How to host a successful chat on Twitter


I have hosted and co-hosted a number of chats on Twitter under existing hashtags, and last month I set up my own Twitter chat on creative research methods.

In case you’re new to all this, a hashtag is a way of keeping track of topics and content on Twitter. For example, if you want to know what people are saying about marmalade, you can search Twitter for #marmalade (pro tip: then click ‘latest’ for most recent content) and you’ll find that marmalade is not only a foodstuff but a popular name for pets. You can use hashtags, follow hashtags and invent hashtags. They’re a great tool for reducing bazillions of apparently random tweets to a string of tweets that you actually want to read.

I write about creative research methods. It’s a topic that holds great interest for me and I know for a number of others too. So I decided to set up a monthly chat on Twitter. I played around with a few ideas for hashtags. The obvious #creativeresearchmethods and #creativeresearchmethodschat were too long and cumbersome. In the end I settled for #crmethods (for discussion in between the monthly chats) and #crmethodschat (for the chats themselves). To my delight, neither of those hashtags were in use on Twitter. It’s always worth checking that before you make a final decision. I remember going to a conference where the event’s hashtag was also being used by a European music festival with some quite, er, liberated practices, which meant the conference Twitterfeed was entertaining in rather more ways than the organisers had intended!

I decided that the second Tuesday of the month would probably work well, with times to vary, to accommodate people in different time zones and my own variable client commitments. The first chat was on Tuesday 14 May at 8 pm BST for one hour. And it went really well! I only began advertising the chat online that morning, and explained that I would be curating the tweets using Wakelet for people who were interested but couldn’t make the chat itself.

I prepared six questions in advance, so that I would have one ready to post every 10 minutes. These were:

  1. Who is here? Tell us who you are and what you do.
  2. What is your own interest in creative research methods?
  3. What do you think creative methods have to offer to research more broadly?
  4. How have you overcome any barriers that you’ve experienced to using creative methods?
  5. For future chats, would you like to focus on specific types of #CRMethods e.g. visual, embodied, tech-related etc, or #CRMethods at particular stages of the research process, or something else?
  6. Q6 for #CRMethodsChat is actually a challenge: post a link to something creative methods-related for the benefit of everyone on and interested in this chat.

I also used Buffer to schedule tweets saying ‘two hours to go’ and ‘one hour to go’ so that I could take some time out to eat dinner and get ready.

I wasn’t sure how many people would join in, and didn’t expect a crowd, but in fact the engagement was great. Fifty-eight unique Twitter accounts were engaged as follows:

  • 17 active in chat.
  • 12 tagged by people active in chat.
  • 11 couldn’t make the time but asked for the Wakelet web address.
  • 6 tweeted about the chat after the event.
  • 12 tagged by people tweeting after the event.

The active chatters were very vocal and hosting was hectic but good. Also, some of those tagged were groups rather than individuals (e.g. @BERANews and @PhDWomenScot) which increases reach. I didn’t even try to log all the likes and retweets which increase reach even further. However, Twitter Analytics tells me that my top tweet in May was the one saying ‘two hours until the chat’ with 14 retweets and 33 likes and over 5,000 ‘impressions’ (i.e. the number of times it was seen).

I had intended a closing tweet to thank my patrons but the chat was so busy that I forgot, so that’s a learning point for me; next time I’ll have one written out in advance.

Most of the content was good quality, which was pleasing, and there was a lot of interest in the Wakelet I made after the event. Q5 yielded nine topics for future chats:

  • Creative methods of analysis.
  • Creative methods of dissemination.
  • Technology and creative methods.
  • Visual research methods.
  • Embodied research.
  • Analysing arts-based data.
  • Sensory research methods: sound, smell, taste.
  • Non-Western creative research methods.
  • Different creative approaches that people are using.

This is evidently not an exhaustive list, and it may not run in that order, particularly if future chatters come up with other delectable ideas. But it seems to me like a great place to start for a regular chat – though Twitter chats can also be run as one-offs.

If you fancy setting up a Twitter chat for a topic that interests you, here is a summary of my advice:

  1. Select a hashtag, ideally one that isn’t being used for other purposes.
  2. Pick a date, time, and duration. I’ve seen Twitter chats that run for 30 minutes, others that run for 2 hours, so there are a bunch of options here.
  3. Advertise your Twitter chat widely on social media.
  4. Prepare a suitable number of questions for the length of your chat.
  5. Remind everyone after each question to use e.g. A1 to signal an answer to Q1 and to include the hashtag for your chat in each tweet they post.
  6. Welcome people as they join the chat (remembering to use the hashtag yourself).
  7. Give your own answers to the questions you pose.
  8. Respond to points made by others as best you can – though don’t feel you have to respond to everything personally, especially in a busy chat; encourage chatters to respond to each other too.
  9. Prepare closing tweets to thank chatters and anyone else you want to thank, and perhaps to advertise a future chat, remind people to look out for the Wakelet web address via the hashtag, etc.
  10. Do the Wakelet within 24 hours of the chat, and tweet it with tags for everyone who asked for it and the hashtag, to keep the momentum going.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how the chat went.

Author Bio: Dr Helen Kara has been an independent researcher since 1999 and writes and teaches on research methods.