At a recent Digital & Social Media Leadership Forum meeting in London, speaker Steve Crompton put it nicely when he said 'we don't suffer from information overload, we suffer from filter failure'.
Twitter is a classic case in point. You could be forgiven for thinking there is too much information on Twitter. And you'd be right. Trying to absorb all that happens on Twitter by reading your activity stream is, for want of a better analogy, like trying to read the destination plate on a Japanese Bullet Train while you're stood on the platform...a bit of blur and headache inducing!
So what's one tactic for making sense of this information soup?
Answer: Twitter or 'Tweet Chats'.
This article lifts the lid on what Tweet Chats are, how you participate in one and if you're feeling really brave...how you set up your own. Let's crack on...
At their most basic level, Tweet Chats are organized conversations.
They are, as Razor Social founder Ian Cleary puts it 'chats on Twitter around a specific hashtag at a specific time'.
To date, the closest thing we've had for organizing conversations in Twitter is the humble #hashtag. These have become the very fabric of Twitter and are used everywhere to act as a filter on all that information.
Tweet Chats are an advancement, still using the hashtag, but a step up in terms of 'organisation'. They organize a group of 'Twerps' (i.e. you and me) around a given topic. But crucially at an agreed time. Tweet Chats are bound by time, a hashtag can live on indefinitely.
At their most basic level, Tweet Chats are organized conversations.
She called out the benefits of Tweet Chats as the following:
There are literally dozens of Tweet Chats happening every hour of the day.
For trekkies we have #StarTrekHour, for foodies we have #VeganFoodChat, gamers we have #BoardGamersAsk to #ChocLitSaturdays for what I assume is for weekend chocoholics!
Step 1: Pick one you like the sound of. Set a reminder as you would any other meeting and make sure you rock up on time. The format of Tweet Chats usually follow a numbering format, so being there from the very beginning helps.
Step 2: When it's time, go to a free application called Tweet Deck and sign in with your Twitter account. This interface makes engaging in the Tweet Chat a lot easier.
Step 3: Take the #hashtag and stick it in the box at the top. Use this tool throughout your Tweet Chat. It will help you massively in following the conversation and not getting distracted by the information soup!
Ok, so you're all fired up and want to try one. Try the following steps to get started:
Ok how do I start? You need to build a plan. It may go without saying, but creating a plan for your Tweet Chat is vital. Here are some steps:
Step 1: Know your objectives. Why are you doing this? Why should people join in the first place? What do they have to gain from joining? It's a good idea to sound out possible discussion ideas first with a small group beforehand.
Step 2: Identify your participants. Who will participate in the chat? Think about your subject area and think about who would be a good fit. Once you have a list of no less than five, reach out to them with a simple @person tweet (you could direct message them, but why the secrecy? Keeping it public may allow someone else you hadn’t thought of get in touch)
Step 3: Decide your format. Which type of format should it be? Will your chat be 30 mins, 60 mins, or a short burst for 15 mins to begin with? Will you be the chairperson or will you alternate the chair every week? (which incidentally isn’t a bad idea to share ownership). How often will you run the chat, and on which day and time? Which continents have most of your prospective participants? Or decide to run a couple on the same day to cover off all timezones. Do some research on your hashtag, you need something relatively short and memorable so it’s not too burdensome to type or takes up precious characters!
Step 4: Plan your structure. No you can’t plan a chat. The very nature of chatting is spontaneous, right. Nevertheless you need to create a structure for where you’d like the conversation to go, even if it gets completely side-tracked during the chat. The trick is to structure your tweets with Q1, Q2, etc (usually about five or so) then participants answer with A1, A2, in their tweets. While it may seem a but contrived, it works pretty well. The trick here is to NOT to use the twitter interface to follow the chat. Yes, you heard me correctly. Don’t use Twitter! There is a great tool called TweetChat which basically filters all the other Twitter noise out for you. Add the hashtag, authorise your account, and you’ll see a bespoke interface for your chat.
Step 5: Pre-event communication. How will people know it’s on in the first place? You need to ‘put it out there’. You should schedule tweets with a tool such as Buffer or Hootsuite, a couple of times a day, in the run up to the event. Send some @person tweets to key individuals you want there. Encourage them to put it in their diaries (I’m sure there’s a clever way to create a calendar invite file or using Meet Up or something similar to manage this). If you have a blog, attach a couple of lines to the bottom of your most popular posts telling people to join. You could even write a new post about the subjects you’ll be discussing, including a schedule for the next handful of chats so people can forward plan.
Step 6: You're all set!
Bonus tip: It’s a good idea to have a couple of people ‘on the ground’ with you. I like to dial them in or have them in the same room as you. Having someone there with you to say ‘hey, you need to up the pace’, ‘this person needs help’, ‘this is going well!’ can really help to give you another impression of how it’s going, and also settle your nerves!
Here's a quick reference guide to the above for you to take away:
So you have your first Tweet Chat in the diary. What on earth do you do next? Read on dear friend, read on....
Kick things off
Kick things off promptly. You need a pre-written welcome message ready to paste in. Sounds ridiculous (how hard can it be to write a quick Tweet)but I guarantee in the moment you'll panic and end up missing out the hashtag, or something equally silly. Plan your first tweet. It will set the tone of the whole chat. You don't want to be all fingers and thumbs getting your intro message out.
Ask your first question
Once you've got your intro out the way, it's time to post your first question. Again, you need to have pre-prepped your questions so they are ready to paste in. The questions themselves need to simple to grasp, make sense and be unambiguous. You don't want people asking you 'how do you mean'?
Maintain a good pace
Managing the pace of the Tweet Chat is your responsibility, and this is where your judgement comes into play. Introduce too many questions too quickly and your participants will feel overwhelmed. Too few questions and they’re bored. Knowing when is a bit of an art, and may take one or two chats to get the knack. It's also not uncommon to change the order of the questions, add questions or omit them altogether. Having a stockpile of questions ready at your disposal helps in this regard. The ones you don't use are perfect fodder for your next Chat!
Summarising the outcome of the Chat is a great way to take stock of the conversation. It's also great to share back with the participants and a great advert to entice others to join the next one.
Here are some great tools to help you summarise what you did...
Twitter Analytics is a bit of revelation the first time you see it, and it's completely free. It gives you a really intuitive dashboard to understand impressions, mentions and other relevant metrics. The only downside is that you are limited to the previous 28 days date range and unable to select specific days, so I suggest you jump into Twitter Analytics within a few days of your Tweet Chat to see the results. You are able to download the data as a CSV file and interrogate the information yourself.
If you want something a bit more advanced, this clever tool tracks campaigns and events and can give you a ton of information related to your Tweet Chat's hashtag. Among other things, Hashtracker will tell you the number of posts, comments, favourites, impressions etc you received in your Tweet Chat, aswell as influencer analysis and more advanced insight.
Hands down the best and quickest way to summarise your Tweet Chat is Storify. This great little application lets you pull together a story using your Tweets as the story. Here's a nice Storify of a Tweet Chat I helped set up recently with SABMiller and the World Wildlife Fund
Further reading / listening:
For more literature and ideas for Tweet Chats follow these links below. Hit me up in the comments below if you need help with anything. Buena Suerte!
Hi there. I'm Gerard Richardson, a social business consultant with over 10 years experience working across large multi-nationals in digital communications, both internal and external facing. This site is called thenetworked.org and is my blog / scrapbook / live journal all about the power of social networks for business. Welcome aboard!