Now Proven! Using Twitter At Conferences Increases Attendee Engagement

Twitter escultura de arena

It’s official! Research now shows that when people use Twitter during classes, they are more engaged and learn more.

We can now stop debating the issue. And all the naysayers who find Twitter use during an education session distracting can stop their diatribes against Twitter. The proof is in the Twitteracy (Twitter-literacy).

Twitteracy: Tweeting Improves Learning And Engagement

Education Professor Christine Greenhow, Michigan State University, conducted a study on Twitter as a new form of literacy. Her results showed that adults who tweet during a class and as part of the instruction:

  • are more engaged with the course content
  • are more engaged with the instructor
  • are more egaged with other students
  • and have higher grades than the other students.

“Tweeting can be thought of as a new form of literacy,” Greenhow said. “The students get more engaged because they feel it is connected to something real, that it’s not just learning for the sake of learning. It feels authentic to them.”

Greenhow goes on to say that Twitter is a new form of literacy as defined by scholars in The Handbook Of Research Of New Literacies. She advocates that Twitter is a new form of communication that has created new social acts that were not possible in the past.

Tweeting For Formal And Informal Learning

These young adults used Twitter in a variety of formats for both formal and informal learning. Their use of Twitter supported a number of positive educational outcomes including:

  • increased engagement
  • active learning
  • improved relationships between students and instructors
  • higher grades

Greenhow’s research and research by Junico Junco, Heiberger and Loken 2011 and Kuh 2009 found that these young adult’s use of Twitter fostered rich discussion of the content. These students directly addressed other students Twitter discussions, engaged in peer questioning via tweets and had deeper reflections of the content and its application to the real world. Students that tweeted had higher levels of connections with other students with shared interests.

A second study by Junico Junco, Elavsky and Heiberger found that the use of Twitter in courses led to increased engagement and higher grades. When students were encouraged to use Twitter following specific learning principles, their retention and learning increased.

Greenhow’s research also identifies more than 50 other studies that show the benefits of Twitter use during education sessions. The evidence is clear that using Twitter during a class has tremendous benefits for the user often resulting in more retention, deeper learning and higher grades.

Greenhow also noted that Twitter use among U.S. teens has doubled in less than two years. There are now more than 200 million active users … posting more than 175 million tweets a day.

How can conference organizers encourage the use of Twitter during education sessions? What holds some people back from using Twitter during a conference session?


  1. says

    Hi Jeff!

    Thanks for this excellent post. It’s so wonderful to see the research supporting social media use as an education tool! I think many planners understand how valuable attendee use of social media can be for their event marketing, but many still don’t get how much they can enhance learning and networking. This research provides concrete proof!

    I have been a big advocate for providing social media education at meetings and events because the biggest stumbling block there is the lack of social media literacy. For many conferences where the median age is above 40, attendees haven’t understood the value to them as individuals.

    Not long ago, I worked as a social media concierge and educator at a large corporate event in the IT world. When we asked attendees if they use social media, comments like, “I’m not interested in what people had for breakfast,” and “Isn’t that just for kids?” were the norm.

    However, when we explained how important and valuable social media are for their career and business goals, you should have seen their eyes light up. Once they got this, they were eager to get going. We would then provide a quick experience for them, such as setting up their profile on Twitter or creating a tweet with the conference hashtag. In addition, we provided short 15 minute tutorials for those who had more questions.

    Now that the research is coming out about how valuable social media are for education and networking, I hope more planners will use it to convince organizations that social media education at events will greatly enhance the attendee experience.

  2. says

    I agree, great to see this. I teach and I learn, and for both, I tweet. I love going to sessions and following a hashtag and seeing what nuggets others have extrapolated that I may have not, perhaps as I was not in that session, or I was drifting for a moment, as learners do.

    I agree that what holds people back is a simple fear of the unknown combined with a lack of understanding that social media is about engaging meaningfully with people during a shared experience and thereby enhancing that experience and by taking small steps to begin a social media journey can show them that it is simple, fun, and effective for retention and connection. Connection of both the dots between the learning and their lives, and between them and others.

    Thank you for sharing this – it is helpful and interesting.

  3. says

    Great article.

    “A second study by Junico, Elavsky and Heiberger found that the use of Twitter in courses led to increased engagement and higher grades.”

    First researcher is actually Rey Junco (correct spelling). More of his work here:


    • Jeff Hurt says

      Thanks for reading and adding a great perspective to the discussion. It’s interesting how people often discredit things that they are ignorant about. It’s only when they learn more that they realize their value.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. The fear of the unknown is such a barrier to many things. I prefer to embrace a natural curiosity of things instead. It makes life much more enjoyable.

      Thanks for the reading and for the correction. I’ve made that correction in the post as well.

  4. says

    Jeff thanks for putting into words what I have been doing on the ground at conferences, trade shows and events by creating big digital splashes. It seems to have taken a few years for people to be able to see as you stated so beautifully above, how effect social media is for talking directly with their consumer base.

    I distinctly remember this past year on #Speakchat professional speakers getting upset when people were looking down and tweeting during their presentations. They did not comprehend the power of those people spreading their message for them – becoming their brand ambassadors, even for that one instance.

    I think what holds people back form using twitter during conferences is they have been listening to people tell them it is rude to not pay attention to the person on stage. Guess what! It takes a tremendous amount of concentration to tweet someone’s points in 140 characters. It takes real skill to hear the bullet points of their their stories. It takes a lot of skill to be able to also tweet from the perspective of the receiver – knowing that when you construct your tweet in a WIIFT mode, you gain far more reach and attention.

    Between this new behavior and a few limiting beliefs holding them back, lies the gold people have been saying they need to revive their businesses. Like all things precious, you have to mine it.

  5. says

    Jeff – I think we could look at this a little more broadly than one platform (in this case, twitter). I would argue that it is not twitter that engages, but rather the process of synthesizing one’s thoughts and discussing those thoughts with others. While twitter is one vehicle for that, I think this could hold true for any number of social outlets.

    Ed Mazur at Harvard has done some fantastic work in education involving pre-reading (or lecture viewing) and then using the in-person sessions for discussion/debate with peers while measuring the pulse of comprehension via an audience response system. His results have been nothing short of amazing.

    Regardless of my opinion, this research may help speakers justify taking some risks and exploring new techniques. And that’s good for all who attend meetings.

    Maybe what twitter becomes in this situation is a form of attentive listening, synthesis, and application via discussion.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      I like what you said, “Between this new behavior and a few limiting beliefs holding them back, lies the gold people have been saying they need to revive their businesses. Like all things precious, you have to mine it.” Excellent point. Thanks for reading and adding to the conversation.

      Yes, we could say that when the audience is doing something with the content, other than listening, their retention and engagement increases. Interesting though that researchers are now showing that Twitter is a new form of communication that did not exist before 2007 and that the new writing platform is our cell phone. I think that makes a huge difference for attendees as it’s something they are carrying with them. I disagree with you that it’s not twitter that engages…that’s not what this research shows. It actually is everything about Twitter that causes the increased engagement. You can’t argue with evidence.

      Thanks for reading and adding you insights too.

  6. says

    Jeff, thanks for sharing this research which I hadn’t heard about before. Unfortunately the article itself is not available without paying $36 (which I don’t feel like doing) so I haven’t read it. The summary doesn’t mention the results you list.

    One thing I would be concerned about in a study of this kind is that, in my casual experience people who tweet at events tend, in general, to be more curious and engaged per se. So I wonder if the research specifically controlled for this? Otherwise, it could just be that people who are more engaged and know more about a topic are more likely to be tweeters, which would not support the conclusions you describe.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m sure if you do a search you can find more about this research. I know that Junco’s research, of which there is plenty about social media and Twitter is available free online. Here’s the link that Joe shared in comments

  7. says

    This is what Reynol Junco said himself in VentureBeat blog post which differs from the outcome here slightly!

    “I published a paper showing that using Twitter to continue discussions outside of class was positively related to student engagement and learning; however, using Twitter as a back channel for in-class discussions was not.”

    The full article is here:

    The VentureBeat article is here:

  8. says

    This is good news, thanks for the post. I do conference tweets with visual summaries. I gain so much by just seeing what resonates with other people and what they are tweeting.

  9. says

    And yet I was recently at a conference where the organizers told people to put their phones away. NOOOOO…. take your phones out and tweet, FB, etc… And if the speaker cannot keep your attention, go read emails or buy shoes.

  10. says

    Been tracking and created a couple of infographics showing the growth and impact of Twitter on a some conferences my last employer put on.

    You can check them out here:

    Note the rise plus context of use (increased conversation and link sharing – referencing stuff speakers were saying / highlighting).

    Keep keeping on sir :-)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *