#lrnchat. Participating in these discussions has been tremendously helpful in my quest to understand the value social media tools provide for learning.
This week’s chat started off with questions about how media sharing tools (such as Youtube) and collaborative content creation tools (such as wikis) are impacting corporate learning. As this discussion ran its course, the next question that appeared in the chat scroll was about the role of social media at in-person conferences. In response to this question, one of the chat participants made the suggestion that we should “bring the backchannel forward” in conferences. He stated that, "social media does not have to be a post-event activity; instead it should be an attendee."
After reading his post, I pictured a speaker in front of a room full of people with Blackberries in hand, eyes down and thumbs flying as they twittered messages back to the members of their respective online communities. The next image that came to mind was of my teenage children pulling out their cell phones to respond to text messages from their friends at inappropriate times. Being a relatively new social media user (I started blogging and tweeting in August) I viewed these two situations as much the same, so I naively typed in this question in response to his post: “Isn’t it rude to tweet during conference events?”
My question garnered some interesting responses, such as: “Not at a good one,” “It’s engagement,” “These days it seems like an insult not to,” “It extends the conversation,” and “Is it rude to take notes?”
Reading these responses made me realize that I need to change my frame of reference. My “pre-social media” point-of-view was that it would be disrespectful and disruptive to do anything other than give the speaker my full attention. But as I thought about it some more, I thought, “Of course the speaker would want people to share his or her message beyond the conference-goers.” Then, I began to calculate the impact:
Imagine a conference presenter speaking to an audience of 100 people. Let’s say half of them are social media users. And out of that half, half of them were interested enough to tweet the speaker’s message back to their online communities. That would be 25 people extending the message beyond the in-person audience. Now let’s say that each of those 25 people had 100 followers on twitter. The speaker’s message has now potentially reached 2500 people. Even if only a small percentage of those 2500 people retweet the message it still extends the impact even further. And these are very conservative estimates. I currently have 88 followers and I have only been a twitter user since August. Factor in long time users who have huge followings and the numbers grow exponentially.
As a result of this, I have revised my mental model of social media activity at conferences. Far from being rude, it is actually complimentary to tweet during presentations. And never mind about about it being disruptive, it actually helps the speaker be more productive. So, next time you are at a conference, don’t be surprised to see me in the audience at with my mobile device in hand. I promise it won’t be because I am texting home to find out if we are having meatloaf or chicken for dinner.