What is a Twitter Chat and How Can it Help YOU in 15 Minutes or Less?

Have a few free minutes and want to connect with amazing people and ideas in your field without changing out of your pajamas? Try a Twitter chat! Here are some questions and answers about how and why.

Q: What is a Twitter chat?

A: A Twitter chat is when a group of people interested in a similar topic discuss it using a designated hashtag (#) in a format specific to that chat. For example, every Sunday from 8-9pm EST, people interested in promoting reading and literacy use the hashtag #TitleTalk to chat. While some chats are held during specific time frames, many others are ongoing, meaning you can join at any time. 

Q: How can I find a Twitter chat hashtag relevant to me?

A: Sometimes the easiest way is a Google search. Try Googling something like: “literacy Twitter chat hashtag” (or whatever your area of interest is), and you will get several search results that have lists of chats you can join. One of my favorite Twitter chat lists is this one created by an education whiz named Cybraryman.

There are several other ways to find chats. One is to use the Twitter search bubble and type in your topic to see what you find. For example, when I type in “Literacy chat,” the resulting tweets reveal that the hashtag #LiteracyChat is in use, presumably chatting about literacy. Another way  to find good chats is to tweet directly to someone on Twitter (whether you know them or not) who is very involved in your field of interest. For example, you could tweet something like, “@PrisonExpert Do you know of any Twitter chats about education in prisons?” At least half the time, people reply and give a useful answer. 

Q: Now that I’ve found a relevant hashtag and the time frame the chat happens, how do I join?

A: First you need to isolate your Twitter view so you only see people in the chat in your feed. The easiest way to do this is to go to the search bubble and type in the chat name (ex: #EdChat for the ongoing chat about education). Once you enter this, you should see that every tweet in your stream view now has the #EdChat hashtag, meaning they are taking part in this chat. Optional: Next to the “Tweets” heading in the upper center of your screen, click the “All” button instead of “Top” so you see all the tweets in the chat, not just the top ones.

Next, remember that the only way YOU will be seen in this chat is if you also use this hashtag somewhere in your tweet (usually at the end). For example, you could say, “Can anyone recommend a great text for beginning ESL? #LiteracyChat.”

Q: But where do I enter the conversation?

A: There are several ways to leap into the stream of a Twitter chat. One is to see if there is a pattern to the discussion. Many chats will have structured questions, often numbered as follows: “Q1” meaning Question 1, which would be answered with the heading “A1” (Answer 1). In other chats, a moderator will just declare a general topic. In a third option, people just tweet any questions, comments, or links on the hashtag theme. When in doubt about the structure, directly ask someone who seems to know how it goes.

Q: What’s the point? How can a Twitter chats help me?

A: Twitter chats are wonderful for the following reasons: networking, learning, resource/idea sharing and venting. First, through a robust Twitter chat, you can connect with some of the biggest names and thinkers in your field. For example, a recent education Twitter chat allowed me to “speak” directly with the head of the American Federation of Teachers. These online Twitter acquaintances can often help you later in real life. Second, you can get a wide variety of resources (links, book names, etc.) in a short period of time from a Twitter chat, all tailored to your interests and questions, and you also have the opportunity to share links to articles and resources you have helped create or have a personal stake in. Finally, a Twitter chat can just be a wonderful place to vent if you need to discuss a topic but can’t find people geographically near you. And since you don’t have to stay for the whole chat, you can get all these goodies in just 10-15 minutes! 

Q: Where are more resources to learn about Twitter chats?

A: When in doubt, a simple Google search like: “how to do Twitter chat” will land a number of additional articles and videos to help you. Much has been written about the topic, so you should always be able to find the help you need! You can also directly ask people in the chat, via Twitter, for advice. 

I hope these Twitter chat tips have supported and intrigued you enough to give one a try this week. If you do (or if you’ve already tried a Twitter chat or three), use the comments section below to tell us about your experience! You can also say hi to me on Twitter at @WorldLillie and to Mass Literacy at @MassLiteracy!

Learn how to blog with Lillie Marshall at the Boston Herald on August 15! Find out more about this Mass Literacy workshop and register here.