Every day, there are chats on Twitter. These are hour-long discussions about varied topics. People tweet comments, thoughts, and ideas throughout the chat. Oftentimes these tweets are quite helpful and thought-provoking.
Chats often center around an industry, topic, or activity. I’ve sat in on ones for a wide variety of topics. They are fascinating discussions. You can learn quite a bit over the course of an hour. Discussions can be extremely fast-paced.
Information about chats, how to participate, and what apps to use to make it easier to sit in is included below. Take a few minutes to review it, and then consider joining one of the conversations. I think you won’t be disappointed.
Where to Find Chats to Follow
There’s a spreadsheet that lists many chats in existence. To find one of interest to you, scroll through the file.
Another way to find a related chat is to review the tweets in one you know of. Sometimes people list other chats in their tweets – especially at the end of the hour if they plan to jump over to another chat. To find tweets in a chat, search on the hashtag in Twitter or a client app.
Style and Etiquette
Each chat has its own style and rules, so to speak. For instance, some identify questions with a Q prefix, such as Q1 and Q2. Some also use A1 and A2 for answers. Some don’t identity questions at all. As you sit in on some, you’ll see how different chats are run. At first, watch how the chats are run. It doesn’t take long to see how it works and what conventions they use.
Before a Chat
Use a Twitter client app or one of the chat clients! If you need to set up an account and configure it beforehand, do so. Believe me, it will save you time and enable you to easily follow the discussion.
In Hootsuite for instance, you can set up columns that include tweets for a specific hashtag. This is critical. It can be difficult enough as it is to follow discussions in a chat looking only at the chat tweets. To have regular tweets coming in on top of that would make it completely unworkable. So, before even sitting in on a chat, set up the Twitter client of your choice. Set up an account if you haven’t already. Descriptions of some apps commonly used for chats are described below.
This is my preferred app for following chats. You can set up columns for chats. You can also set up a separate tab for chats. Then add the columns for whatever chat(s) you’re following.
Tip: If you attend multiple chats, set up a tab and then a column for each of the chats. Then when it comes time for the chats, move the column so it’s the first one to eliminate the need to scroll. I have a tab with chats.
What’s also nice about use of a tab and columns is I have a column for all the chats I attend. They’re on different days, so I can easily check all of them periodically through the week. People do post tweets using the chat hashtag outside of the scheduled chat time. This makes it easy to stay on top of discussions.
Here are some additional apps to use:
During a Chat
Start out by just watching the chat get underway and seeing the first questions and responses. Perhaps you’ll find something you’d like to comment on, or a person you’d like to follow.
If you have something to say, by all means do so! That’s what the chats are about. Share your thoughts, your knowledge, your wisdom.
Write up a tweet. Just don’t forget the chat hashtag! Even if many tweets roll by while you’re writing your tweet, still send it. It’s still part of the conversation. Follow whatever conventions your particular chat uses and mind its etiquette.
Bookmark Tweets as they Roll By
Discussions can move quickly. If you see a tweet you want to save or possibly RT to your followers, quickly mark it as a Favorite. Then you can review it later on. This also enables you to stay focused on the discussion. It only takes a few seconds to favorite a tweet.
RT to your Followers
If there’s a tweet you’d like to share immediately, by all means do so. However, consider leaving off the chat hashtag. That keeps the RT out of the discussion stream. Sometimes, of course, some tweets are retweeted multiple times. If everyone copies the hashtag, it can slow things down a bit.
Let Your Followers Know About the Chat
If you’re on a chat that’s particularly interesting or helpful, pass on a note to your followers. Tell them in a tweet that the chat is in progress and to come on over! A note, though: don’t overdo this one. You don’t want to clutter the discussion with too many posts such as this. However, it’s always helpful to spread the word about a good chat. It’s one more helpful way to be a resource for your followers.
After a Chat
Review the Information
Tweets, of course, never disappear. Even those you delete are still out there somewhere. Luckily for chatters out there, tweets are grouped by chat and are available for review at any time.
Some chats post transcripts. Other times, participants write up summaries and post them on a blog. It depends on the chat.
That was a lot of information that just came your way quickly in a rather disjointed manner. Take a break. Then come back and collect your thoughts.
Chats can extend longer than the scheduled hour. If it interests you, just keep monitoring the tweets.
Jump to the Next Chat
Chances are there’s another chat of interest to you immediately following the one you’re in. You may need to just hop on over to that next one. You’ll likely see some tweets from people in the just-finishing chat saying something to that effect.
Send out some RTs
If you wanted to send some out during the discussion but didn’t, this is a good time to do so. You wouldn’t interrupt the flow of the discussion. This is often when I go back over my Favorites tweets to see what I wanted to save or send out to my followers.
Follow Some Participants
Twitter chats are an excellent way to find people to follow. You’re likely to find some folks with quite a bit of expertise in the chat topic.
Go find some chats and join one. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I think. Each chat provides much information, and I think a good investment of your time. Find ones you like and see what the week’s topic is, and follow along. Have fun!
Update: August 29, 2011
Removed references to What the Hashtag. This site was used by many chats to generate transcripts. It also provided stats. The site no longer exists. I thought that TweepML was also taken down, but I see it’s there. I’ll check it out again and update this post as necessary.
Update: May 1, 2015
Reviewed and updated content.