This year’s MLA convention name tags are getting a makeover, as participants were given the option to include their Twitter handles on the badge. Since 2007, MLA convention attendees have been extending their participation beyond the session room on Twitter. Tweeting convention-goers mark their 140-character observations about the convention with a common hashtag (this year, #mla14), allowing other Twitter users to keep tabs on convention happenings. A quick look at hashtags of yore (from the first tweeted convention, #mla07, to the most recent, #mla13) reveals a neat archive of the convention discussion, which has grown to include commentary on sessions, questions about conference logistics, calls for casual meetings (or “tweetups”), and even tips for a good breakfast.
There are a number of compelling reasons for engaging with the MLA convention Twitter back channel. First, it opens up convention spaces to members and scholars unable to attend. In doing so, convention tweets emphasize the importance of public scholarship to our work and expand the conversations in which we engage broadly. At this vulnerable juncture in our profession, the Twitter discussion renders our labor as academics visible to the public. Within academic circles, convention tweets give us insight into developments in fields beyond our own. With so many choices for sessions, we are limited in what we can attend, but we can catch up and forge connections on Twitter. There, we can widen our academic communities beyond the divisions of department, college, and university that may otherwise circumscribe our intellectual communities.
Tweeting from the convention offers the potential for both richer experiences and missteps. Here are a few tips for maximizing the convention experience through Twitter:
Follow the Hashtag: The official hashtag of this year’s convention is #mla14. Tag your conference tweets with the hashtag, and search #mla14 to keep track of convention events. For laptop users, the TweetDeck app lets you keep a window dedicated to the hashtag open and pushes updates to it automatically. On a smartphone, the HootSuite app lets you combine Twitter with other forms of social media.
Work the Network: At loose ends for dinner? Looking for a running buddy to brave the frigid clime? Send a tweet using the convention hashtag. Check out #mla14 tweeters whose content matches your interests and follow them. Look at the lists those people are on to find others who share your interests. Building academic networks and finding support beyond the local has never been easier.
Invite (or Decline) Tweets While Presenting: Presenters who welcome tweets about their talks should consider making an announcement to that effect to the audience. Presenters with Twitter handles may wish to share them with the audience so they can include it in their tweets. Presiders on panels with presenters who are all comfortable with tweets should consider making an announcement on behalf of panelists and remind attendees of the specific hashtag for the panel: “s” and the session number (e.g., #s597), alongside #mla14. Presenters who do not want audience members tweeting during their talks should consider requesting that the audience refrain from doing so.
Tweet with Care: Respect the wishes of all presiders and panelists when tweeting. The #mla14 hashtag will be followed by a lot of people, so Twitter-averse colleagues may not want their ideas disseminated beyond the session room. When tweeting, make sure to name the speaker, being careful to properly attribute and faithfully represent the speaker’s words. When responding to tweets about others’ talks, remember that the tweets are a snippet of a larger conversation. Asking questions may be a more meaningful way to begin engaging than making assumptions or drawing conclusions.
Remember that Twitter Is “Real Life”: Abstractions of the digital world notwithstanding, tweets feel very real when someone is talking about you, directly or indirectly. Maintain decorum, professionalism, and civility on Twitter. If you wouldn’t say it during the Q & A at the end of a talk, do not tweet it. Tweets can be limited in their ability to convey complexities, so whether tweeting or being tweeted about, do not be quick to react, judge, or attack. Tone, snark, or sarcasm can be difficult to discern, so start with the benefit of the doubt and pursue concerns through more private channels.
Not convinced? Test the waters by signing up for a Twitter account, and check out the conversations about #mla14 that are ongoing. You may be surprised to find clever conversation, a new group of colleagues, or even friends.