Twitter Chats: Building Community 140 Characters at a Time

New research suggests Twitter conversations may not boost your follower count, but hashtags and chats can help build a more engaged community.

When posting to your organization’s Twitter account, are you more likely to broadcast information or engage in a conversation?

According to new research, if you’re broadcasting—posting links to content, resources, and other helpful information—then you’re probably amassing more followers than Twitter accounts that are focused on responding or replying to followers.

In The Science of Marketing, author Dan Zarrella looked at millions of Twitter accounts and divided them into two groups—those with more than 1,000 followers and those with fewer. Zarella compared the two groups to see how many were starting their tweets with replies and found that the accounts with more followers replied less.

The highest potential value of a Twitter chat is that it can create community, and you can create an engaged community of people who care about the same things you care about.

He then repeated the analysis, this time comparing accounts with more than 1 million followers and those with fewer than 1 million followers and found similar results.

“Highly followed accounts tweet more links than their lesser followed counterparts,” Zarrella wrote. “These accounts did not build their reach by being in conversations; they built it by sharing interesting content in a broadcast fashion. In fact, there are not many examples of well-known Twitter accounts that are built on lots of replies, whereas there are countless accounts with more than 1 million followers that do nothing more than share interesting facts, quotes, links, and news.”

But should high numbers of followers be your goal for your Twitter account, anyway?  If your objective is to create or extend a sense of community via Twitter, then probably not. And that’s where the value of conversations comes in, said Hildy Gottlieb, cofounder of Creating the Future, who presented an NTEN webinar, “Building Community through Twitter Chats,” earlier this year.

The power of a Twitter chat is in “its ability to build community—to build engagement and participation—and every organization wishes they had more engagement and participation,” Gottlieb said.

This is especially true for mission-driven organizations such as nonprofits and associations. One indicator is the #assnchat hashtag used widely in the association community. A chat using that hashtag takes place every Tuesday at 2 p.m.

“The work that we all do, whether an association or any kind of community-benefit organization … it’s about other people, and here you’ve got this fabulous opportunity to engage other people,” said Gottlieb, who also had some advice on how to initiate a chat.

Know your purpose first, she suggested. Have an idea of what you are trying to accomplish through the chat, and know whom you are serving.

Twitter is just the technology behind the conversation, Gottlieb added. “If you say you want a Twitter chat and you don’t have a clear purpose in mind, then you’re letting the tool guide your strategy. It’s kind of like saying, ‘I have a hammer, how come no one came over to build my house?’”

Instead of announcing the chat, invite people. Go out into your existing community of followers and ask them to join. And be sure to create an inclusive and safe environment.

You don’t want to have an expert talking at your followers, because that separates people, Gottlieb said. You want to level the playing field, “so everybody’s an expert and everybody’s a learner, and you’re learning from each other and engaging each other in conversation about a topic of mutual interest to everybody.”

And how do you determine if a Twitter chat is successful?

“People are showing up, they’re talking, and they’re saying they can’t wait for the next one,” Gottlieb said. “The highest potential value of a Twitter chat is that it can create community, and you can create an engaged community of people who care about the same things you care about.”

Have you used Twitter chats to create community online? What tips do you have for fostering the conversation?

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!