Starting a Twitter chat

Two months ago I became the manager of the Twitter account of the Mexican chapter of an international society. It has been a fun experience. I actually read the tweets of our followers, most of whom I follow back.

One day I posted an article (in Spanish) about one of our youngest members, who is 6 years old and has an IQ of 150. It included a video in which the boy answers questions. Someone replied, arguing that the boy was not a genius, that he was merely showing good memorization skills. I disagreed with his comment. However, instead of starting an argument with him, I conceded that intelligence is more than just memorizing. After that, I tweeted a question: What defines a genius?

I got lots of replies. Several interesting discussions arose from that simple question. Considering that one of the objectives of the group is to promote stimulating intellectual and social opportunities for its members, it was a great activity.

And so I decided to start a Twitter chat. While I am familiar with some Twitter chats (e.g., #phdchat), there are not many in Spanish (none that I know of, actually). I had never moderated a Twitter chat before. Getting ready was a challenge.

Fortunately, I had help. I got some advice from Terese Bird (@tbirdcymru), Tony Ratcliffe (@AERatcliffe), and Nasima Riazat (@NSRiazat). I defined some steps to follow:

  1. Decide the basics. The goal of the chat is to generate intellectually stimulating discussions between members and the general community. I set up a hashtag (#mensachat) and tweeted about it.
  2. Get people involved. I asked our Twitter followers for schedule and topic suggestions.
  3. Make sure the conversation can get going. I got a small core group together, members who agreed to participate.
  4. Explain the procedure. I didn’t expect any of our followers to be familiar with a Twitter chat. As I said, there are not many in Spanish (maybe none). I started by asking them to include the hashtag #mensachat in their tweets.
  5. Ask the question. I have a list of recommended topics to choose from.
  6. Moderate. This implies asking follow-up questions, making summaries of what is being said and answering when needed.
  7. Finish. I thought it would be good to end with a reminder of the next chat and with a tweet saying that the conversation would be saved. People can keep chatting if they want after the moderated session is over.

Last Monday was the first #mensachat. Twelve people participated and shared 79 posts in 1 hour. At first, I retweeted their replies to the question. I did some follow-up questions as well, when I felt the conversation was slowing down… Instead of just tweeting using the hashtag, they kept replying to the account of the group (fortunately, they did use the hashtag). I assumed that they were not searching the hashtag, but only reading their usual feed. By the end, they got it and were talking between themselves. I did a couple of summaries to update latecomers. Lots of interesting ideas were dicussed.

At some point I thought they were straying away from the original topic, but before I had to do anything about it, someone did. He brought everyone back. It was a really great experience. 🙂

After it had ended I got a tweet from a lurker: “It was a pleasure to read you”. He has no idea of how much his tweet means to me. It gives evidence of a small success. I will accept that I was worried that the Twitter chat wouldn’t work, but it did. I am happy.

This chat takes place every Monday at 8 pm (Mexico time, which is 2 am UK time; I know, I know). If you speak Spanish and would like to join, please do so! The more, the merrier!

– Brenda Padilla

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