Thursday, December 17, 2015

Remembering Twitter Events (Chats)

Last update: Saturday 12/17/15
If the "unexamined life is not worth living" then it's important to record what really happened: what we did; what we said; what other people did and said; what we said about what other people did and said. Social media, like Twitter, enable all of us to participate in the curation of what happened in our lives to an extent that was reserved for professional historians in previous times. 

There are at least two kinds of Twitter Chats: interviews (one guest) and panel discussions (two or more guests). In bygone times before Twitter, these events were conducted in person, by telephone, Skype sessions, or email. 

The older formats allowed elaborate questions and answers, whereas Twitter's 140 character limitation requires participants to express their thoughts as concisely as possible. Twitter demands premeditation, focus, and wit. The following checklists of Do's and Don'ts distill some "best practices" I observed in the process of curating dozens of Twitter chats with Storify in the last 18 months. No one used all of them, but everyone used some of them. 


A. Producers of Twitter Chats

The producer organizes the chat, i.e., the producer selects the topics; lines up the host, guests, sponsors, and support staff; markets the chat; and provides the required technical infrastructure.

1. Advertise your chats

  • Use Twitter and other social media to notify your community about your upcoming chat
     
  • Your notices should include an embedded "poster" that contains (a) an eye-catching photo or graphic ...  plus (b) brief description(s) of the topic(s) of the chat ... plus (c) the names and Twitter handles of the host and the featured guest(s) ... plus (d) the chat's date, day, start time, and end time ... plus (e) the official hashtag to be included in all tweets within the chat.
     
  • Please note that it's better to have only one official hashtag for Twitter events. Using two or more hashtags creates two or more Twitter streams, none of which contain all of the chat's tweets. And more hashtags per tweet means less characters are available for the message of the tweet.
     
  • Your official hashtag should be unique and short. When your audience searches Twitter using this hashtag, only the tweets from your chat should appear.
     
  • Send out (at least) five notices ahead of time, e.g. two weeks in advance, one week, three days, the day before, and the morning of the event
     
  • Here are a couple of examples of effective marketing tweets with embedded posters ==> the first is from the Black Enterprise interview with Brian Williams (11/23/15) ; the second from NewME Accelerator interview with Jewel Burks (12/12/14)

2. Prepare your host and support staff

Provide your host and your staff with links to appropriate background materials about your topics and your guests. Your host will conduct the interviews and/or moderate the panels; your support staff will inject tactical tweets and retweets to keep the conversations on track.  It seems to be difficult for hosts to perform both kinds of tasks.

3. Curate your completed interviews and panel discussions, and publish them asap

If curated editions of your Twitter events aren't published, your events will soon be forgotten. (Note: For some examples of curations using Storify, see the DLL's archives of chats and other Twitter events.)

B. Hosts and Support Staff

The producer organizes the chat, but once it starts the host becomes the captain of the ship and the support staff becomes its crew. So here are some suggestions for hosts and staff:

1. Hosts-- Prepare for chats by identifying the issues you want to cover during the interviews or panels 

2. Hosts -- Prepare numbered lists of the specific questions you will ask during interviews and the specific talking points you will pose in panel discussions

Note that it may be necessary to pose two, three, or more questions or talking points to cover complex issues


3. Hosts -- Send copies of the issues to your guests before the chat. 
I caution against sending copies of your numbered questions and talking points to your guests because you don't want them to prepare the exact wording of their thoughts about the issues in advance. Like good jazz, chats should be guided conversations, not rehearsed readings of calls and responses. Hopefully, your guests will spontaneously include references to what other guests have said during panel discussions or to insightful comments from the members of your audience during interviews.  

4. Hosts -- Pose your numbered questions (interviews) or talking points (panels) to your guests one at a time, then wait for their responses to each question or talking point before moving on to the next one on your list.  
Here are the first three questions from a Black Enterprise interview with Anie Akpe (9/16/14) whose Twitter handle is @IBMOLLC
  • "Q1 @IBOMLLC You are a leader in corporate America and as an entrepreneur. How do you excel at both? "
  • "'Q2 @IBOMLLC As a woman of color focused on business, media & tech, at what point did you begin to adopt a CEO mindset? "
  • "Q3 @IBOMLLC What advice would you give to those who aspire to CEO status, regardless of industry? "
5. Staff -- Rescue "orphan" responses
A glitch that often occurs in Twitter chats is the omission of the official hashtag in tweets. Your host probably won't make this error, but your guests are likely to forget to include the hashtag every time they respond. When they do, listeners who are tuned into the designated hashtag will miss these untagged responses and become confused when the conversation moves on. 

Support staff should cover this glitch by "retweeting" a corrected version of the faulty tweet asap. I suggest that staff copy the text of the faulty tweet and preface it with the letters RT, the Twitter handle of the guest who misspoke, and the missing hashtag. Staff may have to abbreviate some words from the original tweet in order to stay within Twitter's 140 character limit.


6. Staff -- Avoid awkward silences
Twitter's 140 character limit sometimes leads to delays between the time a host poses a question or a talking point and the time a guest tweets a concisely worded response. This silence may cause listeners to lose the thread of the conversation. 

I suggest that staff use these pauses to encourage more members of the audience to join the conversation and to help the audience keep their bearings by reminding them of the topic of the day's chat and the name(s) of its guests, to remind them of the chat's official hashtag, and to repeat the specific question (interview) or talking point (panel) that's currently on the table.


Although staff contributions are usually deleted from the DLL's own curations of Twitter events after an event is over, they were essential to keeping the conversation on course while the event was happening.

7. Hosts and staff -- Start on time 
Deliver the official opening tweets in the chat with thanks to the sponsors (if the chat has sponsors), introduction of the host, welcome to the audience, introductions to the guests, and reminders of the official hashtag. Here are a couple of examples:

(a) Opening tweets from the BOSS Network interview with Angela Benton (3/26/15) 

(b) Opening tweets from The Root's panel discussion on Blacks in STEM (2/27/15)

8.  Hosts and staff -- End on time 
Deliver the official closing tweets in the chat with a reminder of the topic of the chat, thanks to the sponsors (if any), thanks to each guest, and thanks to the audience for their contributions.  For example, here are the closing tweets from the Black Enterprise interview with Brian Williams:


C. Guests
Guests are the chat's main course, the reasons why the audience is attending. So they just have to be themselves ... as long as they stay, within Twitter's 140 character limits ... :-)

1. Provide concise responses to questions and talking points 
However guests should always remember that speaking in 140 character sentences only comes naturally to Yoda and the other Jedi Masters in Star Wars fantasies. Real people's first responses are often much longer. So guests should be prepared to revise their responses a few times before tweeting.

2. Deliver responses in two or more tweets if necessary

Sometimes simple questions require complex answers; and sometimes simple answers need to be clarified with alternative wording and/or references to specific examples.

Responses to questions and talking points should match the numbers used by the host. For example, consider Ms. Anie Akpe's responses to the first three questions posed to her in the Black Enterprise interview (9/16/14)

4. Include the chat's official hashtag in every response

5. Mention other guests and members of the audience
A Twitter chat is guided conversation among hosts, guests, and their audience. So guests should reference each other's ideas and mention each other's names and Twitter handles just like they would reference each other's ideas, names, and nicknames in face-to-face conversations. I suggest that it's particularly important for a guest to mention the Twitter handles of members of the audience whose tweets contained ideas the guest thought were worth noting.