Twitter Wall at a software conference (courtesy gerard0 at Flickr CC)One of the best social networks for professional development is Twitter.

It is not only an extraordinarily fast news grapevine, but with hour-long knowledge tsunamis like #tourismchat you can get a whole lot of helpful information without paying a dime for it or schlepping luggage onto a plane (plus you’ll connect with a lot of smart people.)

Another way to learn from Twitter is to follow conference hashtags.

Using the hashtag in a tweet allows people to follow all tweets about one particular event or topic. Even if you aren’t on Twitter, you can plug in a hashtag on Twitter’s search engine and see what comes up.

Many hashtags start buzzing well before the event (BlogWorld and New Media Expo West in Los Angeles in November – #BWELA – where there’s a tourism track, is already busy.)

Others go year-round, like #SoMeT for the Social Media Tourism Symposium, #TBEX for the Travel Blog Exchange conference and #SOBCon, the business blogging conference.

Some Tips for Hashtag Participation

Here are a few tips for enjoying the wonders of conference hashtags….

1 )  Notice someone tweeting really good stuff? Go follow them; send a quick tweet to say hi, and tell them that you appreciate their efforts. This includes supporting the speakers.

2 )  Notice when someone new comes onto the hashtag. At conferences, many people finally decide to join Twitter or get active on their long-dormant account. Support them by following and saying hello.

Many times these newbies are executive types who don’t yet really know what they’re doing, so cut them plenty of slack, including being patient about them not knowing how to change their default egg avatar. 🙂

3 )  Don’t promote your product, service or upcoming event on the hashtag. It’s just tacky. People will see your avatar joining the discussion, and they are perfectly capable of reading your Twitter bio to see what you’re about. If they want to talk business, that’s fine, but take it off the hashtag.

4 )  Don’t be a carnival barker. I’ve noticed more and more vendors at trade shows filling the hashtag with hourly “Come by our booth and win an iPad!” sorts of tweets. This is annoying noise and makes them look desperate. Cut it out, booth babes.

5 )  Be sensitive to services that automatically tweet when you do something. For example, no one cares about seeing your Klout score sent from Klout in the middle of a conference. We’re not that into you.

6 )  Don’t just sit there RT-ing (retweeting) what everyone else is saying. As Troy says in his helpful post about how to tweet at a tourism conference: add context, value and insights.

7 )  Be sensitive to how busy people can be at a conference, trying to keep up with things, and don’t expect real-time replies just because you see them live-tweeting….good tip from Sarah Vela of the awesome startup HelpAttack!

8 )  Take it outside, folks – don’t get into arguments on the hashtag. As my friend Connie Reece says, “You can pack a lot of heat into 140 characters.”

I’ve seen a Twitter cruise hashtag devolve into an online dogfight between ship passengers and environmental activists, and a tourism conference this week had someone stomp into the middle of it to yell about the host state’s liquor laws.

When I feel a rant coming on, I move it over to certain circles on Facebook, or here to the blog. There’s more room for discussion, it doesn’t hog the hashtag and most importantly, my blog and my Facebook profile are MY “house.” Conference hashtags are not.

And finally….

9 )  Remember, you aren’t physically there. You’re an observer. Don’t parachute in and run your mouth too much; kinda like IRL….In Real Life. Otherwise, you’ll get reactions like, “Who the hell IS this person, and if they have so much to say, why didn’t they pony up the conference fee and show up in person?”

I know, sort of cranky and piggy, but the thought WILL cross people’s minds.

Did I miss anything? Tell us in the comments down below – thanks!

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