I remember the first time I logged onto Twitter. I was like a groundhog on Groundhog’s Day that popped up and saw its shadow – I was overwhelmed by the platform, confused by its purpose, and felt the immediate need to dive back into my Facebook hidey-hole and hibernate for another six weeks of winter.
Granted, that was a long time ago, and I have since come to understand the benefits the platform offers – namely, Twitter’s real-time ability to engage with any other user, anytime, anywhere, regardless of “friend” status.
One of the best comparison summaries I’ve ever heard describing the difference between Facebook and Twitter is that Facebook is a platform for engaging with people you already know, while Twitter is a platform for engaging with people you don’t know. But, therein lies the double-edge sword of Twitter: It’s an incredible resource for connecting with people from around the world, but there are so many people you can connect with (Twitter currently has more than 284 million monthly users who send more than 500 million Tweets each day) – how on Earth do you figure out which ones to reach out to?
What Is a Twitter Chat?
If you’re struggling to figure out who to contact, Twitter chats (also called “tweet chats”) can come in handy. These scheduled, moderated online conversations between multiple Twitter account holders are typically based around a specific topic or subject matter – for instance, fitness, personal finance, or technology – and are promoted to individuals interested in that topic. They’re easy to join, and great for building a Twitter network.
Generally, Twitter chats take place at a designated time and are focused on a specific subject. However, some Twitter chats are ongoing – for instance, #RunChat takes place every first and third Sunday of the month at 10pm Eastern Standard Time, and every second and fourth Sunday at 8pm EST – while others take place only once, typically around a specific event. For instance, when I co-hosted the Blog Well Summit online fitness blogging conference, I and the other founders set up several Twitter chats during the conference weekend specifically to connect with conference attendees as the event was taking place.
Role of the Moderator
Twitter chat hosts generally provide interested parties with information on the chat’s subject matter so attendees know what the chat will be about. They also provide a chat hashtag. The hashtag (#) is how attendees can follow the conversation and join in with other chatters. For instance, the All Start Ups chat for web start-ups uses the hashtag #AllStartUps, and the #scifichat hashtag is used for a weekly chat about science fiction and fantasy.
Following a Chat
If you’re interested in joining in a chat, the most basic way to follow along is to enter the designated hashtag into Twitter’s search bar and hit enter – the results returned will only be those that use the searched hashtag. You can then see what other chatters are saying and add your own responses by using the hashtag when tweeting.
Even though Twitter itself is the most basic way to follow a chat, there are other platforms designed to make it easier to follow specific hashtags. For instance, TweetChat enables you to enter a hashtag into its search bar on the main page, then it pulls up all the recent posts that use the hashtag. You can highlight specific users – for instance, the chat moderator or an individual whose comments you’re most interested in – or block users whose comments you don’t like seeing. Twubs is another similar tool that makes following a chat easier.
You can also easily reply to specific users, retweet comments that resonated with you, and favorite comments you like. And best of all, TweetChat automatically adds the designated hashtag to any Tweets you enter into their system, so you don’t have to keep typing the hashtag every time you comment or reply to someone.
Understanding the Chat Flow
In most cases, moderators pre-plan an outline for the chat. The outline is often put together in a question-and-answer format, making it easy for participants to feel comfortable chiming in with their responses. In other words, a moderator for a #RunChat focused on pre-workout nutrition for runners might start a chat by typing: “Q1: What do you usually eat before your weekly training runs? #runchat” Then a participant might join in by saying, “A1: I have a hard time eating before I run, but I can’t wait to hear what others eat! #runchat” Every few minutes the moderator posts a new Q, and participants respond with their own corresponding A.
Twitter chats can be fast-moving, particularly if many participants are involved, so there’s no need to answer every question or respond to every comment. Hop in and out as you feel comfortable, and engage in a manner that feels right to you. It may take a couple chats for you to get the hang of the flow, but in the end, it’s worth the new connections and information you can gain.
Finding a Twitter Chat
An easy way to find Twitter chats is to simply ask your friends if there are any chats they like and suggest. This is particularly true if you’re plugged into online groups that cater to your interests – those who are active online are often familiar with the Twitter landscape.
If your friends come up blank, check the following resources that offer comprehensive lists of chats, often organized by day or subject matter. Just be sure to search any hashtags that seem interesting to you to make sure the chat is still active. Also, be sure to check our Money Crashers Twitter Chat about personal finance topics: #MCchat – every Friday at 4pm EST.
- GNOSISARTS: A Wiki site with a list of chats you can sort by day of week, alphabetical, subject, and those happening in real time
- TWUBS Schedule: Offers a list of any upcoming chats that have been registered through its website
- Tweet Reports: A fairly comprehensive list of Twitter chats that includes the chat’s schedule information, moderator Twitter handle, and chat summaries, when available
Reasons to Join a Twitter Chat
1. Discuss a Subject That Interests You
One of the most obvious reasons to join a Twitter Chat is to discuss and learn about a particular subject. If you’re a pet lover, you might want to join the #DogTalk chat. If you’re a real estate professional and you want to expand your online presence, you might want to join the #REonline chat.
Because Twitter chats are built around a specific subject, and are often further defined by a sub-genre of that subject for each chat, they’re a great way to glean tips and resources that you might not find through other outlets. This is particularly true in quickly changing fields, such as technology and healthcare, where new innovations take place almost every day.
2. Interact With Experts
Twitter chats provide you with free, personal access to experts you might not be able to connect with in other ways. Not only are moderators typically experts within the field that they’re moderating, it’s common for moderators to seek out other experts (and sometimes celebrities) to help shed light on specific subjects.
Think about how beneficial this is: If you’re trying to eat healthier, but you’re confused about whether you should go gluten-free or simply cut calories, how nice would it be to ask your questions directly to a nutritionist? You can when you join the #HealthTalk chat hosted weekly by Everyday Health and nutrition expert, Bonnie Taub-Dix.
This type of instant access to big names in specific industries has only been made possible with the advent of social media, and the fact that it’s free should have everyone flooding Twitter for their own dose of personalized expert feedback. Granted, you may only get a 140-character response, but you still have the chance to connect in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
3. Network With Other Enthusiasts
It’s easy to feel lost in cyberspace when you tweet your thoughts into the universe. If no one retweets or favorites your post, it can make you wonder if anyone even knows you’re there.
With Twitter chats, you have the ability to directly connect with other individuals who are specifically interested in the same topics you’re interested in. This makes it a great way to cultivate online friendships and to network with people in your industry.
Just remember: It takes a friend to make a friend. If you really appreciated a few participants’ takes on a particular subject during a Twitter chat, go ahead and follow them, and let them know you liked their perspective. If you’re unwilling to reach out directly to network with others, your chances to connect will be limited.
4. Gain Tips From Multiple Sources
The great thing about Twitter chats is that while there are experts and moderators involved who are willing to contribute their knowledge to the forum, anyone can chime in with their tips as well. So whereas a blog post you find on a subject provides you with the resources of a single contributor, a Twitter chat can provide you with resources from many contributors at once.
5. Offer Your Expertise
Because anyone can join in and share their knowledge, you can share your knowledge too. If you’ve learned a thing or two about personal budgeting and you join a Money Crashers Twitter chat on the subject, you can share your own experiences with other attendees. By positioning yourself as an “everyday expert” during the chat, you’re likely to gain more followers and further expand your network. Besides, who doesn’t like sharing their own knowledge?
5. Learn About New Solutions and Resources
Just about everyone has the tendency to get stuck in their own little bubble that involves the same people, the same resources, and the same solutions. Even if you regularly search online for new information on a particular subject, Google search results may not push the latest, greatest info to the top of your search.
Twitter chats make it possible to stay on the cutting edge of an industry and expand your horizons because so many people, from so many walks of life, get involved in chats. This means that someone in another country who has found a little-heard-of online tool, could share that tool during the chat, providing those who are participating with a new way of approaching a particular challenge. If you can scoop just one new tidbit of insider information from the chat, the benefit is well worth the time.
Many people are concerned about sharing personal information when engaging on social media. If you’d rather not use your primary Twitter account when participating in Twitter chats, simply create a second account. You can use a pseudonym as your username and avoid providing personal information, such as location, to make the experience feel more anonymous.
Have you participated in Twitter chats? What was the experience like?