Biotweeps Twitter Conference (#BTCon17)

By Robin Hayward

Imagine a conference with over ten thousand registered attendees, where a successful presentation might be seen by people all over the world and your results shared instantaneously. On June 29th I presented at my first Twitter conference and that is exactly what happened.

The Biotweeps Twitter Conference (#BTCon17), organised by Anthony Caravaggi and Katherine James, took place over three days and hosted 60 presentations. Taking its inspiration from the World Seabird Twitter Conference, BTCon17 invited presenters to tweet about research from their personal twitter accounts with their hashtagged posts being automatically retweeted to the Biotweeps feed.

Just like any conference, presenters were required to apply in advance and provide abstracts for their talks but, unlike other conferences, our presentations were limited to 840 characters (6 tweets). This meant getting pretty creative when it came to communicating the science!

People took several different approaches to blending their science with the Twitter format, from attaching complex infographics to drawing attention with eye-catching memes. In the end though, the most viewed presentations generally seemed to be the ones with animated gifs demonstrating a relatively straight forward concept.

Tweets like this had the advantage of being easily digestible by a less scientific audience so were retweeted beyond the core audience of the conference. Likewise, tweets that were self-contained tended to be shared more than those that relied on context from the rest of the presentation. The most popular tweet from my own presentation, for example, was the introduction I gave to my study subject: epiphytes.

My subsequent tweets still spread pretty widely (~1000 impressions each in the first 24 hours), although animated graphics proved more popular than the graphs I used to illustrate my conclusions. Multimedia options for things as simple as locating my study site really seemed to be the best way to work in this conference.

Having never presented like this through social media before, the conference was a refreshing opportunity to try out new communication methods and reach a far broader audience than normal. While I had no idea what to expect from BTCon17, I learnt a lot and got a fascinating glimpse into the work of scientists across the field of biology.

Not only was there lots of great science, the afternoon of day 3 was dedicated to presentations on the subjects of science-communication and sci-art. These tweets especially felt well suited to the medium of social media, with presenters effectively communicating details of both the science and the scientists.

As the success of this twitter conference so clearly evidences, the ways in which we can communicate science are evolving rapidly. Giving professionals in science-communication and dedicated researchers in biology the opportunity to present alongside one another will have undoubtedly forged some vital connections (or at least understanding of concepts) that will help as things continue to change in the years to come.

The resulting conversations from presentations are seemingly the true strength of online conferences. Anybody is able to get involved and ask questions so long as they have a twitter account (which is easily created in 5 minutes!). This meant that questions ranged from the heavily academic to the more basic queries of users completely new to the topics. In all cases, everyone learnt something and new connections were made. I know that I’ve certainly followed a few new twitter feeds and am looking forward to hearing more from them!

Social media is still a relatively new way of sharing our science for most of us so BTCon17 was an incredibly valuable learning experience. Like many others, I can’t wait to apply all that I’ve learnt in the surely inevitable Biotweeps Twitter Conference 2018!

If you want to take a look at any of the presentations given as part of the Biotweeps Twitter Conference, check out the hashtag #BTCon17 on Twitter or click here for the official conference archive on storify.