The problem with live tweeting medical conferences

Live tweeting from conferences has become very popular, but I’m not sure why. The biggest problem is this: Lucid communication of a point made by a speaker using more than 140 characters at a time is difficult to capture in a tweet.

The tweets tend to be filled with obscure abbreviations and references to previous tweets that may seem quite clear to the tweeter but not the tweetee. Some also post out-of-focus photos of the dreaded PowerPoint bullet slides taken from acute angles. Lacking context or explanation, they tend to be useless.

What about the one doing the live tweeting? How can you fire off 15 or 20 tweets in an hour and continue to pay attention to what the speaker is saying?

Please don’t tell me what Symplur or some other data disgorging company says a meeting’s impressions were. Here’s an example from the recently concluded meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. (#ASCO14) for May 30 through June 4:

The problem with live tweeting medical conferences

There were 38,896 tweets generated by 7,284 participants. Let’s very conservatively estimate that it took each tweeter 1 minute to compose a tweet, type it into a mobile device, and send it. That is 648 hours worth of tweets. The leading tweeter at ASCO produced 975 tweets or 16 hours worth of tweets.

You might say, “Hey, there were 134,569,479 impressions. That number represents over 40% of the population of the US.” But hold on. Impressions are the number of tweets delivered to a follower’s Twitter feed and potentially available to be viewed. There is no way to determine if anyone has actually read a specific tweet.

Other than counting retweets or replies, which apparently is not done by Symplur, there is no way to measure engagement. And even a retweet does not guarantee that a tweet was read. Favoriting (yes, that’s a Twitter verb) is not a countable Twitter metric and even if it was, it’s not a surrogate for reading.

Most of the time, I solve the problem by temporarily unfollowing someone who is live tweeting a conference.

What do you think about live tweeting of conferences?

“Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.

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