BayBio’s Annual Conference, Tweet by Tweet

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Most biotechies haven’t yet embraced the whole Twitter thing like techies, but I’m starting to see more curiosity in life sciences. I saw it this week, as I experimented by writing about the BayBio annual conference entirely through tweeting.

Twitter, for the skeptics out there, is actually a lot more than a silly place to waste time reading about whether teen pop star Justin Bieber is having a good hair day. I used it to share real-time bursts of information from the BayBio conference, a few snappy quotes, and the occasionally controversial remark with the people who follow me at @ldtimmerman. There were plenty of others there filing real-time dispatches in 140 characters or less, including Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times (@rleuty_biotech), Iain McDougall (@ianmcdtweet), John Graham (@johnrgraham), Jonathan Inman (@jonathan_TVG) and Diane Heditsian (@dianeheditsian), to name a few.

What’s the point, you might ask? Authors of these seemingly random quotes, comments and observations were compiled in a handy group on Twitter using the conference’s hash (#) tag, which in this case was #baybio2011. So if you’re at the conference like me but can’t be everywhere at once, you could keep track of the best comments in real-time from multiple correspondents filing from all around the conference hotel. And it’s an especially a great way to monitor what is being said at the conference if you aren’t able to attend. I know quite a few of my followers in Boston, for example, were paying attention to the Twitter stream at BayBio. I’m planning to follow this handy listening post from big medical meetings that I won’t plan to attend this year, like the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The BayBio conference itself was like a lot of conferences I attend, and a perfect venue for tweeting. There wasn’t really any big breaking news, or any clear single theme I could really sink my teeth into for a meaty feature like the ones we like to do at Xconomy. Instead, there were lots of really interesting people making lots of interesting comments in various panels and in different contexts.

(At this point, I know Xconomy SF editor Wade Roush is groaning, because tweeting from the lecture hall has been standard procedure at technology conferences for about four years now. In fact, Twitter made its first big splash at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin in 2007. But the life sciences community has been slower to embrace social media tools.)

If you’re still not sure about whether to invest any of your time in this new thing—believe me, I was skeptical at first too—I’d encourage you to read a guest post from a few months ago by Michael Gilman (@michael_gilman) of Cambridge, MA-based Stromedix, one of the more avid biotech executives I know on Twitter. If you want to give this thing a try, you can start by signing up for an account. You can click on my handle @ldtimmerman to start following the usual feed of stories that I write for @xconomy, some links to stories from others that I share from around the web, and the occasional musing about my love of running, and the Green Bay Packers. At BayBio, I banged out tweets from keynote talks by Bayer chairman Jorg Reinhardt, panels with venture capitalists like Vaughn Kailian of MPM Capital and Jonathan MacQuitty of Abingworth Management, and even captured a few comments from a Pfizer guy that I’m sure a few entrepreneurs found galling.

You can get some sense of the feel of the event by looking over the whole compilation of tweets at #baybio2011; you can find all tweets including that tag by using the search box at or the built-in search function of any standard Twitter client, such as Tweetdeck. Happy tweeting!

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5 responses to “BayBio’s Annual Conference, Tweet by Tweet”

  1. G. Thayer says:

    Luke – Thanks for your article.
    After initial resistance and time needed to adapt to a differently formatted data stream, I’ve discovered that reading collated Tweets from events like yours is actually very helpful. My notes look very much like the Tweets anyway, so it’s as if there are multiple versions of me pecking away in the audience(s). And although I initially was worried about the lost context in which those abstracted comments were made, having the comments of multiple savvy listeners with multiple perspectives creates a meta-story that might better capture the event than the perspective of one journalist (other than you…).

  2. G. Thayer—thanks for the comment. I haven’t actually tried to look back on compiled tweets after the fact to see if I can piece together what happened at an event like BayBio. That sounds to me like it would be hard to do, but it might be something I’ll try in the future. My sense is that Twitter is good for keeping track of an event in real-time, but not as good at providing necessary context. As a full-time working journalist, I’d like to think there’s still some interest in a traditional recap story (like, say, an AP account of a Giants game) that helps the reader efficiently catch up on what happened at an event.

  3. Luke — great observations and simple explanation on the use of twitter at industry events. As meeting organizers we are always trying to get more of our attendees to engage in the twitter “backchannel”. It is a great way to follow the conference, meet other attendees, subtly promote your company and have a little more fun with an otherwise dry session you may be stuck in. The life sciences are definitely a few years (it seems like light years) behind the tech industry when it comes to the use of social media and other new media tools. Thanks for leading the way. See you in the backchannel!