Twitter Chats Build Community

Editor's Note: This essay is part of our weekly #TimeLessWisdom series, in which we're highlighting one of the contributions from our 2012 book, Bringing the Social Media Revolution to Health CareLearn more about the series.

Bringing the Social Media #Revolution to Health Care coverA Twitter chat, like many things, is relatively easy to start. However, building relationships and sustaining the community requires time and effort. The groundwork for success must be laid well in advance.

First ask yourself: Does the world need another health care chat? What’s your niche? For #hcsmca (health care social media Canada), it was a question of local vs. global. Participating regularly in #hcsm (health care social media) and #hcsmeu (health care social media European Union) chats led me to contemplate whether there was an appetite to share locally as an adjunct to the global conversation. As Neil Crump states, “Social chat and the Web are global, but regulations, culture, and the way health is paid for create segments of similarity where it makes sense to focus discussion.”

When I was considering starting #hcsmca during the summer of 2010, I interviewed founders of existing successful health care chats (e.g., #hcsm, #hpm, #nhssm, #hcsmeu) to help me understand what I was getting into. I
wanted to know

  • What is the workload for the founder of a Twitter chat?
  • What were the motivations and goals for each Twitter group?
  • What were their best practices?

Today, there are Twitter chats on an amazingly wide range of health-related topics. But if you want to start a new one, first follow chats you like, ask for advice from founders and build on their experience. I learned these key points:

Start your community before your first chat.

Contact people in your online and off-line networks to ensure people come to the first chat. Choose people who will set the tone you wish to establish. These founding members can help you determine the optimal time and day
for your chat, suggest topics, and generate activity and awareness.

Create a home base.

Twitter doesn’t archive well. To capture the community’s history, establish a home base. I write community-related articles, introduce or summarize some of the chats, and make announcements (such as meet-up plans) on my
blog. I use a Google spreadsheet to let participants submit topics and to archive the transcripts.

Continue establishing meaningful connections and building relationships.

Get to know participants and potential participants. I reach out to people who may be interested in #hcsmca and who may not have participated before. When a topic is submitted, I invite subject matter experts to join the chat. Increasingly, I rely on lists to get to know people.

I used TweetDeck to make lists of people who have used the hashtag #hcsmca and people interested in Canadian health care who have not used the hashtag. When I see people with common interests, I connect them. If
someone has a query that interests the community, I invite them to submit a chat topic.

Collaborating and networking beyond community membership broadens the community’s knowledge and expands access to resources.

Be prepared to commit, but also learn to share the load.

While moderators experience rewards, it takes time and effort to host a weekly chat and maintain relationships beyond the chats. Eileen O’Brien (#socpharm) warned me about this. I took her sage advice and introduced guest moderators from the beginning. Guest moderators expand the network, contribute to the relationship building, and bring different perspectives and styles that enrich the community.

Moderating isn’t the only way community members can help. Some may contribute by promoting the community to colleagues or at conferences, announcing upcoming chats regularly, welcoming newcomers during chats, or organizing meet-ups. Identify these members and thank them for their support. Recognizing the value of their contribution encourages them to continue and others to follow suit.

Why Twitter? Because of its near real-time functioning, Twitter can help you stay current, expand your network, crowd-source ideas, and learn, learn, learn. Chats help filter Twitter for stuff that’s relevant to you.

Choose a message to share 
Want to create a successful Twitter chat? Start your community first.
Want your Twitter chat to succeed? Be prepared to commit, but also learn to share the load.
A Twitter chat is like anything else. The groundwork for success must be laid well in advance.

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