One of the things I really value about  Twitter are Twitter chats. I’ve found these chats to be educational, fun, and a great way to connect with others who have similar interests. But what are chats, and how do you join in?

When you’re still trying to figure out what Twitter is for, it can seem like a lot of shared links, pithy statements, and random bits of conversation between people who have no idea who you are.

Well, that’s all true. But their is some method among all the seemingly-random dynamics, including a neat little device called a hashtag – a way of tagging tweets with key words or acronyms.

A Twitter chat is essentially what happens when a group of people decide to be on Twitter at the same time and follow what each other says by tagging all of their tweets with the same hashtag.

Clear as mud? Read on.

Back up a sec – what’s a hashtag?

As noted above, a hashtag is a way to tag your tweets with a key word or acronym. A hashtag starts with a “#” and can be anything you want it to be. Typically people use them to highlight the subject(s) of their tweets.

Sample tweet with hashtags, by @GariFowler

In this example, “#nonprofit” and “#marketing” are added to the end of the message. This helps people who are interested in these subjects find these tweets when they search for those key words.

Also, the formatting of the hashtag is different, so it stands out a bit better; compare the word “Nonprofit” on the first line with the “#nonprofit” hashtag on the last line.

How does a #hashtag turn into a conversation?

If you do a search for #marketing on Twitter, you’ll find a list of every tweet that’s been tagged with that hashtag. There are a lot.

What happens if you make up your own hashtag – not #marketing, for example, but #nonprofitmarketing? If you search for it, you’ll find fewer tweets.

That, essentially, is how Twitter chats work:

  • Pick a date, a time, and an uncommon hashtag.
  • Monitor the hashtag to see what others are saying.
  • Join the conversation by posting your own tweets with the same hashtag somewhere in your message.

Give Twitter chats a try

Following Twitter chats used to be a bit cumbersome, but now there are tools that make participating so much easier!

Tweetchat is my preferred tool (although I’ve heard good things about another service called TweetGrid).  To get started with Tweetchat:

  1. Go to and click “Sign In” in the upper right.
  2. Enter your Twitter login information.
  3. When prompted, click the “Authorize App” button.
  4. Up at the top, where it says “Enter hashtag to follow”, enter your hashtag of choice.

The following screen will come up (yours will have a different background/colour scheme to match your personal Twitter settings). To join the conversation:

  • Any recent messages with the hashtag will show up in the list. To reply to someone, or to retweet their comment, click on the appropriate arrow beside their message.
  • To post your own message, just type a message in the box and click “update”! The number in the upper right corner of the message box tells you how many characters you have left (Don’t forget: Twitter is limited to 140 characters).
  • The hashtag for your conversation will automatically be added to all of the messages you send using this message box, so you don’t need to remember to add it.

screen capture - #nptalk Twitter Chat (May 25, 2011)

How to find chats

To the best of my knowledge, there is no existing Twitter Chat Directory – I suspect it would be a nightmare to keep up-to-date. But here are some ideas.

Indulge your curiosity. If you find everybody is using a hashtag and you have no idea what it’s all about, go to and do a search.  For example, #mesh11 has been coming up in my tweet stream a lot today. A quick search told me this:

From WhatTheTrend: What is #mesh11 Follow events and conferences. Speaking of conferences, events increasingly have a designated event hashtag; this can be a good way to connect with other people at the same event – or to catch highlights if you aren’t able to attend! While there aren’t any exact standards about this, sometimes this information is posted to the event’s website. Or the hosts may be displaying tweets on their website, in which case you may be able to find the hashtag that way.

Spy on your friends. A great way to find out about great Twitter conversations is to pay attention when your friends are participating in them!

Twitter chats I try to follow and join when I can

#blogchat (advice for bloggers) – Sundays @ 9pm ET
#entrepchat (for business owners, entrepreneurs) – Sundays @ 10pm ET
#kaisenblog (diverse business topics) – Friday @ noon
#ktt (a small-business chat) – Tuesdays @ 2pm ET
* This chat is part of Kitchen Table Talks show on the online Pulse Network
#nptalk (non-profit tech-slanted chat) – Wednesdays @ 3pm ET
#smNPchat (non-profit fundraising-slanted chat) – every other Friday at 12pm noon ET
*I co-host this one with founder @PamelaGrow and other co-host @marcapitman
#smchat (broader social media chat) – every other Wednesday at 1pm ET
#smmeasure (social media measurement) – Thursdays at 12pm noon ET
#solopr (for public relations freelancers) – Wednesdays at 1pm ET

There are so many conversations taking place on Twitter at any given time, I hope you’ll join in. If you have any questions about Twitter chats, please post in the comments!