Twitter Chat like a (Nonprofit) Pro

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Many young professionals use Twitter, but you may not be entirely aware of how useful this social media platform can be in helping you expand your network and develop in your career.  For example, have you ever participated in a Twitter Chat? Organized by hashtags (i.e. #YNPNCLE), Twitter Chats allow groups of like-minded people to connect in order to discuss issues that are important to them.

They often occur on a weekly or monthly basis for a half hour or an hour at a time.  Most importantly, if you’re interested in maintaining a Twitter account that is entirely or even just quasi-professional, Twitter Chats can serve as a way of expressing your opinion on issues relevant to your work and meeting people who could use your point of view in their institutions.  The immediacy of Twitter also means that you can tweet everyone from your best friend to the Executive Director of your favorite nonprofit organization to J. K. Rowling, and (who knows!) your idol might even tweet you back.

So you have a Twitter and you want to chat… but what’s next?

 

Where to Find a Good Twitter Chat

Online resources like Classy and the Nonprofit Marketing Guide have already collected lists of Twitter Chats related to nonprofit work.  Many of these will be more general, but you should also look toward your specialization or your relevant professional organizations to see if they host Twitter Chats. 

For example, I’m in the museum field.  Not only are there independent discussions like #MuseumEdChat and #museumsrespondtoFerguson, but I also have the option of participating in the Ohio Museums Association’s #OHMuseumChat (monthly) or the American Association of State and Local History’s #AASLHchat

Once you find a chat that interests you, you can go to Twitter, and either type that hashtag into the search bar or click on the #hashtag in a tweet.  This will take you to all available tweets with that hashtag.  Even if you find the hashtag between chats, the old tweets, or Storify collections from past conversations, can be great resources for information.  However, if you're actively chatting, be sure to click the “Live” section if you want to see everyone participating in the chat in real time.

 

Tips for Good Chatting

Frequent Twitter users will know the drill, but if you’re trying Twitter or organized Twitter chatting for the first time, pay attention to the tips below!

First, if you want your tweets to appear to everyone following the chat, you need to include the hashtag in every. single. tweet. that you send, even responses to other people participating in the Twitter chat.  This ensures that all participants will see your ideas and that you’ll then get the visibility that you want.  A good moderator might still find your hashtag-less tweets and retweet them into the conversation, but don’t depend on that.  Include the appropriate hashtag. 

Second, many chats work with a question-and-answer format.  A moderator will post a question and expect participants to tweet answers to start the conversation.  If you see “Q1” in a question from the moderator, for example, put “A1” at the beginning of your tweet and still add the hashtag at the end.  In larger chats, these cues help everyone follow multiple trains of thought. 

Third, remember that even if the chat moderator is using a firm structure, like the question-and-answer format, you should still feel free to throw your own questions into the mix.  For example, the moderator might tweet: “Q1: how are your nonprofits discussing the election with your clients and/or donors? #nonprofittalk”  If your first inclination is to think, “I thought nonprofits weren’t permitted to discuss politics in official communications,” ask the question.  Tweet back at the moderator: “.@moderator re: Q1 – aren’t there restrictions on nonprofits talking politics? #nonprofittalk”  More often than not, the moderator will either answer you back or flip your question out toward all participants for more input.

Fourth, and finally, if you want your responses to other people’s tweets to be seen as part of your main feed, make sure that you put that period in front of the twitter handle of the person at whom you’re tweeting.  Where I wrote above “.@moderator” means that tweet will appear on my profile with all my other tweets, and it might serve as evidence that I ask good questions and am ethically conscientious.  If I only say “@moderator” and tack on the hashtag, my question will still show up in the feed of the chat, but people who are looking at my profile likely won’t see it.  Responding to the questions or ideas of others means that you’re striking up a more substantial conversation, potentially with a thought leader in your area of interest.  In reaching out to that person, you’re actually mobilizing Twitter to expand your network.

 

What if there’s no Twitter Chat for me?

Of course there’s a Twitter Chat for you!  But if you’ve looked all over the internet, or if you’ve tried a few and haven’t been inspired, starting a Twitter Chat can be an option.  Whether you’re starting a chat for your own edification or to promote your nonprofit or discuss its cause area, NonProfit Tech for Good has good suggestions for starting and promoting a Twitter Chat from beginning to end.  Figure out what you like and don’t like about the chats that already exist, and go from there. 

A successful Twitter Chat will create a community that exists both inside and outside of the weekly or monthly “meeting” times.  People within that community might tweet items of interest to their fellow chatters by throwing in the relevant hashtag, or members in need of advice might throw out a question in the hopes that a knowledgeable peer is paying attention.  Using Twitter effectively demands a particular combination of bravery and vulnerability, but if you make the effort and reach out to peers and potential mentors, you can find yourself a customized network that will dependably show up for you throughout you career

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