UPDATE (Sept 23, 2009):
We did an interview with Federal News Radio (Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris -- thanks you two!) on our experience with the first @USGS Twitter Chat. Overall, our experience with the Twitter chat went well. We had a lot of retweeting of the planned chat well before it occurred which led us to believe we would have an active chat session. In the end, we ended up getting just a handful questions as opposed to the windfall of questions we expected.
That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but it we did learn a few lessons from that experience that we wanted to share with everyone. The USGS will definitely be doing another Twitter chat, and we'll be taking everything we've learned from our first, bold experiment and folding it into our next one. In the meantime, here's a few things we took away for those other agencies that want to venture into the Twitter chat discussions:
- Plan ahead by gathering fodder to help get a conversation going, spark other questions, point people to as examples of what you're talking about (i.e. compelling photos, video) etc.
- If doing a tweet chat where the scientists are on the phone, and you're having to translate for them into 140 characters, it's best to setup a remote desktop session instead so they can either see how you're interpreting their tweets (rather than having to repeat it each time to them for agreement), or give them the ability to remotely control your computer and enter the tweet themselves. This is mostly an issue for organizations that don't have access to Twitter b/c it's blocked, or the participants are in the field on the phone, or don't have access to a computer at the time.
- 30 minutes goes really fast. Plan for about an hour instead. We went over an hour.
- Provide answers quickly. This should be obvious, however it's much more difficult when you run up against a barrier as when the participant is on the phone (because you need to read back each tweet to the scientist before you post it to ensure it's accurately translated)
- Use a hashtag to compile questions/answers later on. Make sure you use it on every tweet.
- Can't rely upon Twitter search for following a hashtag. It could've been at the time things were wacky with Twitter search, but some tweets were not showing up in search results till 10, 20, 30 minutes later. This creates a problem for those wanting to follow the conversation based solely on the hashtag.
- Keep open multiple tabs to help track questions coming, tweets your posting, and general searches. Throughout the chat we had two notebooks open with twitter.com/USGS (the Home and Profile pages), Twitter search results for #gschat1, and Seesmic on both machines. Multiple tracking going on to be sure we captured and followed everything. We need to work on streamlining this a bit.
- Keep open multiple tabs in your browser with readily available sites that pertain to the overall topic to easily tweet about and provide compelling, visual materials when appropriate.
- Educate scientists about Twitter, protocols, user expectations, how it works, etc. Set up a private account and do some practice tweeting with them. Before you give a presentation, you'll often do a dry run to make sure you're ready. Treat the tweet chat the same way...do a dry run with the scientist.
- Encourage scientists to have/prepare talking points/key messages for questions they know will probably come up. This helps to speed along the discussion on Twitter and keep things active.
I don't normally do this, and I hate to use GovLoop as a platform for advertising, but I feel the need to now simply because we're [USGS] very excited to do this. On Sept 2, 2009 @USGS we'll be having a live tweet chat, running 30 minutes, on the coastal impacts of hurricanes and extreme storms with USGS scientist Abby Sallenger.
Abby was the USGS's first podcast interviewee when we launched the USGS podcast series "CoreCast" back in August of 2007. So it's fitting that he's now our first live tweet chat
guinea pig, participant to discuss such a compelling topic as we're right in the middle of hurricane season. It should be a great discussion.
As this is our first live chat on Twitter, no matter how much we plan we may encounter a hiccup or two along the way. That's fine though, we'll learn from this experience and apply it to future ones. And yes, we do plan to do more of these live tweet chats. As a result, we're setting a hashtag for this event as #gschat1. Any questions or comments that people plan to tweet, we ask that you include that hashtag so we can be sure to capture them.
We're also collecting questions ahead of time if people have some topics that we might be able to address and help focus the discussion. You can let us know your question at: http://twtpoll.com/wbk063.
But don't worry, I'm sure the @USGS account will be reminding people throughout the week 😉 On behalf of the USGS we look forward to your participation and involvement to make this a success and set the bar for future events like this on Twitter.
Note: This post is of my own personal opinion and is not endorsed or supported by any local, state, or federal government agency.