Live-tweeting an event? Set your hashtag UP FRONT!

I do a lot of live event coverage via Twitter, and I also follow a lot of events (especially conferences) via Twitter. One thing I’ve learned: It helps your Twitter audience immensely if, before the event (or at the start) the people tweeting it develop a consensus on the hashtag for the event.

That’s what Horn Group VP Susan Etlinger did earlier, for the PR/Blogger panel her company is hosting tonight. She’s one of several Twitter users who helped launch this hashtag simply by adopting and promoting it:

Susan Etlinger helps launch a hashtag by using it.

Susan Etlinger helps launch a hashtag by using it.

And here’s the fruit that this kind of coordination can bear: Check out the #PRblog hashtag

…So: what’s a hashtag, and why is this so important?…

A hashtag is just a short character string preceded by a hash sign (#). This effectively tags your tweets — allowing people to easily find and aggregate tweets related to a topic, person, or event. For instance, for the recent Thin Air Summit, many Twitter users included #TAS08 in their tweets. Take a second now and check out that link to see how easy that hashtag made it to follow the action during and after the event. That’s much easier than trying to find and follow everyone who happens to be tweeting that event. It’s also a great way to discover new people you might want to follow on Twitter.

RESOURCE: The Wild Apricot nonprofit technology blog offers a great tutorial: Introduction to Twitter hashtags. This explains how to use hashtags in tweets, and follow them via Hashtags.org. However, you also can follow a hashtag simply by searching for it via Twitter search.

It’s essential to coordinate, promote, and use hashtags at least a few hours before an event starts. That way, your Twitter followers will know that the event is happening, and how to follow it. They’ll also know how to spread the word of the upcoming coverage.

Ideally, use the hashtag in promotional tweets a couple of times before the event — and include in those tweets a link to the event’s info page, if any, so people know what you’re talking about.

Then, just before the event starts, do what Susan did and post a heads-up on the hashtag. Then just make sure you include the hashtag in all your event tweets. The easy way to do it is to leave it as a snipped on your clipboard. But if you’re typing it manually every time, double-check your spelling before you post! A misspelled hashtag won’t do folks much good.

This kind of coordination would have been a big help at last night’s Changing Media Landscape panel at the Columbia Univ. school of journalism. Sree Sreenivasan assembled a stellar panel of media innovators, it was worth watching. (See Columbia blogger Greg Bocquet’s wrapup of the session.)

Columbia live-streamed this session on Mogulus, which provides a chat room for backchannel discussion. That is helpful — but it’s kind of a walled garden, and it also demands a fair amount of dedicated attention. Aside from the audio portion, that kind of live coverage is not the kind of thing you can have running “in the background,” to follow while multitasking — which is what a lot of Twitter users do.

Some people at the Columbia event or watching on Mogulus were live tweeting it — but they weren’t using a hashtag. In fact, they didn’t choose and start using a hashtag (#cml2008) until the session was almost over. Unfortunately, this meant that very little of their Twitter coverage was easily findable. It was also harder for their Twitter followers to promote this live coverage.

Why should Columbia j-school care about hashtags and live Twitter coverage of their events?

  • Expand public discourse and awareness with a key community. Columbia is teaching new media, and Twitter is where more and more thought leaders, innovators, and new media enthusiasts hang out. These are the people who would be especially interested in panels like this — and who would forward to their followers (“retweet”) posts that resonate with them. Best of all, you get this benefit by requiring a minimum of effort from the community. They don’t have to go to your streaming video site and log in to participate in a small, closed chat unconnected to the rest of the internet. They just follow the Twitter hashtag.
  • Gauge community reaction. People live-tweeting your event will do more than report on what’s happening — they’ll comment on it. They may even praise it, or criticize it, or raise questions. And other Twitter users may react to those tweets. If all or most of that discourse includes the event hashtag, it’s easy to follow later and get a sense of what people thought and felt about the event. This is often important after the event as well as during, since people tend to mull things over and debate.

What do you think about hashtags for live Twitter coverage? Do you use them? Got other tips? Please comment below.

9 thoughts on Live-tweeting an event? Set your hashtag UP FRONT!

  1. I came here via your tweet: when you said to set the hashtag up front, I thought you meant to put it at the start of the tweet, I was curious about your reasoning.
    Having actually read your post, I have to say I agree. I was using a different hashtag at the start of the summit last week, and it would have been great to be tracking #tas08 in advance, to find out about that $5 parking! :)
    At podcampohio earlier this year, they even set up an auto updated Twitter feed that showed the name of each attendee as they signed in. It was a nice touch :)

  2. Amy, great post. Question for you: I’ve used hashtags a bunch, but never started. If, by some chance, there are two events (or whatever) using the same hashtag, does everyone searching just see both until one changes, or is there some sort of registration or vetting process?

    Thanks!

    Doyle

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