7 Tips to Surviving Twitter Chats

In my first two posts about Twitter chats, I pointed you to a list of Every single Twitter chat and then, once you were overwhelmed, explained How to find the right chat for you.

So, you've picked your chat. Now what? If your chat has hundreds (even thousands) of simultaneous participants, how on earth are you going to see the moderator questions, the invitee's answers and keep up with all of the participants' comments? It can be difficult when the comments are flying by quickly, and many n00bs can get overwhelmed.

Here are some simple tips to help you focus, participate and get what you need from the chat.

1. Use a Twitter app, not the site.

Twitter apps have auto-refresh, which means that you don't have to reload the page to get the latest tweets, they will appear automagically. This is especially important for Twitter chats; you don't want to be spending an hour hitting the refresh button on your browser. As well, apps let you follow multiple streams of tweets at once, which is especially important in properly managing your own chat experience.

There are dozens of free web-based and desktop Twitter applications to choose from, the most popular being Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Seesmic, among others. As I've said before, I love Seesmic Web but find an app that suits you.

Just don't use the Twitter site. There's no way to adequately follow the entire conversation in real time.

2. Don't try to follow the whole chat.

At minimum, follow the hashtag and 2 people's tweets: the moderator and the guest. Using your desktop Twitter app, open columns for the hashtag. (Use the search bar to search for the hashtag — and don't forget the # sign if the hashtag term is an actual word, otherwise you'll pick up tweets containing all uses of that word.)

Given that the chat could be filled with side conversations, this next part of the tip will help you follow along the main discussion more closely: Open the moderator and the guest's tweets (i.e. open their streams in columns on your Twitter app).

Why? The moderator will tend to interact mostly with the guest, which makes it easy to find the last question posed or even review all the questions posed. Following the speaker's thread will enable you to see both their responses to the main questions, but also those to the other participants in the chat.

3. Introduce yourself.

Introduce yourself to the group by providing a bit of info about yourself that is contextual to the discussion at hand. Feel free to include a link to your blog or site if it's relevant.

But... a word of warning: the first rule of Twitter chats is to not talk about... wait, that's something else. No the first rule of Twitter chats is DO. NOT. SPAM. People are there to learn from the expert or each other. They don't want to be spammed with your URL over and over again. Introduce yourself at the beginning and be done with it. By virtue of your active participation (actively asking questions and commenting) you can earn more followers and readers.

4. Include the hashtag in all of your chat responses.

Make sure to include the chat hashtag in all of your responses. Generally the hashtag is placed at the end of the tweet. Include it even if you are engaging in side conversations with other chat participants — but only if they are on topic.

If you and another tweep start chatting offside about something unrelated, be respectful and drop the hashtag to prevent from adding clutter to the chat. (If there are transcripts generated, all tweets containing the hashtag will be added, so consider that if you debate adding the tag or not.)

5. @ the moderator and/or guest when you ask or respond to their questions.

This is my big secret: If you want to have a better chance of engaging with the moderator and guest on the chat, then in addition to including the hashtag, @ one or both of them in your response. They won't have time to monitor the entire thread of the chat real time, so this is the most likely way of ensuring that they see your comment or question.

CAVEAT: Please use this tip wisely. Don't do this for all of your comments, though. Be respectful of the moderator and guest's attention and time. They are there to share their knowledge with everyone, so please don't monopolize the discussion.

6. The Golden rule: Tweet unto others...

Give attribution to others for their comments and ideas. Retweeting is encouraged. If you see something you like and the conversation is moving quickly, others might have missed it. Retweet it and help give the originator some credit for their ideas.

7. Read the transcript.

Suddenly, breathlessly, you glance at the clock and realize that the chat is almost over. How can that be? You barely got a chance to view the tweets! You feel like you missed. so. much. Luckily there are sites that you can use to generate a view of the entire chat, and even save it as a PDF for viewing post-chat and even offline.

In the most popular chats, someone will usually tweet out a link to the transcript within a few minutes of the end of the chat (usually the moderator). If you are participating in a smaller chat, you can generate the transcript in a couple of ways:
  1. For viewing online: go to the Twitter search page and enter the hashtag (again don't forget the #). This works well within a few days of the chat, but doesn't do as well as a long term reference.
  2. For viewing offline: the go-to chat transcript site used to be WTHashtag (What the Hashtag) but for some reason their terms of service violated Twitter policy and they now only offer their code online. Luckily there is TweetReports. Again, just pop in the hashtag and off you go. This one gives you the option to export the search results in varioud formats (XLS, PDF, etc) for sorting and reading.

Twitter chats are a great way to meet people, discover something new and to network with folks about a common topic. Don't be shy! Find a chat that interests you and jump right in. You don't know what you might learn.

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