Breaking down NCPH’s First Twitter Mini-Con
13 December 2018 – Krista McCracken and Christine Crosby
NCPH held its first-ever Twitter Mini-Con(ference) on Thursday-Friday, October 18-19, 2018. The event was organized by historians Jessica Knapp and Krista McCracken, in collaboration with NCPH staff Christine Crosby and Meghan Hillman, and was modeled after the Beyond 150 Twitter Conference, which Krista organized with Andrea Eidinger (see this post for more details). In bringing this unique format to NCPH, we hoped to challenge traditional ideas of professional development by opening up access to good public history work when travel budgets and time are increasingly restricted.
Our theme, “(Re)Active Public History,” was rooted in a desire to discuss the active ways that historians engage with the public, the past, and historical scholarship. As Twitter users, we see how public historians use the platform for activism and collaborating on ways to view and interpret the past. The strong cultural interest in “activeness,” as it relates to health and wellbeing, presented itself as another potential inspiration for sessions. The intersection of these ideas lead us to choose the theme “(Re)Active” to encourage submissions about how we act, react, and advocate in the field of public history (for more on the theme, check out the Call for Proposals). This theme inspired our event hashtag, #NCPHactive, which became our shortened name for the mini-con. Any Twitter user can click on this hashtag to find conversations and Tweets related to the conference.
Leading up to #NCPHactive, many people had questions about the mechanics of the format and how presentations would work: How do you present nuanced projects using 250-character Tweets? Can you include slides? What will a whole day of Twitter presentations look like? We created a presenters’ guide and a participant guide to answer these questions and hope that participants saw the potential of Twitter as a conference platform.
Through the Call for Proposals, we received excellent submissions from NCPH members, non-members, Twitter-users, and Twitter-newbies. After determining which proposals would inspire engaging and informative discussion around the theme, we filled about 3/4ths of the schedule. We then brainstormed people we knew were doing innovative work related to the theme and who had a strong Twitter presence (therefore more likely to try this format) to round out the offerings. We determined the presentation order by considering presenters’ availability, time zone, and the presentation topics, grouping related ones together when possible.
Over the course of two days, we featured keynotes by cultural organizer/curator LaTanya Autry and Allison Tucker of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, twenty-one standard presentations, and a project showcase session. Presenters came from diverse backgrounds including post-secondary institutions, museums, activist groups, historic preservation, living history, publishing, and archives. Likewise, presentation topics spanned an array of themes including queer representation, writing women and people of color back into history, building complex historical narratives, memes, monuments, and oral history. Most presenters were based in the US and Canada, but they hailed from four time zones and three countries.
We saved each presentation as a Twitter moment. “Moments” allow Twitter users to create curated stories from collected tweets on similar topics. Once created, Twitter moments produce a link that can be referenced any time. These links are a great place to send students or colleagues interested in learning more about the type of active work NCPH is engaged in on social media. A Twitter account is necessary to view them; however, an instructor could embed Twitter moments in a course website, allowing non-Twitter users access.
#NCPHactive presented many challenges, the biggest being evaluation and measuring success. Based on the statistics we gathered via free sites like hashtracking.com and the Google Sheet’s Twitter Archiver plug-in, we know the mini-con reached about 700,000 Twitter users, most of whom are connected to public history. But what does that mean? How many people interacted with tweets, had engaging conversations, and took something away from the event? Without paying for advanced analytic software before the event, it’s hard to go deeper with this analysis except through anecdotal evidence.
To that end, the feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. Participant Michelle Ronholm wrote about her experience with the #NCPHactive, noting:
“I approached this mini-con expecting to gather some good information, but skeptical that much would be accomplished in terms of networking and making connections. I was right about the former, and surprisingly wrong about the latter. I was able to “meet” people I hadn’t discovered yet, and had wonderful side conversations in my DMs [or direct messages, which are private Twitter conversations between two users].”
Participants Jim McGrath and Hope Shannon reflected on their presentations’ challenges and outcomes on their respective blogs, jimmcgrath.us and Omnia History. Nicole Belolan, co-editor of The Public Historian and Digital Media Editor for NCPH, noted that she followed the conversation to identify prospective writers for NCPH publications.
One of our hopes for #NCPHactive was that it would allow people to see how a Twitter event can work and to think about other applications. Internally, we have been reflecting on the experience and how we could improve future iterations. Here are some of the things we’re considering:
There was a substantial decrease in participation on Friday afternoon and evening, so we may adjust timing to ensure more consistent engagement.
- How each presenter used their allotted thirty minutes varied. Some used almost the entire time for presenting, while others split the time for presenting and questions as our guide suggested. It’s worth reexamining the ideal presentation time.
- Some presenters noted it was difficult to answer all of the questions posed to them, particularly if asked simultaneously. Do we extend the question period, or add a general question and answer session at the end of each day or after a week as a follow-up? Hope Shannon published more fulsome responses to the questions directed to her during her presentation—which could be a future model.
- How do we build in more ways to mirror the networking and personal connections of face-to-face events?
- Moderating included a lot of work behind the scenes. Christine scheduled explanatory tweets, retweeted the first tweet of each presentation, added hashtags when needed, and kept everything on schedule. How can we find ways for others to assist in managing the conference?
- To help with evaluation, we may ask participants to register (even if it’s free), allowing for comprehensive post-event surveys.
- To make these events friendlier to people who are not regular Twitter users, we could encourage folks to watch Twitter mini-cons with colleagues by setting up a hashtag feed on a large screen using a service such as TweetDeck.
Overall, #NCPHactive provided a lot of food for thought. It included amazing presentations on a range of public history topics while showcasing the potential for virtual engagement with our community. We look forward to exploring ways to facilitate learning and connecting online. Please be in touch with the NCPH office ([email protected]) if you’re interested in having NCPH partner with you in creating your own Twitter event!
~Krista McCracken (They/Them) is a public history professional and archivist. They work as an archives supervisor at Algoma University’s Arthur A. Wishart Library and Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. Krista is an editor of the popular Canadian history website Activehistory.ca and serves on the NCPH Board of Directors. On Twitter: @kristamccracken
~Christine Crosby (She/Her) is the NCPH Membership Manager. In addition to working with our members, she oversees NCPH’s social media presences, assists with the annual meeting, and lots more. On Twitter: @XtineXby and @NCPH