Social Media at the CAA2012: A Reflective Report

Reviewed by Nicole Beale and Jessica Ogden (September 2012)

Nicole Beale: PhD Student in Archaeology and Web Science, University of Southampton. Email:

Jessica Ogden: Digital Specialist and Partner, L - P : Archaeology. Email:

Cite this as: Beale, N. and Ogden, J. 2012 Social Media at the CAA2012: A Reflective Report, Internet Archaeology 32.

A compiliation of the social media content highlights from CAA 2012 can be found at:

Fig 1. Posters advertising social media events during the conference.



At the end of March 2012 the annual international Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) conference took place at the University of Southampton. As part of the conference, a team from the University carried out research to test the extent to which social media could be used to support the event. The Social Media in Live Events (SMiLE) project consisted of a team of volunteers, delegates, conference organisers and external interested parties who carried out a series of activities that aimed to encourage, support and analyse the use of social media at the CAA2012.

Shortly after the conference, Nicole Beale, a PhD student and SMiLE project organiser, and Jessica Ogden, a commercial archaeologist and conference delegate, embarked on a series of email conversations in which they discussed some of the key points that were raised during the conference and inspired by SMiLE. This review is an edited version of those conversations. All of the opinions expressed in these emails are those of the two individuals and are not meant to be representative of the CAA committee or the CAA2012 organisers or delegates. It is hoped that these notes provide a personal insight into the ways that social media were received at the CAA2012 and an exploration of the potential impact that these tools and platforms could have for the CAA community more generally.


Re: Social media at the CAA2012. What we planned, and why we planned it.

Dear Jessica,

The first thing to discuss could be the expectations that we as the organising committee, and you as the participant, had of the technologies at the CAA2012. What did you expect to find when you came to the conference, and did those expectations match when you got there?

From my perspective, the goals for the use of technologies at the conference were matched to the aims of the CAA more broadly. In the early stages of the conference planning process, we identified which tools would support the various ambitions that the conference had, namely for making connections between specialists, and for providing opportunities to present and discuss innovative research projects and ideas.

We wanted to use social media as a way to support the conference, and as such we tried to identify social media platforms that were already being used by the community, and understand how they were being used. We planned to use social media in a similar way throughout the event, to supplement what was happening in the real world. For example, many CAA community members were already using LinkedIn to advertise events, and so we only used LinkedIn for that purpose during the conference. Twitter was being used for conversations about specific topics, and so the official @caasoton account tried to do this also, as well as using the tool for additional information sharing and administrative tasks.

From the outset it was important that people did not feel that they were being shoehorned into using a platform chosen by the organising team. Although, in the end, there was one tool that was overhwlmingly adopted on the first day of the conference - Twitter. The team supporting social media was determined to be reflexive, and so when this tool proved to be the most popular, resources and efforts were shifted to increase support of this platform.


Re: What I expected from the CAA2012.

Dear Nicole,

I believe this fits with my perspective, as well. Perhaps it is more to do with my previous involvement with CAA, but it seemed to me that the use of social media at the conference is an obvious extension to the wider goal of using the event itself as a medium for networking with other individuals from this specialist area of archaeology and heritage. As CAA is a 'conference-based' organisation, it has always put emphasis on CAA as a network, and the use of social media seemed to provide an additional forum for extending the traditional meet and greet events to include online networking.

My only other previous experience with using social media at CAA was at the CAAUK chapter meeting in Birmingham in 2011, and as such, my expectations were somewhat shaped by this experience. Certain participants used Twitter to broadcast the papers and discussions in the single-track conference, as well as discuss the papers online with those who were unable to attend. Storify was used to amalgamate the tweets from across the two day conference, and provide more context for those who did not follow the live Twitter stream. This was one of the first times that I used social media in this way, and although the impact was relatively small, it certainly raised my awareness of the potential benefits it could offer to the international conference.



Re: Practical organisation of the social media.

Dear Jessica,

As I said, we were keen not to dictate the chosen platforms, but it became clear that certain tools were proving more popular than others and so we channelled our resources accordingly. For instance, we set up a Facebook group for the conference, but it was not being used for conversations, so we put more efforts into updating the Twitter account. However, in an effort to be inclusive, we automatically updated the Facebook timeline with the Twitter stream, so that delegates using either tool would see the same content that the official CAA2012 account was creating.

During the days leading up to the conference the Twitter account seemed the most used social media tool by delegates, thus the team created posters advertising possible hashtags to use, and printed small credit card sized adverts for the @caasoton account and #caasoton hashtag to publicise that these would be used over the course of the event.

The organisational team briefed the volunteers (who sat in each room to ensure the sessions had technical support) on the use of Twitter, and suggested that they could use the platform to field questions for the session chair, or to share useful resources from the presenters with other delegates if they chose to do so. We decided not to stipulate that each session have its own hashtag, but we did suggest to session chairs and the volunteers that this might be a useful way to manage the live tweets, should they believe this was necessary. Interestingly, this was used by some session chairs, but these were not always the sessions with the highest numbers of tweets.

It would be interesting to know what, from a delegate perspective, you thought of the way that Twitter was managed within the sessions? Do you think that the level of control that we decided on was too much or too little?


Re: Practical organisation of the social media.

Dear Nicole,

I think this conference provided an interesting contrast to other conference events which I have attended in which the use of social media is typically more of a 'home-grown' nature. It seems that (in the case of Twitter) 'official' interaction is usually limited to the creation of a unique hashtag prior to the event and to broadcasting official information regarding the event itself.

In reference to whether or not the organising committee exerted too much control over the use of social media at CAA, I actually think this is virtually impossible when it comes to this kind of 'open' format. It was very clear from the outset that the organising committee spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the use of social media at CAA. At the end of the day, although certain plans worked better than others, the things that worked, did so because people chose to participate in them. However, I suspect that the active promotion of the hashtags and other online tools inevitably increased the turnout and participation in social media, and perhaps even decreased the barrier to entry for those less experienced in using social media in this way. Personally, I think the hands-on nature of the CAA organising committee in the use of social media this year must have increased the number of attendees who at least trialled social media during the event. I suspect it had the most impact on attendees who were unfamiliar with social media as a tool for networking and discussing events prior to the CAA, although I would be curious to know whether or not these delegates went on to use these tools post-conference?

The lack of session hashtags is interesting, as I personally found it somewhat difficult to weed out session discussions. It was clear during the conference that several themes emerged on the Twitter feed, and were being woven across sessions both simultaneously and separately. I genuinely believe that some of these themes were enriched by these inter-session discussions via social media. Several obvious criticisms emerged, however, one being that some of these discussions never reached the live forum within the session, thus creating a separate arena with which those not using social media (or Twitter specifically) did not engage with. The lack of session hashtags in most of the sessions that I attended also presented issues post-conference in defining and picking out particular points of interest that were identified within sessions, particularly when I was discussing things across sessions - some of which I did not even attend! Questions were also raised whether or not this lack of a 'coherent view' of the online discussions prevented anyone not following the live feed from participating online.


Re: Practical organisation of the social media.

Dear Jessica,

It's really interesting that you felt that the use of social media increased the number of attendees who tried out social media. As you know we asked all of the CAA2012 delegates to complete an online feedback survey. I've been looking at the responses, and it does seem that quite a few delegates were encouraged to use a new tool. This is an unanticipated outcome, as it certainly was not one of the goals of the social media strategy. However, the CAA conferences are all about encouraging learning environments, so it's great that this happened. Delegates have told us that they tried the following online tools for the first time:

After I read your email, I also went back to the survey to look at what the delegates had said that they used social media for during the event. The results show that most people were indeed using social media to share information and to network with other delegates.

Fig 2. Graph showing the various ways respondents used social media at CAA 2012.

I think it is important to examine the point that you make about the fact that Twitter became the most popular channel for conversation during the conference, and that this often meant that there were conversations happening through Twitter that were not being had offline. This is something that we should have mitigated more against. For instance, I wonder whether we could have had a social media help-desk that people could have visited during the conference to enable them to engage through those tools should they have wanted to do so. And we could have had a few plasma screens showing the Twitter stream for those who were not actively using the platform, but who wanted to see what conversations and commentaries were happening there. Neither of these are ideal solutions of course, but they begin to resolve some of the problems of exclusion that people were experiencing as the activities on Twitter escalated throughout the event.


Re: Practical organisation of the social media.

Dear Nicole,

The emphasis from the respondents on using social media to 'share information' is of particular interest to me. The use of Twitter and other online platforms in tandem with the sessions allowed for additional online resources to be shared in real time, and this enriched the context of the discussions. To me, this was perhaps the most important, and unforeseen, benefit of using this media during the CAA. In this respect, social media did not just provide an additional arena for discussion, but the nature of being online automatically supplemented the conference discussions by giving instant access to other relevant online resources.

However, I think the question remains as to what degree the conference organisers should facilitate and promote the use of social media. I believe having the Twitter stream live and posted around the venue would have opened up the discussion. Whether or not actual discussion would have been generated with those not actively participating, I think it's important that efforts are made to break down potential barriers to entry when it comes to social media. As seen from the survey feedback, a help-desk with volunteers equipped to assist those interested in learning new social media tools could have also assisted in making things more inclusive. In a conference that focuses on the relationships it inspires, social media should be used to connect young researchers, professionals and academics, not divide them based on whether or not they use Twitter or any other platform.


Some themes and stories

Re: Themes coming out of the CAA2012.

Dear Jessica,

Before the conference began we decided what themes we felt social media might be able to support, and then designed a strategy around these and various use case scenarios. I thought it might be nice to explore some accounts of the use of social media during the conference, along with some of the original goals.

The survey had some great information from delegates about the ways that they felt social media helped with supporting the CAA network. A few of the comments are listed below, and it's worth mentioning that although most of them mention the consolidation of already existing relationships, there are also a few about social media facilitating the forging of new ones, which is very exciting to see!

I got some new followers.
During and after my presentations I was mentioned several times on Twitter with comments and sometimes praising of my talk. This has proven to be a very effective way of enriching my network.
Meeting/discussing with new delegates that I didn't have time to interact with during busy schedule/social events.
It strengthened and broadened my circle of academic contacts as we focussed around a single discussion.
met people I had previously only 'met' on twitter and followed and was in turn followed by new people…
Kinda backwards but I met people in real life that were part of my online network for some time.
I have several new followers and am following several new colleagues on twitter as well as a number of new connections on CAA group on LinkedIn.
helped me promote the conference to my network and connect me to others at CAA.
I have attracted a new group of followers (and people I am following) who I was not in contact with as a result.
I met people in person that I had previously followed online.
Met loads of new people and they met me! Especially with similar questions and concerns.
I met some people I've been interacting with online face-to-face for the first time and also found a whole new bunch of people to talk to and follow (and gained a lot of followers too!).
I was able to meet other twitter users I follow and that follow me.
Met lots of new people virtually and in person.
It helped increasing interest in the session I was chairing. Also it let me discover the twitter profiles of people you were physically there.
I have connected with a few people who tweeted about my paper.
Good to follow other attendees who were tweeting; interesting to find out who people were and what they work on normally.

We also worked with the University of Southampton's student film crew, SUSUtv to create a series of 11 short films that were designed to explore the various themes and record and share a flavour of each day of the conference. On the first day of the conference, SUSUtv created a video that explored the nature of the CAA as a global network. It seemed to highlight the importance of attending the conferences and the opportunities that this affords. On watching the interviews with delegates the only recurring negative thread was the cost of getting to the international conferences. It makes me wonder if there is anything more that we could do to share the conference to those members of the CAA network who cannot attend the international conference every year? It would be great if each network member, even if they couldn't physically attend each event, felt that they had been a part of every single conference: could social media contribute to this I wonder?


Fig 3. University of Southampton student-led SUSUtv interviewed delegates and organisers, producing a series of informative videos exploring major themes of the CAA.

Re: Themes coming out of the CAA2012.

Dear Nicole,

The use of social media at the CAA has surely extended the global network of CAA members beyond the past and current members of the organisation. To this end, and although difficult to quantify, I would be curious to know how many people the CAA reached through social media platforms who had no prior experience of the conference or organisation? Perhaps the use of these kinds of tools is actually increasing the impact of the CAA itself, particularly to audiences who are unable to attend in person?

The largest complaint about the Twitter feed at CAA was the overwhelming number of tweets. It was a struggle for even the most seasoned Tweeters to keep up and understand the nature of the discussion without additional context. Context could have been provided to those CAA members not in attendance through the live streaming of sessions, papers and discussions (which were being streamed locally on site). This is outside the scope of this review and rightfully deserves a much larger discussion about the nature of streaming technologies and the CAA conference itself.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the continued post-conference use of the #caasoton hashtag on Twitter. I think this is a testament to the enthusiasm for maintaining the CAA network between conferences with which social media has surely encouraged. Have delegates been active in the other platforms post-conference?


Re: Themes coming out of the CAA2012.

Dear Jessica,

The feedback survey gives us some interesting information about delegates' continuing participation in online conversations after the event. There is only so much that can be said about these figures of course, but it is nice to quantify the usefulness of the use of social media by the team in this way.

Fig 4. Graph showing whether respondents contributed to the online discussion at CAA 2012, and whether they chose to use it before and/or after the event.

I have many observations on how each of the individual themes went, but the most significant thing I think is that in all instances, the online activities really do reflect the real world activities. In the examples where an event was not actively supported within the conference venue by our volunteers and staff, the event did not really happen within the online platforms. This seems like a very elementary point to make, but I say this because it really illustrates beautifully the biggest issue that we identified whilst the conference was running: social media is incredibly resource-heavy. Using social media tools takes up lots of time and energy.

As a conference organiser, I personally felt that the energy spent on the relationships being negotiated online, should match the energy being put into similar relationships in the real world, and so effectively, at times I was talking to double the number of delegates that I would normally communicate with if organising an event without the inclusion of social media. It was exhausting, but incredibly rewarding.

An example of this is the series of small competitions that we ran. In the end, they could not be supported to the level that we would have liked because of the numbers of delegates who showed an interest, and so, aside from the initial posters advertising the competitions, we chose not to do any other advertising, run participant support sessions or have any kind of help-desk, although all of these things were considered. Consequently, take-up was low, although the individuals who did participate tell me that they enjoyed the experience.

So I wonder what the delegates' perspective would be on the connection between the real world and the online world that we were also occupying? I felt frustrated throughout much of the conference that I couldn't dedicate more time to the online world, but if I had, would I have felt disconnected from the goings-on at the conference I wonder?


Fig 5. The real world and the online world coming together at the CAA2012: Delegates built up a map of CAA members online and also at the venue.

Fig 6. The real world and the online world coming together at the CAA2012: The CAA timeline was compiled from delegate contributions in the form of postit notes, online and in the conference venue's foyer.

Re: Themes coming out of the CAA2012.

Dear Nicole,

I personally did find that I interacted more with people on Twitter (some of whom who were physically in the room) than those in the room with me during the conference sessions. That being said, I also found myself discussing the Twitter feed with people during the coffee breaks and at the pub. It was clear that the discussions on the feed were not limited to online, but were (in my case) enhanced by real-world discussions which extended to include those who were not Twitter participants.

However, I was left wishing there was more interaction between the feed and the session itself. I think this is an area where too much intervention by the conference risks making the process too rigid and inflexible. Having someone fielding questions or actively addressing the online forum within the live session may have helped to minimise the gap between the online and live discussions.


Feedback from Delegates

Re: The post-conference survey.

Dear Jessica,

The post-conference feedback survey gave us lots of useful information when considering what to do with social media next time. The respondents told us that they are using a broad range of tools, as you can see from the chart below:

Fig 7. Graph showing the social media platforms respondents used at CAA 2012, and which were most popular.

We set up a few things through social media platforms that were not used during the conference, and its useful to think about how we could make them more useful if social media were to be supported in this way again at a similar event. For example, I set up a delicious stack that was made up of all URLs being shared within tweets from Twitter that contained the #caasoton hashtag. In the post-conference survey, no participant said that they had used delicious.

There could be lots of reasons why this was not taken up. We didn't actively advertise this stack at the conference with posters like we did other things, but we did let people know through the social media networks that the bookmarks were all being collected together and made available. It is more likely that this particular resource was not very useful in its current form as it merely duplicates what was available within Twitter and Facebook. But also as a standalone feed, the bookmarks are not useful if visited away from the timeline of the actual conference. This makes me think that if we went through the bookmarks and tagged them with the papers that they were attached to, they would be much more useable.

Vimeo and Flickr were used to collect and share videos and photos. The photos were a combination of user-submitted historical photos of previous CAA events, collected in a Flickr group, and the SMiLE team created photos of the conference, uploaded into a separate Flickr user account. There are over 800 photos all together, and the Flickr account and group both got very high visitor stats during and after the event. The videos were created by the SUSUtv team during the event and the view counts were much higher than we had expected. To date, the videos in the CAA collection in Vimeo have been viewed over 2000 times. And now, three months after the conference, we are still getting around 20 plays per day. I guess with these particular resources, the most useful thing that we can do is continue to ensure that they are available online. Their value will surely increase as the years pass as they are not only a fantastic record of the existing CAA community, but by continuing to encourage the network to contribute photos to the Flickr group, they will also develop into an archive of the events.

It would be great if we could tie all of the various resources that now exist online together a bit more. For instance, many of the speakers have shared their presentations on Slideshare and many members of the community have compiled personal accounts of sessions through Storify. My ultimate wish would be for us to devise some way to show the relevant Slideshare presentations, alongside the delicious bookmarks, the Flickr photos, the Vimeo video and the Tweets from that paper's timeslot, complete with the relevant CAA2012 session theme and even author information, all in one place! Wow, now that would be useful!


Re: Post-conference feedback.

Dear Nicole,

I think this is a very good point. The nature of using many platforms for varying types of media, has divided the content pertaining to a single topic between them. I think that there must be better ways of integrating the content generated on the various social media platforms within the context of the individual papers, workshops and sessions. To be continued…


Fig 8. The conference delegates used various forms of hardware to engage with the social media at the conference. Notebooks, mobile phones, iPads and laptops were in evidence in every presentation.

Personal Perspectives

Re: Review of what happened from a personal perspective.

Dear Jessica,

We haven't talked much about the social media content that now exists in our conversations. I feel that this is a topic that needs its own arena, but I think it might be useful for us to elaborate on what we want to take from this experience and use at other events in the future.

The Social Media in Live Events (SMiLE) team is looking at all of the resources now and developing a way to visualise and meaningfully search the content so that it continues to be used by the community. We are also looking at putting together some guidelines for using social media at live events generally, and will be incorporating many of the lessons learned into this. There are so many things that we haven't been able to cover in these conversations, and I'd like to point to a few here. The SMiLE team have been writing a series of blog posts for the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, and the first post discusses the plans that the team initially had, and the second post outlines what data we now have and what we are planning to do with it. We have also written a post for the Smart Insights blog, in which we talk about the research methodology and the tools that we are using to visualise the data. In the second half of the post, we outline what we learnt about integrating real and virtual events. I also gave a presentation at the recent PLE conference with Lisa Harris on the ways that the SMiLE project's experiments with social media at the conference had contributed to students' development. The paper from this will be available soon.

I'm aware that I haven't talked about my own feelings on how the event went. I am a PhD student in the first 6 months of my studies, but have been attending CAA events since my MSc in Archaeological Computing in 2004. I felt that generally the use of social media was well received at the CAA2012. I got a lot from some of the channels that were being used. I really enjoyed looking at the videos and photos in the evenings as they had recorded things that I'd missed because there had been so much going on simultaneously. I would also have a quick skim through the Twitter stream each evening to see if I had missed any papers or sessions that were relevant to my own research and then I was able to seek those individuals out the next day.

I didn't really use Twitter as myself during the conference sessions, as I have never really felt comfortable typing away on my mobile phone while someone is speaking. I really don't like when people have conversations over the head of the speaker through Twitter, and I have found from experience that this happens quite often. I do however share URLs and references over Twitter during papers as I find this to be a great way to take notes whilst simultaneously sharing information with others. However, I should say that I think that my use of Twitter as an individual was curtailed by the fact that I was also tweeting from the official @caasoton account and so could only bear so much 'Twitter time'.

For me, the CAA events have always been about meeting people, and I did meet a few people during the event because of my use of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. In all instances, I spoke to someone first on the social media platform, and then sought them out at the conference to talk to.

I met lots of people online 'at' the conference who I did not then see whilst there, but did have conversations with. This was pretty surreal. Ideally I would have preferred to have met them but packed timetables can make this imposible, so meeting people virtually is the next best thing.


Re: Personal perspective.

Dear Nicole,

From the perspective of a delegate I have to say in all honesty, I thought it was an absolute blast. The buzz surrounding the use of all of the online tools – whether it be positive or negative – meant that virtually everyone was talking. Social media at CAA generated conversation about social media at CAA! I have no doubt that the active promotion and use of social media at CAA2012 contributed to making it one of the most enjoyable conferences I have ever been to. Disclaimer: I studied at Southampton and have very close ties to the organizational committee and the CAA steering committee.

But I do genuinely believe that people left the conference with a buzz. A buzz that something was happening, and that things were changing. In a year that celebrated the 40th anniversary of CAA, this year the merging of both the tradition of CAA as a network and the new technologies that now facilitate a truly global organisation could be felt.


Concluding observations and some take-home points

Overall, the use of social media at CAA met quite a few of its original goals. It is safe to say that social media supported the CAA network and increased social interaction between researchers at CAA, albeit limited to those who participated. However, in conclusion we feel that there are some points of discussion that have arisen our of our experiences which may be of interest.

  1. Flexibility is not the key. Organisations should actively research the platforms best suited for the event and gauge the anticipated level of participation prior to the event. As an organisation, aim to avoid dictating the chosen social media platform. Instead, anticipate those most likely to be used and dedicate your resources towards actively supporting them.
  2. Social media is resource heavy. By actively promoting social media, organisations have a responsibility to ensure that educational resources are provided in order to avoid the barrier to entry that can divide events between those who have prior experience with the tools and those that do not. Provide volunteers, help-desk, how-to guides and other information sources to promote and facilitate wider uptake in the use of social media at large-scale events.
  3. How do you provide context? This is more of an open-ended question, but we feel efforts may also be well spent in developing work-flows for combining, remixing and amalgamating the huge amount of online content that is generated across platforms.
  4. Preservation and choice. Organisations and participants alike must be made aware of the implications of contributing to social media events within the public domain. Thought should be given to whether or not the community at large is interested in the long-term preservation, as well as the discoverability and potential reuse, of the content generated through social media.


NB: I would like to thank the CAA committee and the organising committee from the University of Southampton Archaeological Computing Research Group for their support. In particular, I would like to thank Dr. Graeme Earl for allowing me to plan all sorts of crazy social media related things, and Dr. Lisa Harris, along with the rest of the SMiLE team and the SUSUtv crew (led by Dom Kullander), for helping us to realise those plans. I would also like to thank the many delegates of the CAA2012, including those who attended online from afar. Your enthusiasm and encouragement around the use of social media at the event helped me to 'carry on tweeting' throughout the busiest moments at CAA.

JO: I would like to thank the CAA committee, SMiLE and the organising committee from the University of Southampton for putting on such a great conference. In particular I would like to acknowledge the CAA 2012 delegates (present and afar) who participated in the use of social media before, during and after the event. You have all given us much to discuss!

Back to Issue 32


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