What’s a Twitter Chat?

A number of my blog posts are reflections of twitter chats, such as #lrnchat and #realwplearn chat.  As vibrant a community these chats represent, I sometimes forget that the participants in these chats represent a very small percentage of the overall community of Learning and Development Professionals.

At a recent ASTD Chapter meeting, I was reminded of this fact during a conversation I had with a group of peers.  I was asked where I learned about something and I casually replied “We discussed it during a recent #lrnchat”.

I received silence and a few puzzled looks in response.  I added “It’s a regular Twitter chat for learning professionals”.  Another moment of silence passed, broken finally by a peer who asked “What’s a twitter chat?”  I could tell by the looks around the table that everyone else had a similar question percolating in their mind.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how a twitter chat works, or what tools you can use to participate in a Twitter Chat, then this post is geared towards you.  If not, well, you’re here, so feel free to read it anyway.

WHAT IS A TWITTER CHAT?

A Twitter Chat is a group chat that takes place using the social networking service, Twitter. Twitter chat topics and structures can vary.  Most do share the following characteristics:
  • Since they use Twitter, discussions consist of comments of up to 140 characters
  • Many chats are held on regularly scheduled dates and times
  • Chats utilize a dedicated hashtag, so that participants can easily locate and participate in the chat
  • Many chats are loosely moderated and have a set starting topic
  • There is no expectation that participants will review and respond to every single post in the discussion, especially in larger chats
HOW DO I PARTICIPATE IN A TWITTER CHAT?
There are a number of ways to participate in Twitter chats, and I’ll be sharing different tools later in this posting. Let’s first walk through the most basic steps for participating in a chat.  If you already have a Twitter account, you can skip ahead to step 2.
1. Create a Twitter account.  A simple walkthrough of how to do that can be found HERE.

2. Search for the hashtag associated with the chat.  This will filter your view so that only tweets with the chat hashtag are shown.
3. Review the listing of tweets; the most recent will be on top. 
4. To check for new chat posts, refresh your screen or click the ‘New Posts’ link that appears on screen.

5. To contribute to the discussion, enter your comment into the status fields and click update. 
IMPORTANT: you must include the chat hashtag in your comment in order to ensure other participants will be able to see your post.

TWITTER CHAT TOOLS

There are a number of Twitter tools that can make participating in a chat easier.  Here are two of my favorites:

TweetChat

TweetChat is potentially the best tool for participating in a Twitter Chat, as it provides some functionality geared specifically for live chats:
  • TweetChat automatically filters the Tweet stream, showing only the tweets containing the hashtag for the chat.
  • TweetChat automatically refreshes every 5-10 seconds, keeping you up to date.
  • TweetChat automatically adds the chat hashtag to all of your updates, ensuring you do not forget to do so yourself. 

The one downside I find with TweetChat is that it’s performance is not consistent.  There are times that the TweetChat feed seems delayed, which is a major barrier in a live chat.  When TweetChat’s feed is performing well, I find it to be the best tool for live Twitter Chats.

TweetDeck

TweetDeck is a aggregator that enables users to monitor multiple social media feeds at once, include not only Twitter, but Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, and more. Users can set up dedicated columns for specific tools, or specific searches within those tools. 

TweetDeck provides some unique features that can make participating in a Twitter chat easier:
  • You can set up a column in TweetDeck that shows only the tweets from the chat
  • You can simultaneously monitor a ‘mentions’ column that shows who has mentioned or reached out to you directly during the chat
  • You can easily clear out all messages you have already read, an excellent tool for chats you are participating in sporadically.

TweetDecks columns can be a little overwhelming at first, which is why I recommend starting with only a select few and expanding only after you are comfortable with it. Once you are, TweetDeck can be an invaluable tool for someone that participates in multiple social networks.

There are a great number of additional tools that can be used for Twitter chats. I recommend trying a few and finding the one that you are comfortable with. The value of the chats is in the discussions, not the tools. Find a tool that makes it easier for you to participate.

HOW DO I GET STARTED?

The best way to learn how to participate in a Twitter chat is quite simply to participate in one. Twitter chats are very much like learning to ride a bike.  You can only learn so much by reading or talking to someone about it. To truly learn how, you need to go out and try it.

One word of caution though: for a newcomer to Twitter Chats, the speed at which they move can seem extremely fast. If you try to read every single message, it may feel like trying to drink from a fire hose. That’s a normal reaction.  Much like drinking from a hose, you should start by sipping from the stream.  As you grow more accustomed to the flow, you’ll be able to drink more and find the best way to quench your thirst for knowledge and community.

There are three regular chats that I recommend for learning professionals

#lrnchat is a twitter chat for learning professionals that focuses on how people learn, what they learn, and what we’re learning as professionals in the field.  The next #lrnchat sessions are scheduled for Thursday July 7th and Thursday August 5th at 11:30am and 8:30pm (EST).

#RealWPLearn is a twitter chat for all business professionals that focuses on how REAL workplace learning happens: through social, informal, and often serendipitous happenings.  The next #RealWPLearn chats are scheduled for Wednesday July13th and Wednesday August 10th at 3:00pm (EST).

#ASTDCchapters is a twitter chat for learning and performance professionals that focuses on the value and community offered by the American Society for Training and Development and it’s local chapters. The next #ASTDChapters chats are scheduled for Wednesday July13th and Wednesday August 10th at 8:30pm (EST).

The #ASTDChapters chat tends to move at a slower pace than the other two, so it may serve as a nice entry point for those new to Twitter chats. I will be one of the moderators for the July 13th chat, during which we are exploring “The Value of ASTD Membership”. I invite you to join us and share your thoughts or suggestions on what the value of ASTD and it’s chapters is and could be.  I will also be able to provide real-time assistance to those new to Twitter chats.

Once you are able to get comfortable using the tools to participate in Twitter chats, i’m sure you’ll find them to be extremely valuable  feel free to reach out to me on twitter (@LnDDave) or in the comments section below if you have any questions.

I hope to see you online during an upcoming Twitter chat!

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4 Responses to What’s a Twitter Chat?

  1. Lesley July 8, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    Great post!! We had a super informal learning session on Twitter chat at an eLearning Network (UK) event in June lead by Jane Hart. Many attendees at the event had never used Twitter, never mind having taken part in a chat session. We combined Twitter chat with F2F support in the room. It worked really well…external tweeps joined in and the F2F helped demystify it for newbies. Fantastic example of how blended informal learning really does work!!

  2. Nic Laycock July 13, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Superb post – will be referring people who "do not know" to it in the future – so clear and simple to follow. Thanks.

    I worked with Jane in the session lesley described above. It was the second time we had used the same trick – to Tweetchat in a live workshop to show people the power of it. it really worked well on both occasions because it jumped people beyond the "Twitter is trivial" and also gave them a supported place to learn and try out their tweeting skills. In Lesley's workshop we were amongst friends – in the other one we had encountered huge resistance to SoMe in general and its use in business in particular – it stripped away a lot of that resistance

  3. Twitter Tools July 30, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Twitter Chat! really this will help to communicate each ohter instantly and let the others to know about you.

  4. CF Solomon December 10, 2011 at 3:40 am #

    Hi David, This is great! I put together Frequently Asked Questions to help people participate in #prodmgmttalk http://bit.ly/i88OuC

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