Twitter chats: if you can’t meet in real space, meet in real time.

Last week I spent 2 hours chatting with 5 fellow bloggers at the Waterloo Cafe.

Cleveland Webbloggers Meetup
July meeting of the Cleveland Webbloggers

Social media is a great way to make face-to-face connections. I started going to our Cleveland Webbloggers meet-up group last summer. These real-life meetings have given me a chance to get to know the personalities behind the usernames. When we gather together, be it in a small group like last week or a larger assembly of 20 or more, we'll talk about anything from writing and blogging platforms to Cleveland politics and philosophy. The mood of the group sets the topic and the tone. But at it's core, the Cleveland Webbloggers group gives us a chance to share ideas and best practices with our peers, whether they blog professionally or just for fun.

Of course, as you know, one can only cover so much material in one monthly meeting. And not all of our peers are local. To reach others in our topical niche, particularly those who may come from other industries or backgrounds, we reach out through the Web. Each week via social media services such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, StumbleUpon, blogs, etc., I connect with people all over the world, from Syracuse to Singapore.

Most of this is done via time shifting. If I'm still up and Tweeting, when my friend Wayne gets to work in England, it means I've stayed up well past my bedtime. While that is not unusual, it is more often the case that Wayne will share a link via Twitter or save a bookmark on Delicious while I'm off dreaming about vampire sea turtles discovering underwater time portals—or whatever other nonsense floats through my mind. After I wake up I'll see what he and the other Europeans have shared so that I can respond, share my own links, and so forth. Generally speaking this works quite well.

Time-shifting is incredibly useful, but sometimes it's just more efficient to meet in real-time. Skype calls and chat rooms are quite handy when you know the participants in advance. But for larger topical meetings—open to a wide audience—real-time chats via Twitter are a popular alternative.

Last night I spent 2 hours chatting with 100+ fellow bloggers on my couch.

Cartoon: Real time conversations on your couch
100 people would be a tight fit even on a giant couch like this.

As you may have guessed, my couch doesn't have enough room to accommodate 100 people. But it does have plenty of room for me and my laptop—through which I can login to Twitter and start chatting with bloggers, social media advocates or any other group that meets regularly online.

What are real-time Twitter chats and how do they work?

Real-time Twitter chats are typically held on a weekly basis, though scheduling may vary. Each topic-based chat picks a recurring day and time to meet, then assigns a unique hashtag for users to add to their Tweets. The hashtags mark the Tweets as belonging to the chat so that users can easily follow the discussion through a variety of online tools.

At the start of a chat, a moderator/host will typically ask people to introduce themselves, then ask questions or suggest specific topics for discussion. Some chats may follow a rigid format such as devoting 15 minutes to each question, while other chats evolve more organically. I participate regularly in two chats:

  • #blogchat, hosted by @MackCollier is a forum for people to discuss issues related to blogging, including writing, marketing, blog platforms, RSS feeds, design, etc. Meetings are held Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. U.S. eastern time.
  • #smchat, hosted by @SourcePOV (Chris Jones) "explores Social Media best practices, and new ways to drive value in this space, with thought to collaborative innovation and viable knowledge networks." Meetings are held Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. U.S. eastern time.

Other popular chats include #journchat ( journalists, bloggers and public relations—one of the oldest and most popular chats), #litchat (for booklovers) and #eventprofs (for event planning professionals). Meryl K. Evans assembled a very useful list of Twitter chats on her blog. New chats are constantly being added, so the list is now maintained as an interactive spreadsheet. Whether you are interested in agriculture, design, or food, there's probably a chat available to suit your needs. If not, check the schedule, choose a time, pick a hashtag and start one yourself!

Tools for following Twitter hashtags

If you're following more than a dozen people on Twitter, you've probably noticed that it gets a bit noisy. Trying to follow a hashtag in the middle of your normal Twitter stream can be even more difficult. Thankfully there are a variety of Twitter services and tools that can help. Here are a few of the more popular ones.


Twitter Search
If you search on a particular hashtag, such as #smchat, Twitter search will pull up a list of all the most recent Tweets including that hashtag. If you see a Tweet to which you would like to respond, you can just click the reply button, write your message and type #smchat at the end of your Tweet. Then return to the search page to continue reading.
Sign into Tweetchat using your existing Twitter ID and password. Then type in the hashtag you would like to follow, such as #blogchat, and TweetChat will present you with a page listing all of the current #blogchat Tweets. Tweetchat features a box where you can type your Tweets and also includes buttons that make it easy to reply or retweet messages.
Tweetgrid works similarly to Tweetchat and is the service I use most often. Simply search on the hashtag you wish to follow and you will be brought to a page listing the recent Tweets with a feature enabling you to reply, reTweet, etc. If you select the "party" option instead of the "search" option you can also designate your username and the username(s) of the chat's host. This will bring up a page showing separate columns for the main stream, your own Tweets, and those of the moderator. This can make things a bit easier to follow.
What the hashtag?!
This user-editable hashtag encyclopedia let's users follow a chat as they would in other tools, but also let's moderators add descriptive information about the hashtag to the page. Users may also create transcripts of chat sessions based on date-ranges. These can be printed to .pdf files to be saved for archival purposes. As an example you can read the .pdf transcript from this week's #blogchat.
Monitter is a tool to let you monitor keywords used on Twitter in real-time. When you enter the site you are presented with 3 columns listing various searches. Replace the search in any column with a hashtag, @username or plain word to follow it's mentions. You can respond to conversations by clicking a reply or retweet button appearing under each Tweet.
Tweetdeck is an Adobe Air application that you can use instead of the Twitter Web page for all of your Twitter activities. I use it because I can create columns multiple columns on topics such as Cleveland, marketing and higher education to which I can assign the users I follow most frequently. Tweetdeck also lets you filter columns by keywords, follow Facebook status updates and create search columns. The latter is another popular way to follow a hashtag or chat.

While these tools are helpful for following Twitter chats, they're also handy for following hashtags for other reasons. People use hashtags for topical searches such as tracking #recipes people post on Twitter, following Tweets related to conferences/events and to keep track of trending topics such as the Iran Election or Spymaster.

Twitter real-time chats offer access to new insights and opinions

As I hinted in the beginning, real-time chats give us the opportunity to connect with people we might never have the chance to meet locally. They give us access to people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. I find this useful because it gives me insights into different perspectives.

For instance, recently on #smchat a lot of discussion has been focused on the topics of intellectual property and knowledge management. This is a concern for many companies exploring social media. They want to share information with customers that will help sell products and they want to share knowledge with other business and government collaborators as part of product development. But they also need to safeguard trade secrets and other confidential information. So the question for us is, how do they manage both? Should companies restrict access to technologies that make sharing easier? Should they open up technologies but educate users about policies regarding what should and shouldn't be shared? If we as social media advocates come up with solutions, how do we educate the corporate leaders who would implement such policies? How does the model change based on the industry in question or the communications goal? These are hard questions, so naturally we could spend months or years trying to sort this all out.

What's intriguing about this discussion is the variety of minds adding input. When I worked for a university I pondered communications concerns with colleagues in my department, the attorneys' office, ITS or with clients in other campus departments. I might also ponder such ideas with others in higher education or Web development. But I rarely had the chance to hold such discussions with attorneys, engineers, marketers, accountants, etc., working in industries ranging from consultants and government contractors to advertising agencies, restaurant managers and manufacturers—all at the same time.

I find this useful because people in industry X may be facing challenges that those of us in industry Y never encounter. By bringing everyone together we have a unique opportunity to learn how these questions impact others and we can take away knowledge that we can put to use in our own fields. This strikes me a an incredibly valuable way to collaborate.

Twitter chats are a great way to find cool Tweeps

Of course, useful insights tend to be shared by smart minds. The people who provide the ideas are people worth following. I often follow (and am followed back by) dozens of new contacts after a good chat session. While many Twitter users are overly concerned with gaining a large quantity of followers, my focus is on quality. It's hard enough to follow 1,000+ people, so if I'm going to do it they better have something useful to say. The people I meet during Twitter chats do.

This sounds great, but seriously, how could you possibly have a worthwhile discussion in 140 character Tweets?

Before I started attending chats I wondered the same thing. It's challenging to make a point in 140 characters, especially when those characters must also include the hashtag. But in a way it's easier in real-time. If you make point A, and I respond with point B, you'll see it right away. Then you can respond back and things start flowing like a normal conversation. You may have to break up an idea into a few separate Tweets, but somehow it all comes together.

Conversations begun during Twitter chat can also continue later in other venues. For instance #smchat has a sister site on Ning through which users can post discussions, questions, videos and other documents. Mack Collier, posts a recap of the #blogchat on his blog to which users can add additional comments. With all of the social media tools available, there's always some way to continue the conversation.

If there's a Twitter chat related to your field of interest, I highly recommend giving it a try.

Twitter chat and hashtag resources
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  1. Thx for linking out to the Twitter Chat list: The more exposure it gets, hopefully, the more each chat will grow. Twitter needs to improves their service in order to support Twitter Chats. Many have to be postponed due to Twitter Lag. There are two problems. 1) General Twitter overcrowding for the number of servers they have 2) the apps like TweetChat rely on the Twitter Search API. Because Twitter sometimes stores Tweets in a different order from how they were submitted, these apps get "confused" and drop Tweets The next step in Twitter Chatting is to merge in audio and video feeds as well as an organized schedule of events.

    Comment by Swan — July 29, 2009 @10:30 am

  2. Twitter Comment... @hacool Really like your blog post on Twitter chats [link to post] #smchat - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by Renee_Innosight (Renee Hopkins) — July 29, 2009 @1:26 pm

  3. Twitter Comment... New to me - Realtime Twitter Chats via @hacool: [link to post] - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by Niknak_Anatine (Kerry Costello) — July 29, 2009 @1:33 pm

  4. Twitter Comment... @hacool very comprehensive blog post. Nicely done! #smchat - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by spkrinteractive (Speaker Interactive) — July 29, 2009 @2:53 pm

  5. nice post! i wonder why i never thought of tweet chatting before. well, catch you on twitter :-P

    Comment by tashfeen — August 3, 2009 @3:56 am

  6. Swan,
    Excellent points about the Twitter platform. It can be finicky. We've had to cut #smchat short in the past due to lagtime with the API. I hope they can resolve those issues. But overall I think it's handy because users don't have to sign into yet another service. I think we will see more of these chats start to grow. Today's #socialmedia was quite active and #blogchat has become so popular it can be quite a challenge to keep up.

    Tashfeen, I think you'd like the chats, for you esp. I'd recommend #blogchat on Sundays. Did you ever join us for FNPDC on Pownce? It works rather like that but on a central topic.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — August 11, 2009 @4:23 pm

  7. Hi Cool! I'm new to this. I Have a self-funded start-up focused on free leading-edge personal cholesterol management. I picked-up "The Whuffie Factor" by Tara Hunt. Have you heard or read it, if so thoughts. Thanks.

    Comment by mike varner — August 17, 2009 @3:46 pm

  8. Mike,
    Good luck with your social media explorations! I've not read The Whuffle Factor, but I just took a look on Amazon and it sounds like a good read. And it got a great review from Seth Godin, so that's a good sign. For day-to-day updates on social media, you may also want to subscribe to Mashable, The Social Media Guide.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — August 21, 2009 @9:47 pm

  9. [...] twitter chats’ user-driven design make it great for knowledge sharing, as well as for organic relationship-building, highlighting innovators and subject experts, and creating community. organizations can fold twitter chats into the traditional learning curriculum, hosting twitter chats regarding new hr programs or tools, to build competencies through peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing, or as a guided focus group. more informally and informing, organizations can provide the channel and let the community decide the need—a simple way to unearth what is and isn’t working. [...]

    Pingback by ways to use twitter to attract, onboard, train…(v2) — free-range communication — August 24, 2009 @10:56 am

  10. Twitter Comment... RT @tweetmeme » Twitter chats: if you can’t meet in real space, meet in real time. | Web Development Blog: Heidi A... [link to post] - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by ob81 (howard oberry) — August 25, 2009 @4:59 pm

  11. H! I just saw your article pop up on Twitter, and there I am (well, my name at least) in lights! Thanks, as always. On a personal preference note, I use HootSuite for all my Twitterifilicated shenanigans.

    Comment by Wayne Smallman — August 25, 2009 @5:06 pm

  12. Well, I guess I have no excuses for missing the next chat session then! I think you can follow real-time right on the site. Tweetdeck may be a little slow for real-time, and like Swan said, sometimes the API users are all over the place. See you at the next #smchat!

    Comment by ob81 — August 25, 2009 @5:08 pm

  13. Twitter Comment... RT @ob81: RT @tweetmeme » Twitter chats: if you can’t meet in real space, meet in real time ( [link to post] ) - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by Octane (Wayne Smallman) — August 25, 2009 @5:33 pm

  14. Twitter Comment... @hacool Wow, I guess you knew that I was going to ask about it one day! - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by ob81 (howard oberry) — August 25, 2009 @5:45 pm

  15. Wayne,
    I've not used Hoot Suite yet but I've noticed from your Tweets that you've been using it. T'is yet another thing to explore. Glad you saw the post, I expect you'd have noticed a pingback eventually.

    Howard (ob81),
    I usually use Tweetgrid for Twitter chats. I like the way it auto includes the hashtag so that I don't forget to type it in. It usually works pretty well. But sometimes we encounter some Twitter latency that slows things down. Sometimes it's related to the API, other times Twitter in general. With Tweetdeck you either follow too slowly or exceed the API limit (though I'm glad Twitter raised it to 150). See you at #smchat tomorrow!

    Comment by Heidi Cool — August 25, 2009 @5:54 pm

  16. Twitter Comment... @hacool No problem. I am jealous of that twitter integration on your blog! - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by ob81 (howard oberry) — August 25, 2009 @7:45 pm

  17. Twitter Comment... @hacool yup, health communications & social media = #hcsm - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by danamlewis (Dana Lewis) — August 30, 2009 @10:36 pm

  18. Twitter Comment... @hacool This is only the beginning with the number of Twitter-based chats #Blogchat - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by JDEbberly (J D Ebberly) — August 30, 2009 @10:37 pm

  19. Twitter Comment... @hacool Soon we will have chats to participate on every night of the week. Then it'll be two chats each night..... #Blogchat - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by JDEbberly (J D Ebberly) — August 31, 2009 @12:39 am

  20. Twitter Comment... @JDEbberly I already have three nights with "can't miss" chats. #blogchat - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by Sue_Anne (Sue Anne Reed) — August 31, 2009 @1:39 am

  21. Twitter Comment... @Sue_Anne I need to finesse the "art" of multitasking two chats simultaneously, then I'll be able to do ten to twelve chats a week #Blogchat - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by JDEbberly (J D Ebberly) — August 31, 2009 @2:38 am

  22. [...] some of you know, I regularly participate in a variety of real-time chats on Twitter, including #smchat, a weekly discussion of best practices in social media. On Wednesday September [...]

    Pingback by » Goal-driven social media strategies & tactics: how are you interacting with your target audience? | Web Development Blog: Heidi Adams Cool — September 24, 2009 @12:58 pm

  23. Twitter Comment... Twit Chats [link to post] post by @hacool , good reference point - Posted using Chat Catcher ...

    Trackback by followsamir (Samir) — September 25, 2009 @2:36 pm

  24. [...] [...]

    Pingback by How Do Creative People Use Twitter? « Fresh Asylum — September 28, 2009 @8:20 pm

  25. [...] P.S. A few nice tips on using Twitter real-time chats and tools for following Twitter hashtags. [...]

    Pingback by Google Analytics for Keyword Monitoring in Social Media — April 30, 2010 @12:52 pm

  26. Is there an application to host a debate via Twitter?... The nice thing about hashtags is that you can use them for ongoing references to a topic, or for real-time scheduled discussions such as Paul described. These are also a great way to meet other Tweeps with common interests. (For example I met Paul in #...

    Trackback by Quora — February 13, 2011 @9:25 pm

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