I participate in a lot of Twitter chats. If you’ve been on Twitter for any length of time you’ve most like seen someone on your stream start tweeting far more than normal, using a hashtag in every tweet. I wrote about this on Icrontic last year, indicating my belief that using a hashtag for conversation is awkward, annoying to those who aren’t interested, and ultimately damaging to your community. As a follow-up to that, the very popular (in the Detroit area) #backchannel tag started getting spammed last week. There were a lot of complaints but there’s nothing anyone can do about it, because the community manager doesn’t own the platform, and therefore ultimately has no control over the conversation.
It works the same on Facebook. While controlling spam is definitely easier, Facebook can (and has, in the past) made changes that have forced community managers into panic mode to deal with drastic and unannounced changes. Just the other day, Facebook killed the “discussions” tab. How many communities do you think that impacted?
First of all, a community needs an online home that is not a microblog. Twitter is a fantastic outreach tool; Facebook is a good way to share information. They can both be used to help people find your community, but ultimately your online community needs a place to call home; a place uniquely theirs that lets them know they’re in the right place. For our clients, we install a custom-built system of Vanilla forums integrated with WordPress that gives all the advantages of a familiar blog format with the power, SEO benefit, and community tools of a discussion forum. We also install a gamification system that creates massive uptake in community member engagement.
But back to Twitter chats:
There are three Twitter chats I’ve been participating in for a long time: #Tweetea, #backchannel, and #cmgrchat. I feel like I’m a part of a community with each of those groups, but I have no online home to go to engage with other members. Each of those chats is on a schedule: #backchannel, for example, is every night during the local news broadcast. It seems inappropriate and like bad etiquette to Tweet #backchannel during “off” times. If I want to engage with those community members, where do I go?
The other problem with Twitter chats is that there is no archive or record of past chats. The content, ideas, and helpful nuggets of information are lost to the Twitter firehose after the chat is over. It can be very difficult to recall “Who was that funny person who said something awesome about that thing last week on #cmgrchat?”
Having those discussions moved into a forum, where chats are forever archived as discussion threads and posts, is a very elegant solution for this problem; imagine having a forever archive of your Twitter chats, with all the SEO and content longevity benefits. You now have a growing library of your community’s collective brainpower.
A better way to hashtag
Imagine a world in which Twitter supported #hashtags the same way they supported @replies: If you want to see Tweets from #hashtag, you follow it. If you want to engage #hashtag, you put it at the beginning. That way, only interested parties see (and follow) #hashtag chats.
That part is a pipe dream; Twitter would benefit greatly from this. Regardless, with the Twitter API, we can integrate hashtagged Tweets beautifully and seamlessly with your forum.
If you manage a community that is using Twitter chat for discussion and outreach, consider moving to a forum setup. The benefits are tremendous, and your community will thank you.
Update from Jenn Pedde, one of the co-founders of #cmgrchat, who reached out to correct something I got wrong. She says,
“All chat digests are archived on www.thecommunitymanager.com and all discussions from the chat continue on the blog posts there (many community members write for the site, and we’re always asking for contributions), and conversations do continue on the www.facebook.com/thecmgr page. There will also be a forum coming soon. We actively try to take #cmgrchat into an owned property for the reasons you listed.”