Hammocks to Palm Trees Metric


I spent a good portion of the last year presenting at a wide variety of conferences around the world. My talks and conversations lately have predominantly been about access and scholarly metrics (downloads, citations, article level metrics, even snowball metrics), so it’s been curiously interesting to see a new metric emerging – BC2T. Not B2B, C2B, or even BCT, but BC2T: Business Cards to Tweets.

The number of tweets per conference attendee is inversely proportional to the number of business cards given out by a speaker (a conclusion reached from my extremely limited, anecdotal research). At AAA, I gave out three times as many cards as I did at PKP and the tweets per attendee ratio was almost completely the reverse at 1 to 3.33. This relationship has continued at several events since then. While there are definite holes in any virtual conversation, the larger conferences continue to have more tweets. But, what I’m starting to see at conferences of all sizes is a broader, more thoughtful discussion in this medium. It will be interesting to watch this backchannel closely, especially for non-technology focused conferences.

The BC2T metric is intriguing because it highlights the very real transition from traditional, “make a contact, get a card, follow-up back in the office, then interact” style of information sharing to a quicker crowd-sourced approach to learning, feedback and conversation; a style where you often know the other person from social media before you ever meet them. Where a context for the conversation exists the moment you introduce yourself. 20140812_123533 One of the other things I’ve noticed at larger conferences is the disproportionately fewer people attending the smaller break-out sessions. There is a lot of professional networking and certainly an ever-increasing amount of job related activities and interviews, but attendance at the smaller sessions is, quite frankly, small. I mean VERY small. At a conference in Toronto last year there was a note on the door of a Sunday morning session moving it the to coffee shop across the street.

Break-out sessions, especially at larger meetings don’t appear to be able to compete with the broader appeal and physical interaction of a plenary session or hallway conversation. Have we found a more efficient means of obtaining the information? Perhaps simply reading the paper is sufficient and actually more efficient than attending a smaller session. Maybe break-out sessions need a do-over, a better way to join the conversation instead of an information push from the podium to the seats. What if everyone came ready to discuss the paper? I know that would require extra effort on all of our parts but the author (and all of us) would probably benefit from a broader set of perspectives and feedback outside of the single discussant, who happened to read the paper at breakfast. We’ve been seeing this collaborative approach for a while. Why not here?

While there are an incredible number of conferences these days, the challenge is finding the ones that provide the most value to YOU. Like any scholarly communication network, more people actively involved in a conference creates a stronger network and greater value. Just as a lot of palm trees on a beach doesn’t necessarily mean more places to hang your hammock, attending a lot of conferences isn’t necessarily the best way to absorb more knowledge. With limited time and decreasing travel budgets, the emerging social media backchannels can provide an alternative means for those not able to attend in person or looking to get value out of a single session or two at a meeting.

Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll all supplement our thirst for knowledge by virtually attending conferences from our hammocks…