This post is intended to help anyone who has been a twitter lurker (some of my favorite people are still lurkers) into being a twitter chatter.
An older edweek post circulated on Twitter today: Why Educators Should Join Twitter. In it Peter describes that in his early-to-Twitter, are-you-really-sure-this-is-for-me uncertainty, he suddenly became converted after joining a twitter chat (in his case the terrific #elemchat). As you probably know, I’ve become a bit of a twitter evangelist myself, professing it’s power everywhere I go and for me, just as with Peter, joining in chats has been not only powerful professional development but also emotionally uplifting in those times that I find myself in a deep funk. Like this recent #edchat archive, where I left the hour feeling amazing.
I’d like to share how I set myself up for an education chat on twitter to help you do the same.
Go from Twitter Lurker to Twitter Chatter
And just so you know, I personally think this post would be a million times better if it were actually a 1950s educational video on a grainy black and white film reel, but we’ll do the best we can.
(I’m very proud of that graphic, everyone.)
Step One: Find a Chat
Chats are typically one hour discussions, usually on a regular schedule (like every Wednesday at 9pmCST). Think of them as a party of smart people that you are mingling within, not as a typical workshop. There are many people meeting to talk about a topic (depending on the facilitation they could be conversations led with questions or just very open) but it is nearly impossible to pay attention to all comments. So your first step is just finding a topic you want to mingle about and the time the party takes place. Here are some helpful ways:
- Cybraryman (he calls himself a twitter librarian) has a very thorough twitter chat page: http://cybraryman.com/chats.html
- Here’s a non-education-specific list from ReadWriteWeb that is a touch outdated but many of the chats are still active.
- Or I often find chats when suddenly everyone in my twitter stream is using the same hashtag…
- The chats I follow most often are: #engchat, #educoach, #edchat. There are also grade level specific chats (#elemchat, #1stchat, #2ndchat…); instructional chats (#rwworkshop, #flipclass); location chats (#njed) and so on and so on.
Step Two: Set Up
I like to have both my computer and phone, though you could do this with one or the other. I find it helpful to have three websites open on my laptop:
- Tweetchat.com or Twubs.com
- And for more advanced chatting: some site that makes website addresses shorter (because Tweetchat doesn’t do that, yet) like bit.ly or tinyurl.com.
- I have my phone next to me, using the Twitter App. This seems to help me notice when someone has sent me a direct reply (more on this later in the post).
- What’s nice about tweetchat (and there may be other clients, please feel free to suggest in the comments) is that it automatically follows that hashtag for you , meaning it only shows tweets that include that hashtag in it’s text. It also automatically puts the hashtag in for you when you type, saving the correct number of characters automatically. Like so (note – if your mobile browser is not displaying the images below, be sure to view on “Full Site”):
Log-in. Type in the # to follow (in this example #edchat). You can even adjust the refresh rate.
Type what you want to say into the box – you must stop at or before “0″ characters left.
Et voilà, tweetchat plugs in the hashtag for you when you hit “update”.
As an alternative, you can do a similar move inside of the Twitter App by clicking “Discover”. Just be sure to click “All” in order to see everyone’s tweets, not just from those you follow. And note: while in “discover” the app will put in the hashtag for you, outside of that you need to remember to type it in yourself.
Step Three: Chat!
Depending on the size of the chat, it can sometimes feel really overwhelming. My advice: start by replying to individual people. In a very large chats it’s often easier to have small conversations than to try and follow the whole room — as I said earlier, think of it like mingling at a dinner party, not attending a workshop with a main speaker.
Advanced Tweet Chatting Tips
Here are a few more tips that help me (I’d love for you to add any others in the comments).
- Mind your Qs and As. Some chat hosts list questions in an order: Q1, Q2, Q3… And then participants can indicate which question they are responding to with A1 (for Q1) , A2 (for Q2), and so on. If you come late to a chat watch a bit to see if there is a numbering system (not all have them), so you can be on the lookout for the next question.
- Adding links for others. In the Twitter App you just need to type in the link and Twitter automatically shortens it (HootSuite does the same, as do a few other apps). Tweetchat for some reason does not, so that’s why it helps to have that 3rd page open – bit.ly or tinyurl.com or whatever other url shortener. You just plop your mamoth url address in and it makes it use less characters.
Bit.ly for example turned this
Same link (56 characters) christopherlehman.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/the-book-gap/ , shortened (now only 13 characters) bit.ly/Py7t2h
- Keeping track of links people post. I often find it hard to both follow a chat and open links, so many people use the “favorite” feature (the little star in the Twitter App and on Tweetchat) to hold something you want to read for later.
- Keeping track of the fast moving conversation. Two bits of advice:
- One, as I mentioned earlier in the post: in tweetchat, adjust the “refresh” speed.
- Two, have your phone next to you using the Twitter App, it helps so much. For example, I have my iPhone set up to buzz me and preview a twitter reply to me (called “mentions”). So in a busy chat if my phone buzzes, it’s an audible notice that someone said something directly to me in the room. I’ll look for it on the Tweetchat screen or if the chat is really busy, I’ll just pick up my phone and chat with that person through my Twitter App (note: in that case you have to remember to write in the hashtag yourself or it won’t show up in the main “room” for everyone).
You Can Always Read the Archive Later
If you feel like you missed a lot in a chat – which is very likely. Look for (or ask the person hosting for) a link to the archive of the chat. To be honest, I find them impossible to read in any logical way because it is often just a literal print out of every tweet, in order. But you can still find a lot of really helpful advice and links. Just go into an archive thinking you’ll get a general sense of the chat and you will look for some helpful threads of conversation.
You Learn by Doing – and messing up is okay
Like anything, it just becomes easier the more you do it.
I hope to see you in twitter chats soon, not just lurking but sharing. Feel free to tweet me if you have questions or need some advice on chatting – or to any one for that matter already in a chat. I find every education conversation I join in to be warm, welcoming, and supportive. All of us actively chatting in the education community on twitter really, really, really would like you to join us. So don’t fear messing up–we’ve all done it before.
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