What is a Twitter Chat?

At its base, a Twitter chat is a guided live online conversation held on the Twitter platform that is facilitated by the collaborative use of a single designated hashtag. These designated hashtags usually are created by combining the niche topic and the word “chat” (ex: #ParkChat focuses on national parks and #HikerChat focuses on hiking). Unlike general use hashtags, Twitter chats have a set day and time during which a live conversation takes place. Anyone who clicks on the hashtag can see current and previous tweets that have used the hashtag. 

When do chats occur?

Most chats occur weekly at a set day and time (ex: #ParkChat occurs at 9 pm ET every Wednesday). Chat hosts have also been known to select a fortnightly or monthly schedule. The frequency and time of a chat often depends on audience and specificity of a topic. For example, you would not want to hold a K-12 education chat during the middle of a school day. 

How do I find a Twitter chat?

I stumbled upon my first Twitter chat when I saw someone use the hashtag in a tweet. While this works, there are more purposeful ways to find a chat. The easiest option is to simply Google the name of your niche and the words “Twitter chat” (ex: hiking Twitter chat). Review the search results and click on any relevant links until you find a chat that interests you. I also recommend just looking at the Twitter feeds of others in your niche to see what chats they participate in. Finally, you can also review the lists of chats shown on various chat-focused sites like TweetReport, TwubsTillison, and/or TravelScape. (These sites are just a handful of sites I know about and are not endorsements.)

How do I Participate in a Twitter chat?

Participating in a Twitter chat is fairly easy and straightforward. Each chat has a host (or two) who posts questions throughout a chat. Each chat typically focuses on a single topic and the host will post questions related to that topic every few minutes. People who want to participate answer the questions and interact with other participants. I’ve outlined these components and others below to help you better understand the process:

Chat Host

Each chat is organized and moderated by one or more regular hosts. Think of these hosts as the sponsor of the chat. They select the chat topic, organize the chat questions, market the event to their network, and are responsible for encouraging discussion during the chat. Many chats have co-hosts who split these duties. See a sample weekly chat announcement below that includes the hashtag, topic, time, date, and hosts. 

Additionally, some chats will feature one or more guest hosts. Guest hosts typically are experts in a specific sub-niche topic or serve in a larger industry role (author, niche champion, etc.). In most cases, a single guest host will ask some or all of the questions during a chat. In others, multiple guest hosts may take turns asking questions.

I would argue that the role of host is the single most important element of a Twitter chat. This is because without a strong host, chats can become unfocused. An unfocused chat doesn’t draw engaged participants – which is the whole point of a chat. :)

Topics and Questions

Each chat typically focuses on one topic per chat. That topic is then broken down into a series of questions that explore different components of the topic. The questions are typically released every 5 to 10 minutes to allow for participation and engagement between questions. Participants can identify these questions using the following popular elements:

• Posted by one of the designated hosts or co-hosts
• Begins by identifying what question it is (e.g., “Question 1” or “Q1”)
• Uses the chat hashtag (e.g., #ParkChat or #GearMeOut)
• Is written in the form of a question (obvious, I know)

See the sample question posted by a recent #ParkChat co-host that incorporates the above elements:

How to Respond to Chat Questions

There is no right or wrong way to respond to chat questions. It’s really up to each individual participant to determine how they want to respond. Any method you use should include the hashtag and which question to which you are responding (e.g., A1 or A2). I’ve outlined the three methods below and included examples so that you can see how they look.

Direct Reply

Some participants, myself included, opt to use the direct reply option. This option allows participants to connect their response directly to the original question. See a sample of this method below:

Quote ReTweet

Some participants opt to use the quote tweet function. This option allows participants to connect their tweet with the original question posted by the host. The quoted retweet will show up in their main Twitter timeline and is viewable by all their followers. See a sample of this method below:

New Tweet

Some participants opt to create a new tweet for each of their responses. By doing so, each of their tweets shows up in their main Twitter timeline and is viewable by all their followers. However, using this method your response is not directly connected to the original question. See a sample of this method below:

Piggybacking On Another Response (Bonus Response)

I don’t use this option often, but have used it if my response matches what someone else already responded. Personally, I’d rather piggyback on their response and create a conversation about that response than write a response that is basically the same. 

Participation Frequency

While Twitter chats are held on a regularly scheduled basis, you are not required to participate in all the of the chats. Personally, I only participate as my schedule allows. This means that I frequent evening chats that take place after my 9-to-5 has ended and struggle to make chats that occur during my work day.

Most chats will also do a quick roll-call at the beginning of the chat to see who is participating that day. Typically participants give there their name and where they are from. If you are a first timer, let folks know and they will most likely help you through the chat. 

Twitter Chat Etiquette 

Like anytime you are on social media, common sense and online etiquette should be used during a Twitter chat. You should be polite, stay on topic (this can be hard at times), use indicators like A1 or A2 in your responses, and don’t forget to use the HASHTAG (or no one will be able to find your responses)! Lastly, don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone in person – be polite.  

Benefits of Participating in a Twitter Chat

Beyond making connections with people over a shared love of a topic, Twitter chats are a great way to network. Honestly, it was through Twitter chats that I have met all of my favorite people online. My network has encouraged me to get out on the hiking trail, inspired me to start Park People, and encouraged me through tough real-life situations like my recent ankle surgery.

I encourage you to find your own network of like-mind folks. If you are a national park or outdoor recreation, I suggest you check out the following chats:  #ParkChat#GearMeOut, or #HikerChat. Happy tweeting!