The ultimate guide to participating in Twitter chats

Twitter ChatsIf you are unsure how to participate in Twitter chats, this guide is for you.

What’s a Twitter chat

Let’s start by offering an analogy. Imagine Twitter as a huge conference where anyone can attend.  Normally, a conference includes breakout sessions, each of which covers a specific topic.  You can think of a Twitter chat as a breakout session where conference attendees gather based on their affinity for the topic being discussed.

How are Twitter chats defined

Conference breakout sessions are usually defined by a descriptive title which serves to help attendees to plan which session they want to attend.  Similarly, Twitter chats also have a title, although, due to Twitter’s character limits, the title looks more like a secret code language rather than a descriptive title.  I addition, this code language is preceded by a pound sign “#” to make up what is commonly known as a “hashtag”.  If you want to participate in a Twitter chat, you have to find the associated hashtag.

When and how long are Twitter chats

The timing really depends on the organizers of the chat, but most commonly Twitter chats are held either on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.  The length of a chat is normally for a period of 1 hour, although I have seen some troopers who host “all day” chats on a specific day of the week.

How to find Twitter chats

As mentioned above, every Twitter chat has an associated hashtag.  To find Twitter chat conversations of your choice, just search Twitter using the hashtag as a keyword.

When you do this search, Twitter gives you search results in a variety of flavors.  If you want the most popular tweet for the chat, look in the “Top” tab.  To view the latest tweets in the chat then focus on the “latest” tab.  If you decide to attend the chat while it’s happening, it is best to focus on the “latest” tab.

Searching Twitter for Twitter chats starting with a hashtag

How do Twitter chats usually work

A Twitter chat is usually hosted and monitored by an individual or an organization through a Twitter account.  A Twitter chat can take many forms, and the most common fall in to three types:

  1. Networking– The host usually starts the chat sharing some information and everyone starts discussing the topic, or ask questions.  This type of chat is not very structured since most of the time, everyone does their own thing, but lots of networking happens.
  2. Q and A discussion–  This type of chat is more structured.  The host controls the topic being discussed by posting specific questions, and invites chat participants to offer answers.  Questions are usually numbered, and a specific amount of time is dedicated to answering or discussing each question.  Overall, this is what the chat looks like:
    • Host posts questions 1– Example Tweet: Q1- What is your pet peeve when it comes to science communication by journalists ? #hashtagforthechat
    • Attendees answer question 1– Example Tweet: A1- My pet peeve is always asking scientists for a definite time for a “cure”. #hashtagforthechat
    • Host announces change of question– Example Tweet: FYI, switching to question 2 shortly #hashtagforthechat
    • Host switches to Question 2– Q2- How can we help journalists become better at representing what we do?
    • Attendees answer: A2– We need to teach them how science actually works!
    • You get the picture.
  3. Presentation followed by Q and A– This type of chat involves the host giving a presentation and then opening up the chat for questions and discussion about what was discussed during the presentation. You may be wondering how a presentation during a Twitter chat would work.  This really depends on the host.  The presentation may be in the form of status updates, which may or may not involve images or Gifs.


How do I participate in Twitter chats

The answer to this question really depends on how you want to be involved in a chat. Here are some examples and the technical details you should know to get them accomplished:

  1. Being an active listener– This is probably a good thing to do if you’ve never attended a Twitter chat and want to get the feel of how it works.  Being an active listener follows a workflow that looks something like this: reading what the host or other participants are sharing -> choosing the ones you and your followers would find useful – > “loving” and retweeting them.
  2. Participating in direct conversation- when joining a chat, you can choose to contribute to a conversation thread that is already happening, or just address a particular individual.  To do the latter, click on the conversation bubble icon right beneath a tweet and start typing, making sure to include the hashtag for the Twitter chat.
  3. Participating in a thread- Conversation threads are connected by a blue line on Twitter, and number of conversations in a thread is indicated by nummerics right next to the little conversation bubble icon.  To participate in any conversation thread just click on the conversation bubble and start typing. You can see who is part of the conversation by checking Twitter handles listed on top of the status box window.  To make sense of all of this, and learn other tips for navigating conversations, view this short silent video.  Be sure to view in full screen and click on the cogwheel on the bottom right corner to choose HD for high resolution.




How do I keep up with everything

There’s lots going on in a Twitter chat and it can be hard to keep up.  To maximize the value you get out of Twitter chats, you’d want to both monitor the conversations in the main chat stream as well as your notification tab in case a participant is interacting with you.  To keep up with different tabs on your Twitter profile, you can either use a tool like Tweedeck, or open multiple windows for your browser.  Screenshots below illustrate what each of these choices would look like:

Using Tweetdeck for Twitter chats

Tweetdeck is a freely available social media management tool owned by Twitter.  Visit Getting Started with Tweetdeck for instructions on using this tool.  Tweetdeck allows you to view and manage multiple tabs from your Twitter profile in one dashboard.  You can also view and manage a Twitter chat stream.  Below you can view a screenshot of Tweetdeck where three columns have been setup to monitor Notifications (left), a chat stream (center) and updates from a user (right). Interacting with the Twitter updates work the same way as in the Twitter web interface.

Tweetdeck social media management tool

Opening multiple browser windows

Another option for keeping up with Twitter chats is by opening multiple windows on your browser if you prefer the native Twitter web interface.  In the screenshot below, one browser window shows the notification tab (left) while the other is a Twitter search results page, where the viewer is choosing the “latest” tabs (right).  The advantage of using a search results page on the Twitter web interface is the hashtag automatically populates in the status box when you use the “Tweet” button to contribute something to the chat.  Sometimes it is difficult to remember to include the Twitter chat hashtag between all that is going on.

Using multiple browser windows on Twitter to keep up with Twitter chats

How about rules of etiquette

Glad you asked. To answer this question and also share tips by other experienced Twitter users, we solicited input from the Twitter community, and they sure did not disappoint. Click on each Twitter embed to see more, as some generous peeps like @Purplelilac shared their wisdom in more than one post.

We’d like to thank @Dr.MrsT for tagging their friends for input.


Some peeps shared their wisdom on Instagram, they are featured below:

Screenshot of Instagram conversation about Twitter Chats

Let us know what you think

We hope this guide has been useful. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or share your own wisdom about Twitter chats. We’d love to hear from you.

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