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How (and Why) to Participate in a Tweetchat

birdsIf you’re new to Twitter, or if you’re not sure if you even want to give it a try, participating (or even just observing) a tweetchat is one of the best ways to see the professional possibilities that Twitter offers. As Tom Scheinfeldt notes in Stuff Digital Humanists Like: Defining Digital Humanities by its Values, the openness of Twitter’s communication model readily lends itself to the exchange of ideas:

The reasons we like Twitter are complex and I won’t pretend to understand them all, but I’ll throw out a few suggestions. First, its “follow” rather than “friend” model is more open, allows for the collaboration and non-hierarchy that the Internet and digital humanities values. Second, and related to this, Twitter is the place where content-creators—journalists, writers, artists, web developers, etc.—tend to hang out. We overlap with those communities, or at least seek to overlap with them, in productive ways. They are the distant nodes from which we hope new innovations will come. Third, Twitter, in the way we use it, is mostly about sharing ideas whereas Facebook is about sharing relationships. Scholars are good at ideas, maybe less so at relationships.

I would build on his remarks by suggesting that this tendency towards non-hierarchical communication of ideas across disciplines and professions makes Twitter appealing for academics with any interests, not just those who identify with the digital humanities.

Follow, not friend

First, a few basics that Scheinfeldt alludes to: on Twitter, you don’t have to “friend” anybody. You can read someone’s public tweets. by going to their profile page, by adding them to a list, or by following them. Thus they may or may not know that you are reading their remarks. Although this mode of communication can take some getting used to, it means that you can easily slip in and out of conversations with people you don’t know in real life and have little chance of ever meeting.

Twitter has a reply function built into it. When you click to reply to someone’s tweet, your tweet will begin with their username (the Twitter convention begins all usernames with the @ sign). This will signal to them that you are directly responding to their remark and will highlight it in their “mentions” feed. When you send a tweet that begins with someone’s username, only people who follow both you and the other person will see the tweet in their timeline. That means you’re more likely to see conversations that are of interest to you, since they are occurring among two or more people you already follow.

Re-Tweet

The condensed and public form of Twitter communication encourages the sharing of links to other content and of opinions. One of the fundamental conventions of Twitter is the Re-Tweet, signaled by use of RT. RT followed by a username is a way of conveying that you’re passing along someone else’s tweet.

The use of RT (and MT, for “modified tweet,” used when you’ve removed or changed some of the wording) is a way users deliberately signify re-tweets. Twitter now has retweeting built into its application; when you retweet from its default web service they do not begin with RT. Other Twitter clients handle retweets differently, or may give you the option to retweet in more than one way.

What is a tweetchat?

A tweetchat builds on the use of hashtags (the pound symbol # plus a word) which developed as a way Twitter users signify topics or events they are responding to. If you click on a hashtag in someone’s tweet, or search on the hashtag, you’ll pull up a stream of all the tweets that use it, not just the ones from people you follow.

Tweetchats are real-time Twitter get-togethers, often scheduled on a regular repeating basis. During a tweetchat, participants use its hashtag to join the conversation. You can listen in on a tweetchat simply by following its hashtag at the scheduled time.

Some tweetchats are informal conversations, maybe with a selected topic; others are structured by a host who asks questions to which guests and participants respond, using the convention of Q1, Q2, and A1, A2 etc.  After the chat, hosts or participants may republish a transcript of the chat using Storify.

Improve your tweetchat experience

Although you can search on a chat’s hashtag in any Twitter client, experienced chat participants often use a client like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck which allow you to have multiple Twitter streams open at once. You can have your regular streams of people you follow and a separate tab or column for the tweetchat. Active tweetchats can have 10-30 tweets a minute, so you’ll need to increase your refresh rate or refresh manually to see updated tweets. You can also use TweetChat.com, which is designed to make it easier to follow chats.

How to join in a tweetchat

All you have to do is post a tweet with the chat’s hashtag added. This can be tricky to remember when you’re in the midst of an active chat, so choosing a client that automatically adds them for you can make things easier.

If you want to reply to a remark made by another chat participant, you can use the reply function in your Twitter client — but be sure to add the hashtag, or it won’t be seen by the other chat participants.

Find a tweetchat

Once you start paying attention to people’s use of hashtags, you’ll likely come across a few chats of interest to you. There are a couple directories of tweetchats available, including this Google Doc or Gnosis Media Group’s Tweetchat Wiki.

Some tweetchats that might be of interest to ProfHacker readers include:

  • #femlead (every other Tuesday 2:00pm EST) female-centered chat about leadership in higher education
  • #FYCchat (Wednesday evenings) first year composition chat
  • #phdchat Wednesday evenings 19.30-20.30 GMT/BST (UK time) doctoral students chat
  • #libchat(Wednesdays 8:00 pm EST) Libraries, books, and technology.
  • #litchat(MWF 4:00pm) Readers and writers
  • #sachat (Thursdays 12-1 pm CST)student affairs chat
  • #AcAdv (Tuesdays 12-1 pm CDT) academic advising chat
  • #engchat (Mondays 7-8 pm EST) college and high school English teachers
  • #prodchat (Wednesdays 8 pm ET) productivity chat

Please share your favorite Twitter chats in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed photo by flickr user kookalamanza]

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