During this difficult pandemic period, Anuja Cabraal and I have been hosting a weekly tweetchat on the #VirtuaNotViral hashtag. Now, a “twitter chat” is not a new thing and we are not the only people doing them. However, we’ve got interested in them as a particular type of social media interaction, and I’m using this post to do a bit of basic documentation and thinking in public about them. We are hoping that this might be the start of a paper about the tweetchat as a ‘thing’ (read this as maybe a genre?), so writing this post is also a bit of public accountability.
Here’s a few key points about tweetchats.
Location in time/space
- Tweetchats use a consistent hashtag which signals their intention/mission/field. Tweetchats are often, but not always, linked to a bespoke twitter account with a clear focus and audience. Our #VirtualNotViral tweetchat focuses on providing support to doctoral and early career researchers and our audience are PhDers and those who work with them.
- A tweetchat hashtag may alternatively be associated with either a personal or more general twitter account. This is the case for instance with Helen Kara’s #creativemethods tweetchat which she runs from her personal account. The chat topic comes from her ongoing interest in the use of creative methods in research.
- Tweetchats are also often linked to a blog, website or publication. The chat may be one link in a chain of sites and activities. VirtualNotViral uses a common image across our website and twitter account so that it is possible to identify our “brand” and linked activity at a glance.
- Twitter chats are generally scheduled at a regular time, day and frequency. They are a formal “event” and thus different from the normal chats that occur informally on twitter all of the time. Chats can be monthly, fortnightly or weekly. They could be daily of course, but this doesn’t seem to be the norm. Tweetchats start and end on time. The chat as predictable and routine helps to establish a community who participate regularly.
- The down-side of the regular tweetchat is that it is synchronous and thus always excludes some people somewhere. ( Context doesn’t entirely collapse!)
- Another downside is that you do need to have some kind of following somewhere to get a tweetchat going – but once the chat is happening regularly, then it tends to add to the community that already exists around the network and/or account(s).
- Chat topics are generally advertised on twitter well in advance. Anuja and I use a VirtualNotViral postcard with a consistent design to advertise our chats. We schedule tweeting the card at different times during the week leading up to the chat.
- Sometimes chat topics aren’t set, but open, and they depend on participants to take the conversation where they want. The open chat is more likely to happen when a tweetchat community is established.
- Chats tend not to have rules, other than reminding people to use the hashtag whenever a post is made and being civil.
- People who run tweetchats using their personal accounts often tweet before-hand that their account is likely to be busy for the next hour so that those who don’t want to chat can make a decision about what to do.
A tweetchat run by a single person, let’s call them the MC, generally introduces the chat – and topic if there is one – and asks chat participants to introduce themselves.
- The MC of the open topic may simply wait for people to respond or begin with a few opening tweets to encourage responses. Their job is then to respond to comments and to keep the chat going by inserting a tweet or two if things seem to have gone silent.
- The MC of the declared topic chat generally has a set of numbered questions which they introduce one by one. They will usually have these ready on a word document to cut and paste into tweets. The MC responds to each person who introduces themselves, as well as to the answers to questions. They keep track of any responses which haven’t used the hashtag and retweet them with the hashtag attached. They might also retweet some responses to encourage other people not yet following the hashtag to join in. Sometimes they provide a summary of the combined tweets to date. The MC may also decide to provide links to resources relevant to the topic.
Anuja and I run the #VirualNotViral tweetchat in much the same way. We usually have a guest. So there are three of us MCing. In negotiation with the guest, we set the style of the chat – this is either
- where we ask the guest a couple of questions and then invite chat participants to ask questions and make comments, or
- the guest asks chat participants a series of questions.
Anuja and my job is to introduce the guest and ask them a couple of preliminary questions. We also ask chat participants to introduce themselves. We take responsibility for responding to introductions, retweeting any replies that don’t have the hashtag and for reminding people of the time and hashtag. We also close off the chat with thanks to the guest and participant as well as advertising the next week’s chat.
We monitor the flow of chat and insert comments and questions if there seems to be a lull. We can, if the guest would like us to, number the questions that come in from chat participants so that the guest can work systematically through a list.
Anuja and I have our introduction and questions prepared on a word doc. on our desktops so we can simply cut and paste into tweets. We encourage our guests to prepare introductory comments too, as well as have some standby comments and resources to hand.
Tweetchats can get a bit fast and furious at times. Participants often start chatting with each other – this is great community building and networking and A Good Thing. But it can be hard for people to follow the threads of conversations. It is important for the MCs to try to create some coherence through numbering, threading, summaries, responses – and not to lose questions.
Anuja and I generally use Tweetdeck, so we can both use our personal accounts as well as both be on the VirtualNotViral twitter account. We are also talk backstage throughout the tweetchat – we use Whatsapp – and we work out which of us is doing what. (This is interesting in itself as Anuja is in Australia and I am in England – so we are synchronously working across time zones and huge distances for an hour or so every week. ) Usually one of us takes responsibility for talking with the guest and the other responds to chat participants. I tend to think of this as analogous to talkback radio without the time delay – Anuja and I are sat in the outer studio, making sure things run smoothly, stay on track and there isn’t dead air time.
There is often a lot of useful information shared during tweetchats, information that is worth keeping. There are various ways to archive chats. Anuja is very good at making twitter moments; we advertise the links in the week following the chat, and put each link on a list on our website – they are here. Other people use sites such as Wakelet to store key tweets from a chat.
So that’s a preliminary account of tweetchatting.
We are keen to get beyond these organisational questions and consider the tweetchat more as a community building exercise. We would also like to understand how the tweetchat is used as part of a more general networked doctoral/supervision support experience.
If you have any comments to make about your experiences of tweetchats please use the blog or VirtualNotViral twitter account – I moderate comments here so I can weed out spam. In other words, there might be a delay in comments being published, please don’t think there is anything wrong if they don’t appear straight away.