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Backchannels and Scholarly Uses of Twitter

What is a backchannel?

A backchannel is an online conversation concurrent to a specific event, such as a conference or lecture.  Backchannels take place on social media platforms such as Twitter, and are similar to the exchanges that occur in person at scholarly or professional events.  Backchannel participants may:

  • share commentary on a presentation or keynote address
  • share links to related resources
  • ask or answer questions
  • provide insight drawn from personal experience

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social media platform for succinct public communication using brief posts, called "tweets".

Anatomy of a Tweet

Anatomy of a Tweet

How do people read each others' tweets?

All tweets are public, but there are so many that Twitter will only show you tweets from people you follow (in your Twitter feed) or by searching:

  • a hashtag
  • a regular word
  • a person's name or Twitter handle

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a keyword preceded by a hash (#) symbol. Hashtags are case-insensitive, are often abbreviated, and are used to

  • identify the topic of the tweet (#diabetes)
  • identify the intended audience of the tweet (#parents)
  • include the tweet in an online meeting (#medlibs)
  • include the tweet in a backchannel (#MedEdWk13)What is a mention?

What is a mention?

You can direct a tweet to an individual by including their Twitter handle in your tweet. A Twitter handle appears next to their name and starts with the @ symbol. Clicking "Reply" on a tweet will automatically include the author's Twitter handle as well as those of any others mentioned in the tweet.

What is retweeting?

When someone posts a tweet with particularly relevant information or that you just want to share, you may click "Retweet". This will create a copy of the tweet, crediting the source, that you can post to share with those who follow you.

How can Twitter be used as a scholarly resource?

Twitter's main benefit is in keeping current and engaged in a particular topic, field of study, profession, etc.  Twitter can be used to:
  • Discover and communicate with others who share scholarly interests
  • Disseminate links to articles on a topic
  • Engage with other participants at a conference
  • Meet online with others in a specific profession, specialty, field of study, etc.

Twitter tips for scholarly use

Twitter is not Facebook, and while some people use it to socialize, you will get more out of Twitter if you use the following tips:

  • Reduce noise in your Twitter feed by being selective in whom you follow
  • Participate in backchannels at conferences to see who tweets content relevant to you
  • Find someone who retweets so they can sift through tweets and share the good ones
  • Reply to tweets to ask questions or provide your own insights
  • Search Twitter with regular topic words to find commonly used and relevant hashtags
  • Include "-word" in your Twitter search to exclude tweets with that word in your search
  • Include "-rt" in your search to exclude retweets in a search
  • Use "filter:links" to see only tweets that contain links (to articles, resources, etc.)

Twitter Tools

  • Twitter - Web interface and account management
  • Healthcare Hashtag Project - Compiles healthcare hashtags by topic and includes top contributers and transcripts of twitter meetings and conference backchannels
  • Tweeplers.com - Compiles trending hashtags (good for when you want to use a hashtag to see if/how it is currently being used)
  • One Million Tweet Map - Real time interactive map of tweets, including filters by hashtag or keyword
  • TweetDeck - Software to manage multiple Twitter feeds

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