Using Twitter Chats to Build Community and Further Your Mission

Twitter birdNo matter what field you work in, Twitter Chats are one of the most underutilized ways of building community and furthering your cause.

I’m not talking about just using Twitter in general. I’m talking about a real time chat that brings people together at a specific time to discuss a specific topic.

For the past 3 years, Creating the Future has hosted the monthly #NPCons twitter chat for consultants to nonprofit / community benefit orgs. That chat has a loyal following of people who cannot wait for the 3rd Tuesday of every month. With a one-hour chat that begins at 1pm US-Pacific time, people from time zones as far away as Jerusalem stay up till midnight just to participate. Our regulars often talk about this chat as the best “Don’t Miss It” professional development they can find.

And why is it the best? Because a twitter chat is not about an expert just spouting off facts. It is about the conversation that happens between all the participants. It is about the wisdom they all share with each other. And in the case of #NPCons, it is about the community these individuals have developed among each other – a community so strong that it has evolved into a Facebook group, so that people can continue to find each other and support each other throughout the month.

Building community, showing how that is done, engaging folks with each other AND with Creating the Future – there is a ton this monthly chat has done to further every aspect of the mission at Creating the Future.

How Can We Teach This?
Given all that, we are thinking of doing a webinar series to help folks learn how to use this powerful tool.

We have a pretty good handle on the format for the course.  Rather than asking people to absorb it all in 90 minutes, we’re thinking about doing it as a 3-part series for 30 minutes at a stretch. We’re thinking of perhaps even doing a 4th part that would be nothing but Q&A, giving folks the time to think about and absorb the material, to perhaps sketch out some ideas – to make that Q&A session as meaningful as possible. We’re thinking about having worksheets that folks can use to make the material as immediately useful as possible.

All that format stuff is the easy part. What we’re really trying to figure out now is…

  1. Who might be  the target audience for this webinar? What kinds of people, in what kinds of positions, would be interested in learning how to use Twitter Chats (not twitter, but the chats) to build community?
  2. What would you want to learn? What questions would you want the webinar to answer? And how might we break that content down into 3 parts?
  3. For those of you who have facilitated chats, what do you wish you had known before your first experience facilitating? What is ONE piece of advice you would absolutely want to share with people looking to create / facilitate a chat? What is the most fun for you about facilitating twitter chats? (And conversely, what is the most scary? The most challenging?)
  4. Lastly, what did I not ask that I should have?

Any and all answers will be helpful in making this a series you will get the most out of!

7 Responses to Using Twitter Chats to Build Community and Further Your Mission

  1. Bob Rowell says:

    I organized and ran a twitter chat for artists for a few months. I wondered when, and so polled a bunch of folks (Highest potential attendance turned out to be Thurs. morning.)

    Questions for webinar: How to determine best time. How to publicize. How to record ‘findings’, how to disseminate that. How to best make use of ‘guest experts.’ How to decide on format (some are ‘closed’–just listen to interview until the last bit, open for questions. How to determine interests of participants, for chat topics.

  2. mordecai says:

    This is a great topic!
    The target should be some of our nearest and dearest people who are on our twitter lists. Many of these people could use such advice.
    Three topics
    1. What/ Who (intro and explanation why this medium is useful)
    2. B2B or B2C- is twitter chat only for individuals or can it be used for companies looking to further their mission, increase engagement with constituents, etc.
    Who should be behind the chat?
    3. Managing expectations of time, effort, results

  3. I have always thought that being on an npcons chat is a lot like being at a great dinner party, where fascinating conversations are going on all around you. (And unlike any party I’ve ever attended, there’s a transcript available afterwards so you can follow what was going on in those other conversations, too!) There is an energy that can be created here that I can’t imagine existing anywhere else in social media.

    Twitterchats seem to me to be a great way to build community and to discuss ANYTHING. I could see it as a community builder for virtually any profession, for specific topics, even for a group of friends or a family who just want to get together. I could see it as a great way to have a book club, or to meet regularly to pursue ideas. So I don’t know why it couldn’t be promoted to everyone on Twitter as a fast paced discussion base. Friendly, but not frivolous. Once you have really been part of an inclusive Twitterchat like this, Twitter opens up a lot of opportunity. I understood its utility in a whole different way. So I would open it to anyone who has a basic understanding of using Twitter, and make clear that it’s a wonderful way to connect with and build any community. I don’t know why it couldn’t be used by anyone or any group.

    I’ve been on a lot of Twitterchats, and this is the only one that draws everyone in so that you feel – and are – connected to everyone on the chat. With many of them, there is a guest speaker, so you’re just a listener. With the npcons chat, everyone is a guest who is speaking. So I would want to learn how to keep those guests speaking, how to keep asking the questions that elicit enthusiastic responses, how to stay on top of the responses so everyone is recognized and the different threads don’t go off on tangents that are too divergent, how to keep everyone retweeting what everyone else is saying. Can it be done by only one person as the coordinator?

    And I would definitely want to learn what the framework is, in terms of how to take an initial topic and create several layered questions, as you do. How does that work? How do you take that topic and break it down in advance so that you keep things moving in a direction that will allow the group to come to a deeper understanding? I’ve always been impressed by the mechanics of how you do this, and perhaps a little intimidated. Could I do it? Is it intimidating?

    And I’m wondering if at least one of the sessions will be an actual Twitterchat? Could the participants learn hands on?

  4. Kevin Monroe says:

    I’ve read the thread here and on the FB page and there are already lots of great comments, insights, and suggestions. So, what can I add?

    Off the cuff I see at least two approaches, with some thought perhaps several more. The two that jump out at me immediately are approaching the philosophical side of community building via a virtual network and the logistical side of the process. Both are absolutely essential.

    The philosophical angle, through the lens of Creating the Future, begins by asking what’s the highest potential outcome for a virtual community that wants to X? Once that is established, what are the necessary conditions for that to occur through a virtual community. Does the Tweetchat alone accomplish this? Or is it one strategy among others needed to accomplish this. The list goes on. Once that is understood, then move into the logistical area of what it takes and how it works.

    To simplify this, run it through the Golden Circle (Simon Sinek) — start with WHY, move to HOW, and on to WHAT.

    Why — philosophical question
    How — logistics
    What — content

  5. Andrea John-Smith says:

    I am not your market. I have enough trouble keeping up with the relationships and new connections I meet through other channels. The ideas that come out of twitter chats I have not found of sufficient depth. I like to see the person talking (photo). I like to read more than 140 characters. I don’t do my social media in the middle of the work day. I do it at night when I’m winding down from the day and in a more reflective mood. My 2 cents. :) A

  6. I was thinking back today to the early days of #NPCons, when we were anxious because no one was showing up! If I were starting such a group today, following are some of the questions I would want answered (after thinking through Kevin’s questions above):

    1. How do I create the structure? Format,length of chat,facilitation,ground rules,associated blog/website/FB,archives? Is there someone(s) who is committed to assuring continuity?
    2. How do I find people who share a common interest? What would they want to discuss? Who benefits most from this type of interaction? What basic education in Twitter chat style/etiquette is needed?
    3. How do I promote the chat? Personal invitation vs. broadcasting? Are there others who are willing to help promote? Are there channels for cross promotion (LinkedIn,FB etc)
    4. How do I evaluate the effectiveness of the chats? How do I follow up and start to build a relationship with attendees?

    As I discovered, there is quite a difference between helping facilitate and being responsible for a chat. Even for a well established group like #NPCons, it takes some time to come up with a topic, think through the questions, prepare a blog post and lay out a timed format. Facilitating at the frenetic pace of some tweet chats is helped by having others to assist, reframe and reinforce questions. Having facilitation experience helps in knowing when to refocus or know that the group has hit on something good and go with it.

    While it looks simple to throw together a chat on Twitter, to create community requires a lot more thought and effort.

  7. What’s the highest potential? I see the Twitterchats building a community of far-flung folks I would never otherwise meet, mixed in with familiar and welcome faces. The time slot and topic give us a starting point to focus our energy (and like Nancy, I find these build energy). I link to people I don’t know as soon as I see a posting I like, and truly hope to get to know them better through media other than Twitter.

    I’ve been at a few others and I agree that CTF has expertise to share in doing them right. Right now, it is a model – I suggest others thinking of starting a Twitter chat look at our archives. And the archives are a great addition, but of course they don’t give any sense of the quick flow of ideas. I see CTF as a coach for facilitators/hosts not so much a resource for the whole Twitter community.

    The audience for what they facilitate is people who cannot regularly get together in person but share a common interest, be it professional or hobby or political or whatever. And are articulate and preferably casual – no room on Twitter for footnotes and bibliographies to go with a bit.ly link! I see it particularly benefiting national and international organizations, and people whose special interests are sufficiently rare that they never found each other at all before the Internet.

    So would people pay to come to a Twitter chat about how to facilitate a Twitter chat? I’ll bet some professional association staff would if the amount were small – they are getting pushed to engage their members more through social media and it’s stretching their skill set. Perhaps ASAE would partner? Council of Foundations? A national United Way?

    Evaluation is a whole other kettle of fish. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources once spent two years deciding how to define a fish for purposes of counting them (at what length? age? etc.). We shouldn’t expect easy answers.

    Let’s start with what success looks like. A broadened network of people whose expertise I value and I can comfortably contact when I have a question? At least one idea per chat that I explicitly use in the next three months? Note: I would see following a link to a recommended article, and reading it, as “using.” At least one non-Twitter follow-up contact with another participant?

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