)’s annual fall meeting – still in full swing.

This year, AGU had more than 22,000 attendees – a new record for them, and a tremendous opportunity for networking and catching up on some of the latest and greatest earth, ocean, and climate science out there. For me, each day was an inspiring but intense sprint between sessions, meetings, social events, and more, chaos only held at bay by rigorous scheduling underpinned by great technology. My secret weapon? Twitter.

A conference tweet-stream uses a hashtag to aggregate tweets from all those talking about the meeting. It burbles along with quotes, information, self-promotion, requests for help, side-conversations, and more. At big meetings like #AGU12, the stream can feel more like a raging river, with hundreds of tweets each hour. So how can you effectively surf this flood of information? Here are my top three favorite ways of contributing to, and gleaning value from, a conference tweet-stream, using examples from #AGU12.

1) Scheduling and planning:

This one is obvious – with countless competing social events, posters and sessions you’d like to see, Twitter can help by acting as a personalized reminder and invitation service.

@ Come to my poster (#1986) today about countering campus visits by #ClimateDeniers http://t.co/efJKQiFb
Jeff Corbin
Most importantly, today is the day of the grand #AGU12 geoblogtweetup. 8.30pm, Johnny Foley’s on O’Farrell St. http://t.co/xYSnezBR
Chris Rowan


2) Session live-tweeting

Though there has been some heated debate about conference live-tweeting, I find it to be tremendously helpful for keeping tabs on quotable quotes, key concepts, and conversations I want to pursue from sessions I could not attend.

Watson: "And to be honest, we screwed up the earth by not understanding it, so I'm not sure trying to engineer it is a good idea" #AGU12
Since 1999 there has been almost 1,000,000 earthquake deaths according to Ross Stein @ presenting at #AGU12.
Final talk in #AGU12 climate literacy session: Using student blogs to create perspective on climate change, by Keah Schuenemann
Jen Davison


People who are live-tweeting sessions aren’t simply transcribing either; they add richness and depth by sharing links to related materials and commenting on the processes by which we’re sharing our science.

Maurer: Another great online tool for accessing climate projection data (incl his and others) is ClimateWizard: http://t.co/LZDnN9NP #AGU12
Heather Galindo
An encouraging sign at #AGU12 was that a fair number of posters used palettes from Color Brewer http://t.co/fI5CPox0
Rob Simmon


I particularly love it when friends and colleagues help answer questions and give me more to read and think about.

#AGU12 @ talking twitter for scicomm. I'd like to see click-through data on links in celebrity RTs - is exposure meaningful?
@ @ some great results in papers linking tweets to citation rates http://t.co/4hmNj7V9
matt levinson


3) News and analysis

The function of big scientific conferences is no longer simply to connect experts and share information within closed academic communities. Researchers, press officers, and journalists are working hard to share the most important and interesting stories with the wider world. I like to keep a close eye on these tweets so I know who is covering which stories, what ideas are gaining traction, and how science stories are playing out beyond the scientific community.

Listen to the extraterrestrial song of Earth's radiation belts - my #AGU12 story http://t.co/M9yPYgXy
Alexandra Witze
Why should you care about the #Arctic? http://t.co/D7cC0cAs My interview w/ Jane Lubchenco at #AGU12 for @ has some answers
Brian L Kahn


But perhaps the most interesting and useful role of Twitter is that it’s allowing conversations about science to happen in the open. The conference tweet stream is vastly more interesting and complex than just broadcasting and disseminating results. Twitter allows us to grapple with new information and ideas in real time, collectively verifying, supplementing, and testing ideas with those who can’t be in the room, or even in the same country. Science progresses by challenging, testing and refining existing ideas, and social media allows this to happen more rapidly than traditional discourse restricted to peer-reviewed journals. Twitter’s greatest value is not in the speed, but in opening up so many more opportunities to have these conversations.

About Liz Neeley

Liz was an Assistant Director of Science Outreach at COMPASS.


  1. Peter Newbury (@polarisdotca) says:

    There is another audience that greatly benefits from “contributing to and gleaning from” a conference twitter stream: the people following from elsewhere.

    #AGU12 may attract 10’s of thousands of participants but there are lots of us who didn’t make it, either because it didn’t fit our schedules or because it’s not really our field so it’s hard to justify the expense. The latter certainly describes me.

    In ages past (say, 5 years ago) we’d miss a conference and really regret a lost opportunity. But not anymore. Because of the #agu12 tweet stream and because a portion of my twitter community DID attend, I don’t feel that regret. Sure, I’m sorry I missed tweetups and drinks with @LizNeeley, @JenEDavison and other #scio folk, @starstryder, @noisyastronomer and their #citizenscience teams, but I feel like I was there for the big stuff, the keynotes, the @MarsCuriosity not-one-for-the-history-books, all thanks to the live tweet stream.

    So, comment readers, if Liz’s post still hasn’t inspired you to tweet from your next conference, do it for your colleagues who aren’t there in person. Use the opportunity you’ve been afforded and give back to your community. We’ll be grateful.


    • Peter, thanks for raising this point! I get a lot of positive feedback from my friends and colleagues for what I do during these events, but in a lot of our trainings, researchers worry that live-tweeting science meetings will annoy their followers by swamping their feeds. I mention that people who are feeling annoyed can mute hashtags with global filters on TweetDeck, and more convincingly, that Twitter says their data shows that users tend to gain, not lose followers, during/after livetweeting.

  2. Great post! And great way to explain how to disseminate tweets from high-volume conferences. I myself used some of these techniques. Very useful!


  3. Great article! I was drinking from the #AGU12 firehose for the first few days of the conference, and learned a lot. I also used it to make contact with some of the planetary scientists who were attending– they were very kind to answer my questions.

    I even got in on the action by live-tweeting a few of the press conferences that were webcasted. I managed to gain a few new followers (and thus discovered and followed them), so it was definitely a fruitful endeavor.

    • Thanks Paul!
      More than anything, the #AGU12 stream made me wish we had better archive/search/analytics functionality with twitter. We also got into a really interesting side discussion with Peter (@polaridotca) about whether we could/should supplement with session hashtags.

      Note to everyone else: Paul is @ElevenPointTwo

  4. Thanks for sharing, interesting article.

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