How to Participate in the #DevLearn Conference Backchannel

With the eLearning Guild’s Devlearn Conference & Exposition starting tomorrow, you should now be setting plans in order to get the maximum amount of value out of the conference. One thing that should definitely be part of your conference plan is participating in the vibrant conference backchannel.

For many people, the backchannel is a new concept. A great many others may have heard of the backchannel but never actually participated in one. If you’re at all interested in participating in the DevLearn Conference backchannel, either at the conference or remotely, it’s something you should get yourself ready for in advance. This post will briefly walk you through some things you can do to prepare yourself to participate and enhance your DevLearn Conference experience via the backchannel.

For starters, do you know what a Backchannel is? If not, check out my previous post: What exactly IS a Backchannel? Once you are comfortable with what a backchannel is, let’s look at the two critical things you must do to participate.

Step One: Join the TwitterVerse

In order to participate in a conference backchannel you must have access to the technology through which the sharing takes place. In most cases today, including the DevLearn Conference, the backchannel exists predominantly on Twitter. So if you want to join in the fun, it starts with joining Twitter.

Joining Twitter is actually very easy, and can be done in less than five minutes. Visit the Twitter signup page and follow the on screen instructions. During the signup process Twitter will ask you to look at your online profiles for friends and recommend celebrities you may want to follow. These are steps that you can (and arguably should) skip. Where you do what to take an extra few moments is in setting up your profile.

In Twitter users can decide whose updates they subscribe to. If I am interested in hearing what Britney Spears is tweeting about (side note – I’m not), I would choose to ‘Follow’ her Twitter account. By choosing to follow someone, any time they post an update (or tweet) you will be able to read it in the twitter feed of your account. What does all of that have to do with your account profile? Plenty.

Your Twitter network grows based on who you follow, and who chooses to follow you. For many Twitter users, the decision to follow someone is based on a few key questions, one of which is quite simple: Who are you?

When someone looks at your profile, there are a few key areas that they look at before deciding to follow you. The ones that I look at most often are a person’s Profile Picture and Bio. These are two fields that you really must take some time to complete, as they are the primary ways in which you answer the “Who are you?” question for another user. Consider my profile with that of a new Twitter account set up without completing that information.

Which account do you think is more likely to be followed? If you are going to join the Twitter community, take a few extra minutes when creating your profile and tell people a little bit about yourself.

Step Two: Participate

If you want to participate in the DevLearn Conference backchannel, it’s important that you do everything you can to remove the barriers to participation.

The first, and most obvious barrier to participating is becoming comfortable with the Twitter tool you are going to use – of which there are many. I recommend newcomers start with a simple tool without ‘bells and whistles’ and get comfortable using that. More importantly, I recommend that you first consider what sort of technology you will use at the conference. Most people that connect to Twitter during a conference are not doing so using a laptop. More often, people are connecting using a smart phone or tablet. Consider what device will be with you most often. If it is a smart phone or tablet, choose a Twitter app, and start participating. The goal here is to get comfortable with the tool, so that when you arrive at the conference you can concentrate less on ‘How to Tweet’ and more on ‘What to Tweet’.

A related barrier is understanding the language of twitter, and how that language translates into connecting with the community. Twitter’s support page has a great glossary of terms that you can reference to help with this.

One term that you MUST become comfortable with to participate in the backchannel is hashtag. A hashtag is the foundation upon which a backchannel is built. It is a concept that grew organically from the Twitter community, who realized that one thing that Twitter lacked was categories. For instance, if I was interested in seeing what people were tweeting about pertaining to the learning field, I could search for the word ‘learning’. The problem with that is it brings back any usage of the word learning, including a long string of complaints from a teenager about not learning anything in school today. When I am searching for something on Twitter, I’m often searching not for the use of the word, but for people who are discussing the topic.

That’s what the hashtag provides. By placing a number sign in front of a word or acronym, I am informally categorizing my message with a topic or group. By including ‘#learning’ in my tweet, I am essentially saying that this message is connected to the concept of learning. If you remember one thing from this post, make it this: #DevLearn.

That is the official hashtag for the DevLearn Conference and Expo. People contributing to the conference backchannel will be adding the #DevLearn hashtag to each message they post. Similarly, anyone that wants to review or monitor the conference backchannel can do so by searching for the #DevLearn hashtag.

There is one additional barrier, and it is arguably the most important reason to get signed on and participating in the Twitter community as soon as you can, as it is a technical one. Any time someone performs a search in Twitter, there is certain logic being applied to ensure the search returns the most valuable information possible. Some of that logic actually works against a new user. Here are a few examples, pulled from the Twitter Help Center:

  • Twitter user search surfaces results with preference to those users who have a complete name, username, and bio on their profile.
  • It is also important to Tweet, retweet, and mention regularly to gain resonance amongst your followers so that search results are up to date.
  • New accounts may take a few days to start appearing in user search.

That last point alone should be all the reason you need to set up your account and start participating in the Twitterverse. You can even start using and monitoring the #DevLearn hashtag, as many people are already starting to connect with one another through the conference hashtag.

In my next post, I’ll share some additional tips and tools that can help further enhance your DevLearn Conference backchannel experience.

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