Virtually being there. When eavesdropping is encouraged.


Entirely thanks to Twitter, I was able to follow an incredibly interesting conference in / on the current state of journalism – digital, traditional, local, community, citizen – on Thursday 14 January. The event, news:rewired, was hosted at City University London by I, of course, was “attending” (loosely) remotely via the conference Twitter hashtag – #newsrw – aggregating all of the delegates’ tweeting into one stream.

As a third sector PR I did feel a little like I was eavesdropping on debate not meant for my ears, but this is the inclusive and collaborative world we now inhabit…and as I work with journalists, it’s pretty essential that I learn how the industry is developing and evolving. Makes sense, no? Through real-time hashtags, blogs, vlogs (and the rest), conference debate can now be had transparently – and with or without the strict ‘approval’ of the organisers. In this instance (and in most in fairness) the organisers clearly saw the benefit of creating a bespoke hashtag so that delegates (and those observing online outside the walls of the physical lecture space) could discuss and retweet the key issues – globally, in real-time and ad infinitum.

And thanks to bloggers like Iain Hepburn, who meticulously wrote up his notes of the event and posted them the next day (as did my old colleague TwoFourSeven) – as well as eager attendees who were tweeting pictures and even audio of speakers and delegates as they spoke – I really did feel like I was there.

But more than that, I also virtually ‘met’ some of the people that were there. By following the hashtag, I was getting a live stream of all of the key issues (including some genuinely ‘breaking news‘) attributed to the speakers using their Twitter monikers (whom I can then research); by journalists and journalism students whom one day may be able to work with me or my charity, or introduce me to others that might.

I mined the keenest tweeters (tut tut), and those with the most to say. I checked out their bios, their blogs, and their interests. I could even – through reading their Twitter feeds – tell you what some of them ate for breakfast, what films they enjoyed last week, and how long their journeys took to get to the conference. I followed those of particular interest, and added them to a Twitter List I’ve created, ‘Journos‘, so that I can filter their tweets and listen to the chatter.

It’s the same principle for using search terms and other hashtags to seek out those who share your interests, hobbies and beliefs. Some marketers are undoubtedly using it to spam mindlessly (for example, a ‘Big Brother’ Twitter feed began to follow me minutes after I tweeted something derogatory about the show because I used the programme’s name – nice targeting there, guys). But I find following real-time conference hashtags opens up even more possibilities for entering a debate – as it’s happening. You can live chat to people who may be able to scratch your back in the future; but best done in a non-spammy and conversational way.

This isn’t rocket (or exact) science, but its just another method that the third sector can use to target (in the loosest possible sense of that word) anyone from celebrities and journalists to public figures like MPs. It shouldn’t replace all of the tools in the toolbox, but when used as part of a broader strategy…it’s very useful indeed. Combine it with searching for the people you discover on to read their published work, and you’re forming the basis of an informed approach to a journalist next time you have a killer story in their area of interest.

Is this what you do? As always I’d love to hear what other people are up to and the successes you’ve had.

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