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The Quick Guide to Twitter Chats

I love Twitter Chats.  They are simple, easy to do, not demanding, enthralling and highly focused sources of fabulous information.  But many people seem to be intimidated by them, and others don’t know how to use them so I’ve decided to write a quick Twitter Chat Guide:

What is a Twitter Chat? A Twitter Chat is when a bunch of people all agree to meet on Twitter and discuss a topic at the same time.  To make it easy for everyone to see what all of the others are saying they use a #HashTag.

What is a Hash Tag? A #hashtag is a twitter shorthand tool that anyone can use to search and find everything that anyone is saying about a particular topic. (Hash is the name for this “#”)  Last week I attended a conference named “DPAC” so the hashtag that everyone used on Twitter #DPAC.   There are no rules for hashtags other than using only letters, because if you use anything else (*&^%-+=$#@) it breaks the search function on Twitter.

What do people talk about? Everything under the sun.  There are chats on education, health, marketing, small business, big business, social media, celebrities, law, government, hobbies, crafts, fun and games.

How does a Twitter Chat work? We all agree to get on Twitter at the same time of day, for example 12 noon Eastern Time (US) (you may need to adjust for your time zone.)  The leader of the Chat will kick things off typically with a question. Often the Chats are done by featuring an expert guest who will join the conversation and answer  questions from the leader.  Anyone can then join in with a comment or question at any time.

Don’t they get chaotic with everyone talking at once? Yes, sometimes they do.  Sometimes they break into two or three simultaneous conversations branching off in different directions.  But often a good leader will bring everyone back on track by asking a new question which generally silences the group.  In other words they are like any other gathering of humans with an ebb and flow that’s fun and information filled.

What’s the best way to follow a Twitter Chat? I personally like to use TweetChat, but a lot of people like TweetGrid or they just use their TweetDeck and create a column for the #Hashtag.  Here’s a good article with lots tools for you to check out.  I’ve not tried TweetDeck with the new streaming feature, it may be a very good way to keep up with a chat.

What happens if miss a Chat? Well, nothing.  People will miss you if you’re a regular and they may ask where you were.  Many Chats will publish a transcript of the chat that you can read later.  This is especially helpful if you want to refer someone else to the chat, or look for a link to something someone posted.

Can I start my own Twitter Chat? Of course you can!  All you need to do is decide on a time pick a #hashtag and get it started.  You’ll need to promote it and get people to take part, just like in any other thing you start up.  But there are no rules, go ahead and start your own!  I’d suggest that as you’re planning your own chat you take part in several other chats to learn how they work and get some pointers on planning them.

Where do I find Twitter Chats? The best source for Twitter Chats is this Google Doc which is updated by everyone (like wikipedia).  You may be wondering why I listed this last?  Because I knew you’d click that link and run off and look at the list of chats- see you’re not even reading this now are you?

Where I can find you on Twitter Chats? I try to make it to Social Media Chat, which is run by my buddies @marc_meyer and @JasonBreed every Tuesday at Noon ET.  That chat became so successful that they were forced to change the #Hashtag because of spammers. (That’s a sign of successful chat, when you start getting spammers advertising crap on your #hashtag.)  So every week they change the #hashtag to a number like #SM86.  I was lucky to be invited to moderate a session in November 2010 and you can read the transcript here.  I also drop in on several chats from time to time, so look for me anywhere.

Give me 1 Good Reason why you’re not taking part in Twitter Chats?

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