By Brendan Kinney, Moderator of #fundchat
If you are not familiar with Twitter chats, it’s when a group of people who share an interest or a passion “get together” on Twitter to connect with one another, share ideas and advice, and on occasion, have a few laughs. They do this by following a particular hashtag so that everyone who is interested can “listen in” and participate in the conversation.
Just over two months ago, I launched #fundchat. I wanted to create a hashtag that would become widely used by nonprofit development, fundraising and marketing professionals. I saw it as an outlet for my interests and a way to connect and learn from others who shared a similar passion.
As the humble moderator of this fledgling group, I have learned a lot (sometimes the hard way!). So I wanted to share my insights about Twitter chats:
Set the Stage
First, I created the basic building blocks, including the Twitter account (@fundchat) and established a blog (http://fundchat.org). Then, I got to work: promoting the Twitter chat and marketing the heck out of the initial conversation, networking with others, joining in on other chats, and more.
For #fundchat, I chose Wednesdays at 9 pm EST as the weekly time for #fundchat primarily because it didn’t look like many other chats were happening at the same time. I scanned a great list of Twitter chats provided by Robert Swanwick. I noted that there were a few other chats around a similar topic, but not exactly what I was after.
“I saw #fundchat as an outlet for my interests and a way to connect and learn from others who shared a similar passion.”
While anyone can participate by following the hashtag in their favorite Twitter client, I’ve used Twebevent with great success. It’s has the functionality of Tweetchat, but includes a header and other details so that it serves as a “homepage” for the chat. Many participants find it easy to use and a great way to follow the conversation.
I set a launch date and waited at the appointed time. I was a ball of nervous energy, worried that the chat would be with myself! To my delight, about 15 people actively participated in the first #fundchat and many more “listened in.” Since then, the word on #fundchat has spread, and week-in and week-out, the community has “hashed” it out over a wide range of topics.
Honor Other’s Time
Some chats are free-flowing, but I chose to develop a weekly topic and 5 to 10 related questions. That way, folks can decide if the topic is interesting enough to participate and if they like, they can spend time thinking about the questions ahead of time.
When someone decides to participate in your chat, they are giving up their time. As moderator, it’s your job to ensure that their time is not wasted: create clear rules, spread the word, connect with key influencers, set the topic and questions, and keep the conversation moving.
I’ve also used polls and surveys (I’ve used Twtpoll.com with success) to get input from the community about topics, the best day and time for the chat, and more. Although unscientific, it’s a way to get buy-in from participants and the results in themselves can be the topic of a blog post!
Watch the Clock
As moderator, time management is one of your key tasks. Yes, it’s important to set the topic and get the questions together each week, but keeping the conversation moving is critical.
As I’ve seen in other chats, I typically provide about 10 minutes per question. For the first #fundchat, I only had five questions prepared. However, during the course of the conversation, my fifth question ended up being covered, leaving me one question short! Luckily, I was able to come up with a new question on the fly, but the experience taught me to always have more questions than you need.
“As moderator, time management is one of your key tasks.”
Trying to keep the chat to one hour is challenging. If there are more than five or six questions, I will shrink the time between questions to eight or even six minutes. The risk with too many questions is that you don’t give participants enough time to provide thoughtful answers. Also the banter between questions helps establish community and cement connections.
It’s important to let participants know when the next question is coming, so I remind the group, “Next Q in 2 minutes…” When I forgot to do this once, I was roundly scolded, reminding me that once you set a precedent, your job as moderator is to stick to it.
Keep A Record
One of the more frustrating aspects of Twitter chats is creating a transcript. But transcripts are a great way to keep a record of the conversation for future reference and to provide for those who couldn’t participate in the live chat.
Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find a workable solution. For the first five editions of #fundchat, I had the time to pull together a “curated transcript” using Storify. Unfortunately, it is a time consuming process to “drag” each Tweet into the new timeline and to rearrange the questions and answers in chronological order. I also learned that Storify doesn’t provide a look back beyond a week. I tried using Topsy to get to them, but the results weren’t complete.
Finally, I was referred to Hashtracking.com by TweetReports.com (they were nice enough to provide a referral after they had a few technical problems). After some back and forth with the folks at Hashtracking, they provided me with a beta testing opportunity. I’m still getting a feel for their service, but so far it’s very impressive. They offer stats, participant report and a full transcript of the chat. The results of our first Hashtracking report are terrific.
Create A Water Cooler
Having a place for your community to gather when not participating in the chat, is incredibly helpful. I took the spaghetti approach by throwing everything out there and finding out what sticks. I created a Facebook page, LinkedIn Group and a blog.
So far, the blog has proven to be the most “sticky.” Closing in on 1,300 visits in just 8 weeks, the blog is a launching pad for each chat session, providing information about how to participate, that week’s topic and questions and more.
“If #fundchat ended its run today, I would chalk it up as a success.”
Recently, I invited members of the #fundchat community to share their insights in more than 140 characters by creating a “guest blogger series.” I’ve published four to date and more in the queue!
If #fundchat ended its run today, I would chalk it up as a success. People have come together to share their experiences, advice and ideas. They have connected professionally. Some have gone out for drinks together.
The most gratifying outcome of #fundchat is that a real community has developed around this humble little hashtag. The people I’ve met are generous, caring, funny and smart. Without them, #fundchat would just be eight letters preceded by a pound symbol. As long as they find the conversation worthwhile, #fundchat will continue to be a worthwhile resource and positive experience.
Brendan Kinney is a fundraising and marketing professional. He has worked in higher education and public media and is the moderator of #fundchat. You can follow him on Twitter at @brendankinney.