By Dennis Rolojo | #Twitter ChatTips: How academics can connect in 140 or less

I love Twitter!

Growing up in a slum in Manila, it’s a childhood dream – it’s the place where I can easily send snippets of messages to people I look up to. For this reason, I spend a large chunk of my waking time on it, where I tweet and retweet like a madman. But it was only recently that I took part in a Twitter chat. To be honest, my first time joining such an event was somewhat overwhelming. It was a waterfall of tweets and it happened all too quickly.

As a correspondent for Piirus (an academic social networking service), I’m part of a team that regularly hosts Twitter chats, so for the past few months I’ve gradually became familiar with it. Now, I’d like to share some pointers on joining a Twitter chat.

But firstly, what’s a Twitter Chat?
It’s a public discussion on Twittersphere which is centred on a hashtag (just in case you’re not familiar with it: #ThisIsAHashtag). This dedicated hashtag allows you to follow the conversation and participate in it. Twitter chats are usually recurring and are about specific topics aimed to connect people with shared interest. They are scheduled in advance so that a moderator is available to lead the conversation which usually lasts for about one or two hours.

Now, how do you join in?
Joining in is pretty straightforward, all you have to do is tweet during the designated time using the conversation hashtag (and ideally you have to use it all the time during the chat). Of course, it is possible to follow the conversation without tweeting, a practice known as lurking. It’s totally fine to lurk, especially if it’s your first time. But next time, try to go out of your depths and make a few tweets to contribute to the conversation. It’s certainly no fun being a lurker for the rest of your Twitter life!

You might also want to inform your followers beforehand that you are joining a Twitter chat so that they are aware why you are tweeting more frequently than usual. Advise your network that they can mute you while you are on the chat, so you don’t annoy them with tweets to which they are not faintly interested about.

What tools are available for a smoother Twitter chat?
To prevent a barrage of chats from blowing you away, use tools such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to filter out the conversation. You can also use Tweetchat which is a simple, powerful tool to swiftly interact and reply to tweets. Once linked to your Twitter account you can easily keep up with the fast-paced Twitter conversation as these tools refresh the tweets in real time.

Are there netiquettes to observe?
An introduction about yourself is a polite way to crack on: tweet your name, your affiliation, research interest, personal websites, etc. Twitter chats are moderated by a host, so it’s best to let them have the job of asking questions, which they usually throw off preceded with “Q” as in Q1, Q2… Conversely, so that people are aware which questions you are addressing, precede your tweets with “A” as in A1, A2…

Just because it’s online and has an informal air doesn’t mean that you should be a “keyboard prat”! If a debate sparks then make sure you remain on good terms while arguing, and please don’t let it get too personal. Bear in mind that you are tweeting with people within your field so there’s a good likelihood that your paths will cross beyond Twitter, so be as professional as you would be beyond the digital world.

Twitter chats are a great way to expand your network and sometimes an off-topic issue you want to discuss with someone can easily arise. If this happens, it is best just to switch to PM’s.

And when the chat has finally concluded, say some “thank you’s” to the organisers. You don’t know how much time and effort they’ve put into promoting the event and preparing the slate of questions.

How do I leave if I think the chat event is not for me?
There’s no need for you to feel guilty if you can’t stay all throughout the time. Trust me, it happens on most Twitter chats anyway. However, leaving earlier essentially involves another netiquette aspect of joining a Twitter chat: It’s perfectly fine to dip out of the conversation but at least be polite to put a good bye tweet. Just leave a sweet and positive message before you vanish. It’s no fun leaving a bad online persona among your Twitter colleagues.

I’ve enjoyed the Twitter chat, how do I relive the experience?
These chats are often organised by groups who run their own blogs. Wait for their announcement on when and where they will have it out. Hosts usually prepare chat recaps through an embedded Twitter chat on their blogs, through Storify or on YouTube. This is a good way to check out on the points that you may have missed during the chat.

You can also look for other Twitter events to join in in the future. There are lots of hashtags available for a specific discipline but the general ones that you might want to watch out for are #ecrchat #phdchat #higheredchat.

How do I host my own Twitter chat?
Despite the best efforts from the hosts and guests, sometimes Twitter chat could just lack the appeal to hold the participants’ interests which could prompt some participants to host their own event. If you’d like to start your own, pick a good topic or one that is an offshoot of previous chats. Choose a hashtag, or just hijack an existing one (Don’t worry about doing this, nobody owns a hashtag). Learn from the lapses of the previous chats you’ve participated in so you can have a more meaningful event when you host your own.

Twitter chats are an interactive way to connect with new people within your field, and to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. So just cherish the rush and see you on Twitter sphere! I’m @DennisRelojo. #ThatsIt