Last week I was involved in the second iteration / cohort / running of the BYOD4L short course. Along with a number of colleagues we ran a series of tweet-chats each evening along the course themes – timed between 8-9pm the tweet-chats involved facilitators posing questions and ‘facilitating’ the responses and direction the chat took.
Taking is back to the beginning … what is a tweet-chat?
“A TweetChat is a virtual meeting or gathering on Twitter to discuss a common topic. The chat usually lasts one hour and will include some questions to stimulate discussion.” – BYOD4L Tweet-chat
“A Twitter chat is a public Twitter conversation around one unique hashtag. This hashtag allows you to follow the discussion and participate in it. Twitter chats are usually recurring and on specific topics to regularly connect people with these interests.” Social Media Examiner
I thought I’d write up my experiences of running three tweet-chats now: two for BYOD4L, and one for the Leicester Forensic Science FutureLearn MOOC. Each uses a different approach, but both very valid and engaging for the students / participants as well as the course team(s).
Irrespective of the approach you take (question or ask-an-expert, see below) there are some generic tips you should be aware of, both to help you run the tweet-chat and for the participants to understand what to expect. You should also post these somewhere for the participants to view – here are the one’s for the BYOD4L course.
- Explain: make sure you explain a little about Twitter and a tweet-chat, how it works, and why you’re doing it. Not everyone will understand it they way you might.
- Hasthag: advertise the hashtag well in advance. Remind participants they can save the hashtag after they’ve searched for it on Twitter, it’s easier to find on multiple devices when they need it. Keep the hashtag as short and as unique as you can (remember the 140 character limit!) so as to leave as much room in your own tweet and your participant tweets for the actual content.
- Account: Consider having a course-specific account to use for posing the questions rather than your own personal one. This is good if you will have multiple facilitators engaging the participants, but is not necessary if it’s you on your own (see support below).
- Support: If you know the engagement level will be low you can probably handle it on your own. If you think there may be more people engaging (there is not figure here but my experience is that more than 10-20 participants will make it hard to handle on your own) then get support from colleagues.
- Participants: participants will need an account to engage and join in the tweet-chat, but not if they just want to watch the tweets. Highlight this as not everyone has, or wants, a Twitter account.
- Time: Try and arrange for a time suitable to your audience, remembering the differences in time zones if your audience is international. You wont find a time to suit everyone but if you show willingness to take this into account when you set it up it’ll reflect well on you.
- Reminders: Use the accounts that will be used during the tweet- chat (your own and / or the course account) to remind those watching and using the hashtag about the event, time, etc. I like to use a few tweets in the days leading up to the event, the morning before it, one hour before and the minutes leading up to it.
- Announce: Begin the tweet-chat with a welcome message.
- Close: Close / end your tweet-chat with a closing message, statement, or call to complete a tweet-chat survey. If you are running these regularly then remember to highlight the next one. Don’t forget to link to or tweet about the archive.
- Archive: Work out how you want to make your archive (for your own posterity as well as for participants, those who took part and those who didn’t). Look at tools like Martin Hawksey’s TAGS Explorer, Storify and TweetArchivist, among others.
Oh, and don’t forget .. make sure every device you are intending to use has all updates applied, is fully charged (plugged in even), and that you even have a back-up to hand in case one fails! I have used a laptop, iPad, and iPhone on all the tweet-chats I’ve facilitated and at least one has caused a problem (usually laptop) which meant I’ve had to use a back-up device.
Team-led Tips (BYOD4L)
In this approach the team develops and delivers the questions on the agreed and advertised hashtag, in this case #BYODLchat.
- Delivery: It’s up to you if you advertise the questions in advance or use the hashtag to build up the excitement. I prefer to release the questions one at a time, leaving between 10-15 minutes for answers and engagement.
- Questions: I have found it really useful to use a Google Doc in collaboration with the people I facilitate the tweet-chat with to generate the questions. In a one hour tweet-chat consider 4 or 5 questions, leaving about 10 minutes for each. This will enable the question to filter through the Twitter timeline (not everyone’s devices updates quickly) and for participants to engage with the question, you, and each other. Agree on who will run the official account (if you use one) and who will tweet the questions first. Get this wrong and it could be very confusing for participants.
- Answers: In your question remind participants to start their answers with A1, A2, etc. (not forgetting the hashtag). Without either of these it’ll be difficult for you or them to keep track of the conversation.
- Conversation: If you want to continue a conversation with an individual you can continue to use the hashtag of it’s relevant to the whole cohort of participants. If it’s not then carry on, but without the hashtag.
- Distraction: It’s probably worth making sure everything else on your device is closed down (Facebook, email, etc.) unless you need it.
- Links: Keep a browser open with your website and / sources already loaded. During the tweet-chat you may want to put a link in to a tweet so by having it already to hand makes it easier (and quicker).
- Noise: Don’t try and read and reply to every tweet, you wont be able to. In one hour there can be many hundred’s of of tweets and you will end up a wreck if you try and do everything. This is why you may need to engage fellow facilitators to help the session run smoothly.
Participant-led Tips (MOOC)
This approach is the complete opposite of the above – here the participants pose the questions in an ‘ask the expert‘ type of approach, much like a Reddit ‘ask me anything’ (AMA), in this case #FLForensicsLeic.
- Begin: Use your own Twitter account for the answers as this is an opportunity for you to show your own ‘expert’ status. It will help build your profile and network and show your experience and expertise in the area. Make sure, in the documentation introducing the tweet-chat, you mention the names and accounts that will be used, and that the Twitter profile it up to date with both professional photo and biography.
- Questions: The questions will come from the participants, so there is nothing here to prepare. But you do need to be prepared for anything, from any direction. You can easily manage this by ignoring tweets that are not related to the topic you’ve advertised.
- Resources: Be ready with resources (or have someone else on hand to deal with this for you). In the case of the tweet above (ref. Jeremy Bamber) a link to background details or information will help everyone else using the tweet-chat.
- Conversation: Considering the number of individual questions coming at you in this style approach of tweet-chat it may be worth advertising before the event that continuing discussion will only happen after the timed event has closed. This will free you up to concentrate on the event and questions, and remove any bad feeling a participant may have that you didn’t reply immediately.
- Hashtag: The hashtag is all the more important on this approach as activity can be very difficult to follow – the more participants asking questions, the harder it will be to follow changes.
- Team: You will definitely need a team to help you here. The more people you have asking the questions, the more cluttered the hashtag will become and the more difficult it will be to identify a conversation or continuation of a tweet. If you think you will have a lot of questions then it may be worth considering alternative technologies (e.g. Google Hangout) and not a tweet-chat.
- Archive: Using one of the archive tools (e.g. FLForensicsLeic Storify) you can arrange the tweets in collected form, therefore question and responses (and extended conversations if appropriate) collated.
It is possible to run other formats for your tweet-chat (open, free-for-all, etc.) but I have not run any of these. I have, however, been involved in a generic free-for-all when the community directed the questions to each other and answered them. Needless to say it was bedlam – difficult to see the questions, difficult to work out responses or answers, nye on impossible to follow a topic or conversation.
If you’ve experience in any of these please share it below, positive or negative.