Twitter chats are an amazing way to bring together people for a focused conversation on a particular topic or surrounding an event, such as a conference or Webinar.
There’s no need for the people involved to know each other before the chat, and in many cases the chats can be great ways to connect with people who have common interests. For example, I frequently join the #hcsm chat for people interested in using social media in healthcare, and occasionally join the #hcmktg chat related to healthcare marketing.
For Mayo Clinic, we use a #mayoradio Twitter chat to gather questions from outside our local area for our Medical Edge Weekend radio program, and have done several joint chats with Mary Brophy Marcus (@BrophyMarcUSAT) from USA Today, inviting readers to discuss the topics of her stories with a Mayo Clinic specialist. We’re now using #MayoUSAToday as the hashtag for these discussions.
In 3 Steps to Joining or Leading a Twitter Chat, I take you step by step through the process of joining a Twitter chat. But first, here are some of the reasons you might want to participate. I’ll use the #MayoUSAToday chat as an example:
- Public discussion that spreads as it continues. When a new person joins the discussion by including #MayoUSAToday in a tweet, it spreads the word about the chat to her Twitter followers. Any of her followers who retweet or reply to her tweet extend the reach still further.
- Broad geographic reach. Speaking of extending the reach, the beauty of a Twitter chat is it can be worldwide. Some diseases or conditions just aren’t common enough to build a critical mass for discussion locally, no matter how metropolitan the location. Getting people together physically is tough, but with Twitter you can gather people with common interests virtually without them having to leave the comfort of wherever they use their computer. And of course with iPhones, Blackberries or Androids people can join the chat from wherever they are: I did a recent chat from O”Hare airport in Chicago.
- No need to raise your hand. Unlike an in-person meeting, you don’t need to be recognized by the moderator to ask you question or make your comment. Just include the #MayoUSAToday tag in your tweet, and you’re part of the conversation. If you use the tag to interject your marketing messages into a discussion, you won’t last long in the chat (or in Twitter). Users will report you as a “hashtag spammer” (a term that is part of a Twitter lexicon I plan to publish) and your account will be suspended. But if you’re a real person who just wants to join the conversation without hijacking it for pecuniary reasons, you’ll find people in Twitter quite friendly and open.
- Wallflowers welcome. It’s fine to just lurk and listen. You can just click the #MayoUSAToday link, for instance, and watch what others are saying. But more importantly, a Twitter chat can be a great tool to get discussion from the whole audience at a conference, instead of just those who are most verbose and comfortable speaking in public. So when I do a presentation, I generally create a hashtag that enables everyone to comment or ask questions. This can help make sure we hear from the introverts, whose ideas may not otherwise get as much consideration as they deserve, which leads to the final point…
- No time limits. Many if not most Twitter chats have a set time during which people have agreed to gather. The #MayoUSAToday chats are scheduled to run for one hour, during which time our Mayo Clinic subject experts are online to answer questions tweeted by USA Today readers and others drawn into the conversation (see Benefit #1 above.) But the time expiring doesn’t mean you can’t continue to tweet using the hashtag, and the conversation can continue on at a slower pace. So if someone tweets with a #MayoUSAToday tag three hours after the scheduled chat ends, it just means the question probably won’t be answered right away, as it would during the one-hour window. This also obviously applies to conferences and other in-person meetings; just because people have gone home doesn’t mean the conversation has to end.