Twitter Chats, The Ultimate How To Guide

by Becky Johns on May 11, 2011

Twitter ChatHosting or participating in a twitter chat is a great way to bring a community of people together to dig deeper into a topic of interest.

These discussions can help work through issues facing an industry or simply create a real-time forum to chat about an event or product.

The concept of hosting or participating in a Twitter chat can be daunting. Let’s break them down to their key elements and explore some of the best practices.

Twitter chats have a few consistent characteristics:

  • Scheduled events, specific day and time planned in advance
  • Often recurring on a weekly or monthly basis
  • A pre-determined hashtag (?) is used in every tweet so all the comments show up in a simple twitter search and makes the discussion easier to follow
  • A moderator will usually lead the discussion, offering questions along the way

There are currently hundreds of regular Twitter chats each week. Almost 400 of them are detailed on this great running list of Twitter chats.

#Journchat

Sarah Evans is the founder of one of the original twitter chats: #journchat. She noticed many PR professionals, bloggers and journalists were asking similar questions on twitter and started the chat so these people could share ideas, concerns, questions and suggestions with each other.

Now a regular, one-hour, weekly chat, #journchat is an example of one of the best and longest running chat communities on Twitter. Sarah offers advice for both moderators and participants, based on learnings from the continued success of the #journchat community.

Best Practices for Moderators

Moderators

1. Start by observing other twitter chats to see what seems to work and what doesn’t. Good examples to look into: #journchat, #u30pro and #prstudchat. Watch how other moderators interact with participants and lead the progression of the discussion.

2. Identify an existing issue and research if there is a real need for a twitter chat to discuss it before trying to start a regular chat. People may be reluctant to join a twitter chat when the information or discussions are already happening elsewhere.

3. Establish ground rules for the discussion, including how long the chat will last, what type of behavior is inappropriate and guidance to participants for staying on topic. If possible, create a place for these rules to live online for easy reference via a link at the beginning of the chat.

4. Prepare content, links and questions ahead of time. A good place to start is listing out enough questions to tweet at least every 10 minutes. Find relevant blog posts, news articles or videos likely to be of interest to participants and have links shortened and ready to share. Consider drafting some tweets ahead of time to be sure they’re under 140 characters and can be easily copied and pasted when it’s time to tweet.

5. Have a plan to deal with participants who aren’t contributing in a constructive way. Be ready to re-direct if the discussion gets off-topic or intervene if needed if a heated argument arises.

6. Try to stay neutral. The moderator’s job isn’t to agree or disagree with parts of the discussion (though, it certainly may be appropriate at times), but instead to simply keep track of the progress of the discussion and move it along at a steady pace.

Best Practices for Participants

Participants

  • Know the chat ground rules and be willing to help the moderator enforce them if needed. You can help the chat thrive if you’re an active part of keeping the discussion relevant and valuable.
  • Really understand the chat you’re participating in to be sure you’re having the right discussion with the right people. Do some research on the hashtag beforehand to get an idea of who you’ll be tweeting with and what you’re likely to take away from the chat.
  • It’s okay to just watch. There is plenty to learn by observing the conversation and reading the answers others offer. It’s okay to not feel comfortable chiming in right away, but when you’re ready, speak up so others can talk with you.
  • If you’re new to the chat, announce that with a brief introduction to who you are. This gives regulars a chance to welcome you, introduce you to others you may have something in common with and the moderator may be able to offer some helpful resources or suggestions for first-timers.
  • Answer the moderator’s questions, contribute relevant opinions, engage with others and retweet answers or links you find helpful.
  • Remember, even your followers who aren’t participating in the chat can still see your tweets. Don’t forget about everyone else and be sure what you’re saying or retweeting is something you’d want to share with the rest of your followers.

Next Level: Creating Community

Community

  • In some cases, it may make sense to gather regular contributors to twitter chats elsewhere for further discussion, outside the set time for the chat. Something as simple as a Facebook or Linkedin group could serve this purpose.
  • Try to keep the best content and discussion happening within the twitter chat so participants have a reason to be part of the discussion each time and can depend on an environment where quality sharing and connecting will be a regular occurrence.
  • Share great content learned from chats and offer invitations to people who would be valuable contributors. Everyone can play an active role in helping the community grow and serve as a resource for other professionals.
  • Special guests may sometimes give new people a reason to join the discussion or can serve as subject matter experts for the existing community. Regular contributors will appreciate access to thought leaders participating in the chat from time to time.
  • Consider partnering with larger news organizations, brands or popular industry blogs. Sometimes a partnership will be useful to both audiences.
  • Create connections on other social networks. Twitter chats are great for meeting new people, but don’t forget to take those relationships further if there is an opportunity to work together or dig deeper into an idea with another participant.

Have you participated in twitter chats — What are some of your favorite tips?

What are some good examples of your favorite discussions or twitter chat communities?

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Post Author

Becky Johns is a communicator, storyteller, blogger and photographer. She blogs about communications and social media from a young professional’s point of view at www.becky-johns.com. By day, she's part of the agency communications team at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago. Find her...