How to follow a conference or event

Today’s #TipTuesday is another non-product tip, but I’ll be knee-deep in sessions at GPUG Summit by the time many of you read this, so in the interest of a “simpler” topic, this is what I’ve come up with!

Today is the first “full” day of the 2018 GPUG (& other UGs) Summit. I get the sense that a lot of users tend to miss out on the news or updates because they aren’t on Twitter, or other social media sites where the news and information flow is often shared first. There are a lot of you out there reading this that may not know or care what a hashtag is, or know what you can do with it.

So, if you’re not an active social media user, here are some tips to help you navigate the world of hashtags and general suggestions on how to follow news or conference/event information in your areas of interest.

What’s a hashtag?

From the Wikipedia definition:

A hashtag is a type of metadata tag used on social networks such as Twitter and other microblogging services, allowing users to apply dynamic, user-generated tagging which makes it possible for others to easily find messages with a specific theme or content; it allows easy, informal markup of folk taxonomy without need of any formal taxonomy or markup language.

The “pound” or “number” key, #, is also known as a “hash”, therefore applying a tag or category to something with that is where the term “hashtag” came from.

In many cases, hashtags have gone crazy. There are no rules or limitations on what hashtags one can use on social media, but during an event there are often either explicitly recommended tags to use or certain tags just start to rise above the rest, as they are more commonly used than others.

All they do is provide you, the reader, with a way to find a lot of information about a single event or topic by searching for that hashtag. During something like GPUG Summit, specific GP content will mostly be shared using #GPUGSummit and broader information (though perhaps not GP specific) will be shared under #UserGroupSummit. The same applies for CRM, Dynamics 365 etc.

But I’m not on Twitter…

Have no fear! You do not need to dive into the abyss known as Twitter (or Instagram or Facebook), where hashtags tend to live. There are many ways to follow a conversation, event, whatever, without signing up for an account.

My method of choice is to use Twitter as the source of things, as that tends to be where there will be more “use” of a hashtag. The one problem is if you decide to just go to Twitter.com, you only have a choice of logging in or signing up.

Here’s the trick: bookmark the URL https://twitter.com/search and you’ll land on a simple search page that says “See what’s happening now”. Type in your hashtag and you’ll come to a page like this (using #GPUGSummit as an example):

By default the page loads with what Twitter deems the “top” results, but across the top you can also go to the latest, the People who are tweeting, only tweets with photos etc. Photos is great if you want to follow a keynote address as typically lots of people will be sharing pics of the slide presentation from their seats.

How do I find out what the hashtags are?

This one may be a little harder for a non-social media user but often event websites themselves will list hashtags right on their event page. In the case of GPUG Summit, it’s near the bottom of their home page: #UserGroupSummit.

In other cases, a simple search on Google or Bing should help you find what you need. (Example: “best hashtag for GPUG Summit”). That search results in a few hits, one of which is a blog from the CRM Software blog that was an article purely focused on the best hashtags to follow for this upcoming event!

Worst case, search for the name of the event, without spaces. If the event is My Big Event 2018, try #MyBigEvent or #MyBigEvent2018. Chances are the most common hashtags used are the obvious ones.

Miscellaneous Tips

If you were to follow my advice above, and start with the GPUG Summit page to find any “official” hashtags, you would end up searching for #UserGroupSummit. However, that will result in a possibly overwhelming number of hits and posts, as that is the tag for all user groups, not just GPUG, for instance.

Once you find an initial hit (i.e. the search shows many results), scroll through the various tweets to see if others are posting with multiple hashtags. Here is an example from MVP David Musgrave:

Everything with a blue hyperlink is a hashtag or a Twitter handle (username, indicated with the @ sign). As you can see, the bold hashtag is what I searched for but there are many more precise hashtags you can choose from and search on that. Clicking on any one of those things will bring you to that page’s search results so you can pop around to different “subjects” (sort of) to find what set of results most interests you.

Keep in mind, Twitter can be a mess at times, it’s not a coherent flow of information like a blog article is but you will quickly get a sense of what’s “hot” when you see multiple messages about the same or similar things. During the general sessions and keynotes, this comes alive. Once those are done, it goes back to a trickle where the topics become more diverse based on what individual attendees are doing at the time. It can be fun to follow and it can be annoying!

Sometimes you will find one or two people who seem to capture the essence of what you want and you simply click on their name to see what they are sharing. At times that makes the flow of information a little easier to digest for a non-social media user as it’s one person’s vantage point with a little less clutter.

The flow is constant, there is no “keeping track of where you left off” with this approach to following an event. Check in on it every once in a while and the content will look completely different.

Last tip: many of us (myself included) will post their recap articles about the event on Twitter as well, using the same hashtags. Sometimes the information flow itself may be overwhelming if you’re not used to it so watching for blogs to get a more condensed view of the info is good too!

Hopefully you find this useful for following an event you’re not attending (or seeing what other attendees are sharing if they are attending!). After an event is done, it seems like it may be hard to find the information as there is an assumption that everyone followed it all at the time, but of course that’s not true! Even after the event, searching for the hashtag will allow you to scroll back through what happened to get a sense of the big things during the event.

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