Lessons Learned: Using Twitter for a Global Conversation

Over the last few months, we have seen Twitter serve the global community by playing an important role in communications – whether it’s finding new friends (#FollowFriday), or telling the world about your government/election/political state (#IranElection), whether it’s having a conversation together (#4Change), or non-linearly replacing your RSS feed.  What do those # mean? That’s part of the key to success when using Twitter for a Global conversation. Using hashtags lets you mark your message as pertaining to a certain topic, then automatically include that message in a stream with everyone else’s that include the same hashtag.  Using Twitter search or other tools, you can watch news and updates about the election in Iran by using #IranElection; or, find interesting people to follow and connect with using #FollowFriday to peruse the recommendations that pile up on Fridays.

There are many opportunities to see hashtags in action!  There are also more and more opportunities emerging for people to coordinate global conversations that happen at the same time, instead of disconnected over time (still tied together via hashtag).  I am part of the planning team working on the monthly chat series behind #4Change.  There is also a Twitter-based chat starting up for consultants who work with social benefit organizations.

I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from my involvement with organizing Twitter chats.  I’m looking forward to your ideas, too!

1. Build a landing pad

It is helpful to have some place where you can send people interested in your topic or chat that haven’t participated before – whether it’s a website, a blog, or just a separate Twitter account.  If you have a landing pad somewhere online where you can refer people and provide information about your chats, your group, or your purpose in more than 140 characters, it will save you a lot of extra tweeting!  Plus, it will provide a natural and obviously place to aggregate your content, thoughts, updates, and promotion of the chats.

2. Brainstorm lots of questions but pick a few

It seems obvious that people using a communication tool like Twitter, and then electing to participate in a large-scale public chat would not require much prodding to keep conversation going.  But, it is actually just this reason that it’s more important to pre-select your questions.  Twitter chats are slower moving than you’d expect because everyone is waiting on the Twitter search to refresh with new posts.  It works best to have 3-5 questions selected ahead of time and shared with a core group of chat leaders or guides.  This way, there is a group of people helping keep the conversation on track, focused on one question at a time.  Otherwise, the group can quickly and easily splinter off to other topics using other hashtags, after all, that’s what Twitter enables all day, every day.

3. Consider your time

If you really want to pull in participants from all over the world, it’s important to consider what time you are holding the chat.  It’s also important to consider how long you want the chat to be.  Knowing that Twitter based chats are slower in development and pace than something like a live web chat, you don’t want it to be too narrow of a window, but you can only hold people’s attention for so long as well.

4. Narrow your focus

#4Change or #NPCons (nonprofit consultants) seem like pretty obvious topics. But coordinating a conversation would be far too difficult without a specific topic for that chat because the possibilities for questions or specific ideas within those two general topics are endless.  For example, recent 4Change topics have included using competitions for social change and Twitter as a political/revolutionary tool.  This also means people can identify ahead of time any resources they want to share during the chat and if they are interested in the specific topic of the month or not.

5. Invite your audience

If you have your topic for the month picked out, you may have some experts, prominent thinkers, or maybe organizations/companies/ groups that are known for working in or with that topic that you want to explicitly invite to participate.  Ensuring that fresh voices participate is important – we could all talk to the same group of people without organizing a public conversation.  Promoting the chat widely via Twitter and other social networks is a great way to find more participants, too.

6. Never underestimate the technology

I already mentioned that Twitter-based chats aren’t as fast-paced as live web chats or some other technologies.  But, you also have to remember that Twitter isn’t in your control!  If the server has a glitch, if there’s scheduled maintenance, or if search tools lag, then your Twitter chat will dramatically suffer.  This happened during the July #4Change chat and caused us to call the chat off half-way through as search was 15 minutes behind and many participants’ messages weren’t showing up at all.

7. Participate!

#4Change:
If you want to learn more about the #4Change monthly chat series, visit http://4change.memeshift.com  The next chat topic will be announced there and on Twitter using #4Change.

#NPCons:
Join the first #NPCons chat this coming Tuesday, 21 July, at 1pm US Pacific time.  These chats will be monthly, on the 3rd Tuesdays, at 1 pm Pacific.

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