Home > Misc > Six Reasons Twitter Group Chats Create Social Virality

Six Reasons Twitter Group Chats Create Social Virality

January 27th, 2010

What is a Twitter Group Chat?

When you first start out with Twitter, you find that you can post status updates, and your followers will (may?) see them. Then you learn that putting an “@” sign before someone’s Twitter name creates a reply. Conversations with more than a couple of people get pretty awkward with only these tools.

Luckily, some folks figured out that by adding a “hashtag” (#), you create a unique phrase that is easy for Twitter Search to find. This is what enables Twitter Group Chats to work. For instance, searching for #hockey will find an on-going stream of Tweets about hockey.

It didn’t take long for people to realize that you could organize a group chats with hashtags. Twitter Group Chats are highly socially viral. They encourage lots of social interaction, and spread quickly, assuming the topic is interesting.

Twitter Group Chats are socially viral in a big way, and here are the six reasons they spread so quickly!

1) Starting a Twitter Group Chat is “Too Easy”

Invite someone else, or a bunch of people, using Twitter, email or whatever other means, to chat with you. Tell them the topic and the hashtag you’ll use.

Here is the hard process involved in starting a Twitter Group Chat. Are you ready? Have you got at least half your morning coffee in you? (Just kidding…) Ok, here we go.

To start a Twitter Group Chat, send one (1) Tweet with your chosen hashtag. It’s done. Twitter Group Chat in motion. That’s it. Have a great time!

Your followers may appreciate a Tweet that tells them you’re starting a chat, and that they’ll be seeing more traffic from you than normal. Here is an example:

“I’m about to join a Twitter chat about education, so you’ll see more Tweets than normal for a while. Feel free to join in #education.”

2) Great Tools Make it Easy to Follow the Conversation

There are a variety of tools, including the “Search” option on the Twitter web page. I tend to use TweetChat for Twitter Group Chats.It’s easy to use, “just works” and has a really simple interface.

To use TweetChat, go to http://www.tweetchat.com and type the hashtag (without the #) into the smaller text box at the top of the screen. Then click “Go.” Watch the conversation unfold. That’s it!

If you want to send Tweets as a part of the chat, click “Sign In” (you’ll only have to do this once in the session.)

I usually click “Toggle Font” which makes the font smaller, and shows more Tweets on each screen. You can change the update speed, which by default is every 10 seconds. The rest you can twiddle with and figure out. It’s pretty straightforward.

TweetChat will automatically add the hashtag from the search textbox to every Tweet you send in Tweetchat, and will keep refreshing the list with new Tweets. You can click Pause if the chat is moving too quickly. TweetChat will auto-pause as you scroll the list, which is a nice touch.

3) Seeing Part of the Conversation Makes Friends and Followers Curious

So what’s with this virality thing? The magic of Twitter Group Chats is that your followers see only a part of the conversation. They only see what you Tweet. (You might want to consider this in phrasing your Tweets, so that they will make some sense to a person who isn’t seeing the question or other parts of the conversation.) They will see interesting snippets, and if they know about hashtags, will jump in on their own. If not, they may @ or DM you to ask “what’s this about?” You can quickly tell them about hashtags, and then they’re in too!

As opposed to other sorts of viral spread, which typically happens slowly, over hours or days, the viral spread of a Twitter Group Chat is fast, and often within 15-30 minutes all sorts of never before seen people have appeared as a vital part of the conversation.

4) People Join the Chat to be Social!

Unlike watching a video, or joining a “page” or scrolling a list of Tweets from hours or days ago, people join Twitter Group Chats to be social. This increases their involvement, and increases the chance that they’ll both want to participate in another one, and to tell their friends about their experience. This assumes that you have chosen a great topic and been a good facilitator, however that you can also learn with practice!

5) When Friends and Followers Join, Their Friends and Followers Get Curious

Once your friends join, and the other participants’ friends join, then their followers get curious, and it keeps on spreading. Having repeated discussions at set times can build real-time community quickly.

6) Transcripts Are Easy

People who could not attend at the time of the chat will often want to read a transcript, and given the open nature of Twitter there are many ways to create and post a transcript of the conversation.

The Downside: The Floodgates Thing

There is one downside of Twitter Group Chats. If you Tweet a lot, and don’t provide context for your followers, or if they decide that the topic is not to their liking, you can get your followers irritated and find yourself un-followed. The easy solution to this is to remember that while you are in a chat, your followers are still seeing every Tweet, so be respectful, provide some context, and try to keep your comment volume moderate.

A Few Things To Know

You may want to do a quick search on your hashtag before announcing it, to see if it is being actively used. If so, just make up a new hashtag so your conversation isn’t mixed with others in Search. There is no ‘regulating body’ controlling hashtags, since they’re just text. However you can find commonly used hashtags in various directories such asย http://hashtag.org/.

Large groups can chat a lot and pretty quickly! Do not be disheartened if it seems hard to keep up at first. You will find that there are some skills involved in scanning chat quickly and following the conversation in a text chat environment.

Conversations will veer off topic, and that’s usually ok. As facilitator, you will need to decide how strong or light a hand you’ll use in shepherding the discussion. Be consistent and respectful. Sometimes allowing the group to careen around will generate valuable and surprising ideas, but whether that is appopriate is entirely your choice to make.

It is very common to have multiple discussion threads going on at once in chat. Again, how you handle this as facilitator will depend on your style, the conversation goals and the group of people involved. A once in a while reminder that “we’re trying to follow ‘topic x’ ” may be all it takes to pull things in if the discussion goes too far afield.

Remember to use your favorite URL shortener if you’re tight on space (and how many Tweets are not?)

That’s it!

Have a blast with Twitter Group Chats, and have fun meeting people you never expected to find in 140 characters!

Categories: Misc Tags: , ,
  1. lufpleh
    January 27th, 2010 at 06:51 | #1

    “The Floodgates Thing” may be a lot less of an issue if the group consists of very few follower/friend pairs

    “People will only see @replies in their Home time line if they are following both the Sender AND Recipient of the update.” http://bit.ly/2wq1S

    This does depend on which Twitter client you use, but most follow the default Twitter standard of omitting @replies not directed @you unless you also follow the Recipient

  2. January 27th, 2010 at 16:57 | #2

    Thanks lufpleh,

    Good point about @replies. I think, but am not sure, that that rule only applies when the @reply is the very first string in the Tweet. (I’d be curious to re-check this, as it may have changed from a few months ago.)

    In making this comment, I’d been thinking more of people who are direct followers, as they see your full Tweet stream except for those specific replies. For instance, if you join a chat and Tweet 30 times in an hour, any direct follower will see many of your tweets, potentially obscuring the other people they follow due to the volume.

    “Just a caveat” and thought point while in a chat, as opposed to a reason to be uninvolved.

    Thanks again!

  3. January 27th, 2010 at 18:13 | #3

    Thanks for this post, I find it very useful. Until now, for our newspaper I used CoverItLive, which is a more closed chat environment, easy to moderate. However, it is less viral, so maybe I’ll give the twitterchat a try!

  4. January 27th, 2010 at 18:56 | #4

    Joel, Great post on the chat topic; you made some great points.

    As a veteran Twitter chat participant and as co-host of #SmallBizChat (http://Twitter.com/SmallBizChat Weds nights 8-9p ET), I hope you won’t mind me contributing a couple of ideas. BTW – thanks for sending me a link to the post – I’ll be retweeting it.

    Here is a list of twitter chats – Twitter Chat Schedule: http://bit.ly/oXBBu. You’ll also find that many chats have been abandoned or are on hold – we are in week #38 (only skipped 2 weeks 4 holidays) – April 2010 will make one year for us.

    One point you made is great – “You might want to consider this in phrasing your Tweets, so that they will make some sense to a person who isnโ€™t seeing the question or other parts of the conversation.” This can be hard to do on the fly during a chat, but can be really helpful to remember anytime on twitter – it helps others get what you are talking about.

    Tweetchat is a great program, but once you get into chats there is another that I find works even better – it’s called http://www.Tweetgrid.com – you select “party,” type in the #hashtag, type in the host’s twitter username and a comma and a guest’s name if you have a guest. This brings up a 3-column grid of tweets on the topic – the host/guest in the middle – so everyone can see their questions/answers, the left column shows everyone’s tweets who uses the hashtag, and the right column should be for your @username – to show tweets sent only to you – so you can answer them or interact. The grid puts the hastag in for you so everyone participating can see it. The cool thing is – the host can prepare this grid, then click the short URL link – and then tweet out a link to a prepared grid for people to use. you can also retweet, reply and favorite tweets from within the program.

    Also – while it is easy to launch a chat – keeping people coming back can be work – We have selected a set time and day of the week. We have a different guest each week all on topics of interest to the small business owner. We also set up an account with the @name of our chat @smallbizchat – so we can send people who ask about the chat there for info and links to a blog page about the chat too.

    The viral nature is cool. Often I will participate in a chat (not mine) – then a few minutes into it – several of my friends/followers will join in – if they have some expertise on the subject. Others just listen in. Instead of just one 140 character tweet on a subject – there are several hundred – it’s a way for people to share their knowledge! I participated in a chat today, and had a marketing person contact me later about possible work with her. That’s viral too!

    Sorry for the long comment.

  5. January 27th, 2010 at 19:33 | #5

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments @CathyWebSavvyPR. I guess I’ll have to go take another look at TweetGrid. I’d looked at it way back and wasn’t too excited about it, but that was some time ago. Your idea of using a tri-column view for interview-style chats and handing out the URL to participants is great. Thanks for the tip!

    Keeping people coming back does take work. I’ve been running We Are The Network in a couple of flavors for a year and a half at this point, as well as some private facilitation groups, and finding fresh topics that will catch the interest of a community every week can be challenging. In some ways, it’s like being a sales rep – at the end of the month the tally starts over from zero. Each week I think “ok, start from scratch, now what?” and take that on as positive motivation and a challenge to find something that the group will think is a hot topic for debate and discussion.

    I find I go through cycles where for a month or so I’ll find a variety of interesting story lines for discussions, and then all of a sudden hit a lull. Maybe this is the facilitator’s version of writer’s block, where I can’t seem to find anything that seems to have any “punch” for a topic or discussion story line.

    As long as it’s only once in a while, a completely open forum seems to be a good thing, as it lets the group explore in whatever direction is interesting with (almost) no bounds. This helps the group to bond as a community, and often opens up some new topic areas for on-going discussions.

    Thanks again, and don’t worry about the length! I didn’t see a 140 character limit here, did you? ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. January 27th, 2010 at 19:40 | #6

    Joel, I recently discovered twitter chats and they are indeed a great way to find and connect with like minded people. Yes, they do create ‘virality’ – but I also don’t like to be on the receiving end of unrelated chats. What I’ve been doing is @replying at chat moderator or that chat handle itself (i.e. @pr20chat) if I want to make a statement. That way, these tweets will only be seen by the people who follow both me & the other party – so they are likely to be interested in the content of the chat. And of course all chat participants will see them.

  7. January 28th, 2010 at 02:42 | #7

    @CathywebsavvyPR Thx for the shout-out to the Twitter Chat Sched: http://bit.ly/oXBBu and for the link to this post.

    Joel, great points.

    A few more resources
    – “The Twitter Chat Experience”: http://bit.ly/mp2uF
    http://twebevent.com/ followed by your hashtag will take you though easy steps to set up an event that includes host branding, intro text, a date/time, and even a video or audio embed.
    http://KMers.org is the first site I know of (beyond blogs, wikis, and Ning sites) specifically built to support a Twitter Chat community. It is new, but evolving quickly.

    I think that people using Twitter for targeted purposes are going to evolve away from following people and start to follow hashtags. This means that the unwanted blast of tweets problem you describe becomes less of an issue. See “The Evolution of Chat Use”: http://bit.ly/Aknad

  8. January 28th, 2010 at 14:42 | #8

    Great post! As you said, it can become viral. I have been involved in chats for a while, but have had friends and followers ask about them more recently. It’s great to have a post to give them some direction.

  9. January 28th, 2010 at 17:45 | #9

    Thanks @Ksenia Coffman , @Swan and @Debbie Friez for your thoughts and ideas. Given that this post is up to 14 re-tweets and climbing, I am chuckling to myself thinking of writing a mock post “Six Reasons Posts About Twitter Group Chat Create Virality” ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. January 29th, 2010 at 01:10 | #10

    What twitter chats have done for me, in addition to great conversations, even greater learning experiences, and entertainment, is that I have found great people to follow (network with) and vice versa. Nearly all my new twitter contacts are coming from chats that I participate in. The most mature chat ~ from the perspective of having their act together ~ is in my opinion #smallbizchat, which was the first chat I participated in. Another of my favorites is #kaizenblog; I’ve been with it since the beginning, watching and helping it get organized. Another chat getting organized fast is #u30pro, for the GenY group, and when I participate, I represent the other side – of 30, that is:-). Of course #blogchat is a free-for-all madhouse, with over 200 participants last Sunday, and 1600+ tweets. #brandchat is another favorite of mine which is growing and attracting lots of quite innovative participants. I try to limit my chat time to less than 5 hours a week (less than I used to watch TV….when I had TV). However, others I see around on twitter might be called chat-addicted:-)

    I see a next logical step being corporate involvement ~ a chat focused around a brand, with an accomplished chat guide (like @CathySavywebPR) being retained by the corporation to lead and guide the discussion. Maybe this would need to take place in a more controlled environment (like Kmers.org above in Swan’s comment), or maybe quite openly, with the same viral attraction described above. For the latter to happen, the corporate brand would have to be pretty secure, and the facilitator quite skilled. Does anyone else think that chats as we know them today, could morph into something like this, benefiting the consumer and the brand as well? Love to hear your opinions…… @CASUDI

  11. January 29th, 2010 at 11:39 | #11

    Thanks for the shout out @Casudi. Interesting POV. I’ve been thinking of this for a while – the potential for a facilitated corporate branded or sponsored Twitter chat is viable. It would need the right corporate culture and chat structure to work well on Twitter. It would need to provide value, information and guests around a topic that is aligned closely with the corporate values/brand/culture and their Twitter followers (or potential followers) to work well.

    Rather than a chat “focused around a corporate brand,” it might need to be a chat focused around a topic that a corporate brand and it’s product users (or prospective users) need to solve or need information about. And it should be a brand whose users are already on Twitter – there are many small business folks on twitter and a strong eco-friendly crowd for two examples.

    For example an office supply company could create a chat around productivity at work or in the home office; or an eco-friendly company could create a chat about eco-friendly trends, products and topics. The chat probably can’t just be about their products – unless they have a huge installed user base, and a really solid niche – Apple could create a chat about their products – but their corporate culture might not support it.

    I agree with you, that the company has to be comfortable in the online space, the company host needs to be flexible, the chat facilitator skilled, and the chat structure/approach well thought out.

    Cathy Larkin

  12. January 29th, 2010 at 14:57 | #12

    @Casudi, you hit the nail right on the head. There are two reasons why we built KMers.org.
    1) because we wanted an environment to support asynchronous collaboration around a scheduled synchronous collaboration event for KM professionals
    2) because I wanted to float a trial balloon for exactly what you are talking about.

    My hypothesis (like yours) is that Twitter Chats will be able to invigorate all types of communities including open non-attached communities like #brandchat or #KMers, but also Associations, product fan sites, etc…. that are organization related.

    At the very least, as @CathyWebSavvyPR points out organizations will be interested in attaching themselves to (sponsoring, etc..) popular open community chats when they are made up of the orgs target market.

    BTW: my twitter handle is @swanwick or @SpkrInteractive NOT @swan (in case anyone wants to follow)

  13. January 29th, 2010 at 15:41 | #13

    Interesting conversation @Swanwick @CathyWebSavvyPR @CASUDI – the idea of using hashtag chat as a viral community builder is exactly what I was thinking in putting this post together, but it sounds like the concept doesn’t need any prodding!

    P.S. Swan – The blog “reply” function was picking up your name as listed for the “@Swan.” Just a thought – if you update your name to your most common Twitter handle that would end up being automatic for folks on blogs (I edited it by hand for this comment.)

  14. January 29th, 2010 at 15:49 | #14

    As a quick aside, it seems that if this concept grows in popularity, we may end up with yet another name service arbitration issue, in the sense that hashtags are completely informal at the moment, and potentially we would see “hashtag squatters” in the same way that people grab popular or obvious domain names.

    Open Twitter Group Chat presents some possibly challenging moderation and facilitation issues, as it enables spammers and brand-bombers to completely disrupt the proceedings without a reasonable way to move them aside (no “ban” functionality as a chat facilitator/moderator). Individuals can filter out problematic accounts with some of the client-side tools, but if there is really problematic content added in with the hashtag it becomes part of the public record. Perhaps the recourse is to take the chat record and attempt to get Twitter to suspend the account, but it seems that there would be many cases in gray areas that perhaps Twitter would not see as a TOS violation, yet would be highly problematic for a brand.

  15. January 30th, 2010 at 21:02 | #15

    So next question ~ how does one lure a brand to commit to something that from the outside looks so uncontrolled? I say lure as it will take a very far thinking far reaching innovative brand to be first committed, in front of God and everyone. However I would really like to see @CathyWebSavvyPR create the framework (and guidelines) for an open chat on twitter that this innovative not yet named or lured brand would commit to.

    On the subject of spammers, perhaps there is a sign in and participants can only contribute (tweets) if they have signed in to the specific chat, yet everyone on twitter can view it with the # or some other (NEW) twitter stream identifier? Any more ideas? @CASUDI

  16. January 30th, 2010 at 21:19 | #16

    Good questions. I’m not so sure that this is different than the apparent risk of being present on the web at large. Restricting comments on a blog may seem like brand protection, but they will just show up elsewhere. Perhaps the answer is that if you have a strong community, the community will help to deal with the disruptors, which in itself strengthens the brand?

    In some ways this is really similar to the issues I talked about in another post “The Networked Audience Is Here. Are You Ready?” http://joelfoner.com/2010/01/networked-audience-is-here-now-are-you-ready/.

    All in all, this doesn’t seem to be much different than having a major brand on Twitter in the first place. People can @reply the brand and make any comment they like, and that ends up in the public record (albeit not quite as obviously – you’d have to search for it rather than just reading their Twitter stream.) A lure might be “having your own Twitter account is the start, now using it to directly engage people in specific, topical discussions is the next step in even higher engagement with your customers and constituents”?

    With the right facilitation I suspect this can work quite well, and as @CathyWebSavvyPR suggested with the right topical focus. I’d be happy to work with you collectively to map this out, if you’re interested.

  17. January 31st, 2010 at 08:48 | #17

    @JoelFoner
    Hashtag spam is already real. See: http://bit.ly/11neJl However, much like radar guns and radar detectors they will keep iterating to try to defeat each other. tweetchat currently offers a feature to block any particular set of users. Also, hashtag spam is going to evoke the ire of all rather than win new customers. Engagement is the key on twitter.

    re: hashtag squatters. Because the hashtag is open, squatting is not possible. It is completely survival of the fittest. If you had a legitimate hashtag running at #aarp and then the AARP decided they were going to start using it, they could likely drown you out and you would have to find another tag. While new groups certainly will do due diligence to find an “open tag”, there is no reason they have to.

  18. January 31st, 2010 at 13:10 | #18

    Interesting points, although I suspect we’ve only seen the start of the squatting issue. For instance, I wonder if there could be a legal argument to say that you can’t use the hashtag #pepsi or #aarp or #microsoft given that these are registered trademarks?

    Is survival of the fittest the right model for this? Is it right for the “winner” of a hashtag to be a) large enough and b) be consistently present enough with a hashtag in order to drown out others who might co-opt it? Doesn’t that make it not a matter of survival of the fittest, and rather a matter of survival of the largest? Using this model, having used a hashtag for years will not matter if some large organization decides that they are going to co-opt it.

    You say “Because the hashtag is open, squatting is not possible.” I agree that it is, as you’ve said, “survival of the fittest.” This means that squatting is accomplished by overpowering another use with a large volume of traffic, even if the other use was in place much earlier.

    If the trademark system worked this way, you could subvert another company’s trademark just by publishing a huge volume of material with the word or phrase in your material, and then claiming “it’s mine because I use it more.”

    I do understand that this is the way the system works today, and hope that the problem stays moderate enough to be relatively innocuous.

  19. January 31st, 2010 at 22:41 | #19

    For tonight’s #blogchat I tried @CathyWebSavvyPR ‘s idea of using a multi-column TweetGrid approach, and have to say that’s a winner if you are on the power-user end of things.

    Tonight’s chat was an “open mic” as opposed to one with a host and guest arrangement, so I set up a three-column grid:
    – left column searching the hashtag for the chat, in this case #blogchat
    – center column searching my own Twitter name (without the @, so both my tweets and replies to me would be instream in one column)
    – right column used for ad-hoc searches, often to catch up on one person’s comments, in case you see a reply but don’t see the original tweet from the people involved in the discussion

    Here is an example URL from tonight (without the right-most column filled):
    http://www.tweetgrid.com/grid?l=2&q1=%23blogchat&q2=joelfoner&q3=&htag=blogchat

    Thanks again @CathyWebSavvyPR for this tip – it’s a winner! (/me makes note to try to go back to tools that didn’t seem “quite there” every six months or so to see how they’ve evolved.)

  20. February 1st, 2010 at 16:21 | #20

    I use Seesmic Desktop ~ I set it up with 5 or 6 panels including the chat# (sent & @) and panels where many of the participants appear (lists) or my own groups I created in Seesmic before lists. I do have to add #chat every time, however I still find it faster (for me) then tweetgrid, on account of using Seesmic 24/7. I am sure Seesmic will have an auto# sooner rather then later for chats. Just another option for #chatting on twitter ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. February 14th, 2010 at 00:16 | #1
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