Twitter chats allow people who want to learn more about a topic to get together and learn things from each other. Before you start diving into holding a chat… there are a few things you need to consider.
- Ask yourself is there enough to talk about? Consider the topic you wish to build the chat around. Is it broad and deep enough to generate a sustained discussion about? How many areas about this topic can you develop questions around? I started my chat around the subject of Knitting (and fiber-related crafts). To the non-knitter it may seem that this is not a robust and broad topic, but just check out the activity in a social network site of over 1 million knitters called Ravelry, and you’ll understand that chatter about knitting can seem infinite.
- Never underestimate the power of previous connections on Twitter. Build a modest following first. If you’re just going to plan a chat and expect people to come, they won’t. Try to start posting relevant information on the topics you are interested in. Don’t over do it though, also make sure you sound human in your post and not stiff and from a marketing department. Here’s a nice primer on how to plan out your use of Twitter.
- Expect that the first few sessions might have a limited following or number of participants. Unless you have a large and avid following already, the first few sessions may include only a handful of people who are actually chatting. This is okay. Provided that your topics generate enough interest, and you spend some time promoting the chat both in Twitter and other venues, you will be able to gradually achieve a larger base of participants.
- Training for participation is key. Try to define what the chat will looking like to your audience. I know the first time I heard of Twitter chats I was indeed mystified as to how they worked. I created a short post explaining the basics of the chat format to my audience to help explain how to participate.
- Great conversation facilitation is dependent on the quality of the prompts & questions crafted by the facilitator or other members of the chat’s community. Coming up with questions that keep a conversation going can be a challenge. In the first two chat’s I’ve set up I loosely followed the format of the “#lrnchat” discussion. Introductions first then a set of 4-5 discussion related questions. Questions should be somewhat open ended and not have “Yes” or “No” responses only. A whole separate post or even series of blog posts could be devoted to “how to draft fabulously dynamic discussion questions.”
- Expect “lurkers” not “talkers” at first. Not everyone feels comfortable diving into a conversation. They may have to observe and before the feel safe enough. They may also be struggling (as I did with the pasting the hashtag into every post). It was not easy to do this in Twitter the first time I tried engaging in a chat a few months ago, that or I’d not figured out the tools yet.
- Don’t expect to “hog” the facilitator’s role. Generate ideas for topics from the participants in the community that you’ve tapped. They after all, are the lifeblood of the conversation. Also, after hosting for several sessions, think about letting others who are interested host or facilitate the chat.
These are just some initial thoughts to consider before starting your own chat. I’ll try to document the steps I took to getting my chat started in a future post.