I mentioned yesterday that one of the ways I stay in contact with other writers is through weekly Twitter-based chats, so I thought I would take a few minutes to explain how a Twitter chat works.
If you aren’t familiar with Twitter, it is a social media site where you can broadcast bite-sized bits of information (or, Tweets) to your friends and acquaintances who also use Twitter. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so the action is fast and furious. You can read the Tweets of people you “follow” and anyone who follows you can read your Tweets. Some people describe it as “micro-blogging” because it is similar to a blog, but in a much more condensed form.
Twitter has a whole list of pros and cons, but that really isn’t the point of this post. I’ve found Twitter to be a good way to meet other writers (the group of local writers I meet with on a regular basis began from making connections on Twitter) and to interact with people I wouldn’t normally “know” or talk to.
One set of friends I’ve met via Twitter is the polar opposite of the local group. These are writer friends I’ve not met and who live all around the country. Andi Cumbo is the hub of this group of writers, and she hosts a chat on Twitter on Tuesday nights. At 9:00, those of us who want to chat gather at our computers and begin to discuss a writing topic which Andi moderates, keeping the conversation moving and reigning us in when we start to drift too far from the night’s topic.
Using Twitter for a focused chat is a little like the SETI program trying to separate possible extraterrestrial communications from the background space noise. Because Twitter is so full of rapid fire communications, it is easy for the chat to get lost, if you don’t utilize a hashtag. A hashtag is a Twitter term for putting a # in front of a word or phrase. We use the tag, #writestuff so that we can identify tweets that are specific to our discussion.
If you use a program like Tweetdeck, or even just using Twitter’s own website, you can “search” for any hashtag and get a list of the Tweets that contain it.
I’ve found, though, the website TweetChat is the best way for me to stay involved in a Twitter-based chat. Here’s why:
- TweetChat integrates with my Twitter account, so I can use it just like I’m using Twitter.
- It allows me to input the hashtag I want to follow (in this case, #writestuff) and it automatically searches for Tweets that contain that tag.
- TweetChat has an “auto refresh” function, with variable speeds, so the conversation is automatically updated.
- When I use TweetChat, the hashtag (#writestuff) is automatically added to my outgoing Tweets so other chat participants can find my replies.
- It is all handled in one window, without distraction of all the other Twitter activity.
I’ve included a screen-shot of me using TweetChat. It is a very simple, straightforward way to make focused chats on Twitter less confusing.
Hope that helps!
Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!