Over the last few years, the premise of the Twitter chat has gone from being perceived as an obscure and useless project to one of the fastest-growing ways to rally around ideas, share experiences and form ambient commons for publics.
Since I’ve been running two of them (RNchat being one of the first chats – and the first chat for clinicians), I thought I’d share my experiences and offer tips and recommendations.
I started RNchat as a way to get nurses to A) get up-to-speed with social media (nursing an medicine is/was really behind here, and I thought Twitter was a good gateway drug) B) I wanted to give nurses an easy and open forum to network, express themselves, trade war stories, etc.
Then I started MDchat, which was the first chat for physicians, for pretty much the same reasons as RNchat but for docs. Each had their similar and different trajectories since the general cultures have their difference.
Co-branding. Then I wanted to get the two communities to cross-pollinate. That worked well, and I wanted it to work especially for docs and nurses since there’s often a disconnect between the two professions.
Running two chats can be tough due to limitations of time and resources, but I’ve learned how to be efficient. So here’s what I’ve done, offering the value propositions, insights and business uses and purposes:
Some of you may have specific business/enterprise goals in mind. With these chats, that wasn’t my intent. BUT, there have been surprising incidental benefits which I’ve since learned to fold into my businesses and personal life.
(Update: I’m adding this post by Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett) since he articulates a reasoned acknowledgment of Twitter nay-saying while expressing the important (but perhaps hidden) value-role Twitter can play for accountants. …As a side note: having started my career in accounting, I know a ton of ways the profession could value-extract – from education to promulgation interpretation to professional development. I shall profess those in a future post.)
^ Surprising Journeys: I’ve gotten a decent amount of business as a direct result of leading the chats. Attribution management has verified that.
^ Speaking/workshop opportunities – I’ve gotten some really cool (and paid) gigs at off-the-beaten path. Not the typical social media conferences, but universities, health systems, retreats with physician practices and other leaders. I really don’t think I’d ever get those without these chats.
^ It’s been a really cool experience. For example, I’ve had IBM Watson’s team participate in two chats to discuss Waton’s role in medicine – I don’t think I’d ever have that opportunity w/out the chats. What’s more: the community at large benefits from these exchanges – think of the enormous impact Watson could have on Healthcare, Finance, Manufacturing, etc. To have physicians, nurses, HIT specialists and others involved in this unique ecosystem is truly amazing.
^ Respect. These chats have allowed me to gain respect. They’ve also honed my insights into and responsibilities to my communities.
^ Personal/professional connections – I’d say my network has grown by a large factor as a result. I’ve developed a whole CRM from people I’ve met and who’ve approached me.
^ There are others – you can set your goals and/or take advantage of serendipity. It’s all good.
^ Early on, I set up landing pages/blogs for the chats. I also set up newsletters that I’ve used for “special” chats and other updates, giving readers easy sharing options to spread the butter. (I’ve slacked, but at this point it’s fine for me.)
^ Thanking participants via email. It’s easy to get lazy and to depend on Twitter, but I took the time early on to add participants into my CRM, ask for emails if I couldn’t find them and send over a brief thank you. I’d also include content I thought they’d be interested – e.g. sending doctors lists of other docs they might want to network or other stuffs. Immense value there.
^ Transcripts. These can be kinda “Meh”, but there are people who read them. More importantly – especially for docs and nurses who wanted to get their facilities/colleagues involved, having a document to share helped spread the *offline* awareness of the brands. (I know of at least 5 cases where those hand-outs lead to in-bound prospects.) For Healthcare chats, there’s the Healthcare Hashtag Project but it’s only for healthcare-related chats. There really does need to be a solid transcript service beyond healthcare (I have ideas, so if you know any developers I’d be happy to share them). I’ve slacked on doing them every time, but they’re worth it if you’ve got nothing better to do.
^ Slideshare/Scribd/Storify – Building on transcripts, these are where their value can be enhanced. Storify is a great concept, but it’s still difficult to work with. I used it a few times to build some privately for a few clients and they loved it. Offers more context – especially to “non-savvy” C-Suiters.
^ CRM – As I said I basically converted the community into a crm. I did so both manually and by using online tools. It’s been a while, but there are tools that allow you to download the search results for a hashtag and convert it to a .csv file. Then you can create a ghetto crm from there.
^ Promotion: I didn’t promote these chats so much – a few tweets from my own account, but I wanted organic growth and I got it. But as the Twitter accounts associated with the chats grew, promotion took on its own life. RT and # can be powerful in this context.
^ Topic Suggestions Form – I developed forms for the chats where the community can not only offer topics they’d like to see discussed but also provide feedback/suggestions. Again, this helped in widening my network and enhancing relationships.
^ Time – this can be a bit hard to figure out. A lot depends on your audience – in my case , docs and nurses come from all walks of life and have weird schedules. I run mine on Tue and Thur nights. But lately I’ve thought about moving to another day/time. It’s OK to play around with times – the community will follow if the changes work for them.
^ Outsourcing: Get other moderators to lead. People love to be hit up, and they offer different styles so they can mix things up. Again, they have other followers who may be interested. This has helped me immensely. Also, cultivate those relationships. Not to mention: they have so much experience to offer – why not let them shine and add value to what you’re building for them?
^ Personality and Leadership: These are crucial. Curiously, I’d be as bold to say that personality is even more important than leadership (they’re both key). I’ve go my own personality – actually I have several online personas – @HealthIsSocial – @RNchat – @MD_chat – @PhilBaumann), and they all are on the edgy side in their own way. I can afford to be a bit…shall we say…risky. You’ll have to decide yourself how to act, but being humorous, kind and being able to manage trolls adroitly are all important ingredients in baking a great chat.
^ Purposes: I can’t say Twitter chats “work” for most for-profit or non-profit going concerns. But they can be a great way for brands to have a regular living presence in an intimately ambient setting. It builds their responsiveness, especially if they’re relatively new to this craziness. (More about the *process* than direct results necessarily.)
^ Branded Hashtags: I think hashtags are way abused – it’s a shame, because they *do* have a lot of value. Still, it’s probably not a bad idea for a brand to have its own hashtag. This can be a two-edge blade, since it could be hijacked during a PR crisis, and triage could be a disaster. Still: if the people behind the brands have built trust over time and have the skills, they’re better off than sweating it out last-minute and ultimately reducing shareholder value.
^ Participation in other chats. Again, I do think there’s value in brands participating in chats (you all know, not in a spammy way of course). A) It’s a good way to keep a pulse on things. B) It humanizes things much easier. Rather than all that “RT others, and be human in your regular tweets” advice from social media “gurus”, the chats make it inherently human and useful.
^ Cohesion – a hashtag and its related chats/tweets can be a functional way to “tie-together” the entire online stream – and *offline* efforts too. Attribution management might be tough, but I’ve found bit.ly, geolocation, conferences, etc. to be revealing info.
^ Attribution Management – I’ve found this to be difficult. Obviously bit.ly helps – not just clicks from Twitter, but from your blog/site (but in my experience hasn’t been very revealing without a good amount of elbow grease). Geolocation and other metadata are often overlooked, but they can be useful depending on the business. I take issue with QR codes and MS tags (whole other post), but if a client has a heavy paper presence with a decently savvy demographic, it can’t hurt to slap one linking to the landing page for the hashtag/chat. (Think customer service, etc.)
So there’s how I’ve been doing this stuff. It’s worked for me. Not sure if it’ll work for you. If you haven’t started a chat, give it a try if you think there’s value to your audience.
Remember: Twitter *isn’t* community – but it can spur community in the true homes of community. That alone is valuable.
On one hand, this all could be totally useless. But if you’re creative and gutsy, there’s definitely a lot of value to be extracted – and, more importantly, to be provided.