Now, there are so many topics and so many people on The Twitter, you can probably find a chat on every topic. But not all chats are well moderated and not all chats will provide you value. Consider what you want to learn, what you can contribute and when you want to be locked down for an hour online.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help narrow the field:
1. Why do you want to join a chat?What do you want to learn? Are you curious about a topic? Do you want to grow your skills and knowledge? Need help with something at work? Are you looking to demonstrate your expertise in a topic or industry on which you are knowledgeable? Looking for networking opportunities? Want more followers or blog readers? These are all very valid reasons for joining Twitter chats. Thinking about your motives can help narrow the field since there are a few hundred from which to choose.
2. What can you contribute to the discussion?Chats are two-way: the moderator and expert will bring their knowledge, but the discussion gets richer as participants ask questions and contribute their own ideas. If you are new to the topic, you might be tempted to just sit back and watch it go by, but even if you are there to learn, you can contribute by asking good questions. Think about what you want to know and chances are there are other people out there with similar needs. Go ahead, don't be shy. That's what the chat is for...
(My next chat-related post will have tips on getting heard in the melee :)
3. Who are the hosts and guest experts?Research the host and the guests to see if their knowledge and experience is a good fit for what you want to learn. Check out their sites, their Twitter streams, maybe even transcripts of previous chats to determine whether the discussion will be beneficial to you.
4. What format does the chat take?Open Mic chats can be a great way to network with folks from the same industry or from an interest-based community. They can be complete free-for-alls but they often generate interesting side conversations where the learning really happens.
Open Q&A chats are an excellent way for the community to draw what they want to learn from the expert, especially if that person is well recognized in their field. Where they can fall down is if the chat is too new or if the expert is somewhat of an unknown.
Moderated Q&A chats come in 2 flavours: fully structured and semi-structured. Fully structured chats are like watching a written interview happen in real time. They can be informative but they don't really lend to audience participation since the script is pre-determined. Semi-structured chats are great; the moderator has a series of questions, but there is enough flexibility or time built into the chat for participants to offer their own questions and insights. This is my favourite format.
5. Is it well attended by the target industry/community?It should be no surprise that good chats have strong attendance by their industry community, which makes the conversation richer. For example, #ProfsChat is popular among the marketing crowd, while #blogchat is attended by hundreds of bloggers. The participants to both of these chats are just as valuable to my learning as the hosts and guest experts. Chats that have a melee of folks can often seem a bit self-serving and don`t necessarily generate much value.
6. Is the chat schedule convenient for you?Will you be near a computer when the chat occurs? Is the chat over lunch but not work-related? Is it at your kids' bedtime? Consider time zones too: several chats are hosted on the East Coast and you don't want to show up at the wrong time.
Narrowing your topic selection can be difficult but weigh how much you can learn against the cost of dedicating the time to the discussion. Twitter chats are a great (and free) way to learn from the "mind hive". Check out the master list, and give them a try.
Leave a comment! Let me know which ones and any tips for n00bs trying to choose the right chat.