I just spent a week in Grand Rapids at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I had the opportunity to write for the UCC’s news team and was asked to cover some interesting topics and activities: Rep. John Conyers’ visit to Synod to talk about health care reform, youth mission projects in the community, interviews with several youth who participated in the UCC’s Sacred Conversations on Race, resolutions on the global food crisis and the Accra Confession, and immigration reform.

How should Twitter be used during meetings and conventions? Photo: aflcio2008 (Creative Commons license)

How should Twitter be used during meetings and conventions? Photo: aflcio2008 (Creative Commons license)

I also observed how people were using Twitter during the convention, and how the UCC news staff participated and included Twitter in convention coverage.

Using Twitter during conventions isn’t new. People who are attending will often agree on a hashtag (a word or a combination of letters and numbers preceded by #) to include in meeting-related tweets. This makes their posts easy to find using Twitter’s search feature (type in #gs27 to see all UCC Synod-related tweets). Some Twitter applications allow more sophisticated tracking of hashtags, and alert you when someone Tweets using the hashtag — UC News director Gregg Brekke uses twhirl, and his laptop would beep and display every #gs27 tweet as soon as it appeared on Twitter.

Gregg and the UCC’s communications staff did their own Tweeting from the @gdbrekke and @unitedchurch accounts. They also gave others’ Twitter efforts a boost by retweeting interesting tweets. And Gregg included several Twitter users’ comments in the UCC’s daily, 4-page convention newspaper, in the “Overheard” section.

Having just bought a new Blackberry and equipped it with Twitterberry, I came to General Synod ready to Tweet myself (@rebeccawoods). Previously, whenever I went to an event, the sheer difficulty of tweeting from my old mobile phone limited me to a few Tweets per day.  Posting anything from a non-qwerty keyboard was a pain, and I couldn’t see if anyone replied to me, sent me a direct message, or retweeted anything I’d posted until I got back to a computer with internet access. It almost wasn’t worth the trouble.

This time, having upgraded, I had to contemplate new questions about using Twitter during an event:

How much to Tweet? Normally, I post 2-6 times a day. This is what those who follow me are accustomed to.  I might be able to get away with a slightly higher volume during the convention, but not much.  I’ve unfollowed folks who post too much, and to me, more than 10 times a day (15 if you’re really interesting) is too much.

What to Tweet? Few people following me are from the UCC, and many don’t know anything about it. So I began by letting people know what I was doing: going to cover the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I think I included a link to the UCC’s Synod site, in case someone wanted to check it out (I hope I included a link — if not, that was a missed opportunity).  I also tried to tweet about things that might be of interest to others: getting to meet Conyers and journalist Ray Suarez, links to articles, etc. Not too much insider stuff, although some of it was unavoidable.

What not to Tweet? There were some great speeches and sermons, but I only posted one line from one speech. I probably could have done more. Often, in my opinion, those don’t translate well.  There’s just something about being there. Same with worship. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tweeting during worship, per se, it’s just a question of whether you immerse yourself in doing it, or take a step back and tweet about it. It also connects with others who are there, experiencing it with you…but not so much with those who are on the outside. I also chose not to tweet during discussions or interviews, or to pass along the myriad comments I overheard in bars and restaurants. The most fascinating part, to me, was reading what people posted during business sessions and particularly, discussion of resolutions. A protest broke out after one vote, and I was in the newsroom watching the proceedings on closed circuit TV. The cameras, of course, didn’t show the action. But people in the convention hall were tweeting about it!

What are your experiences with Twitter and conventions or meetings? Do you have any rules or advice?

Here are a few links:

From Chris Brogan, social media expert extraordinaire, 27 Things to do Before a Conference. [Some of these might seem like overkill for a meeting like General Synod or the Disciples’ upcoming General Assembly]

From Mari Smith, Ten Ways to Tweet from Live Events [scroll down past the stuff that is related to the Social Media Summit

To see how a conference becomes a year-round community, log on to Twitter [if you have an account] and search #sxsw.