How to participate in a Twitter chat

A Twitter chat can seem overwhelming - some basic tips will get you chatting in no time. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

WASHINGTON – A Twitter chat is a real-time, informal conversation between people interested in a topic – yet it can be confusing to understand the concept and how to participate.

The free-flowing, open-to-anyone Twitter chat provides an opportunity to discuss everything from news of the day, to tutorials, to discussions of favorite hobbies.

Here are the basics to get you up and chatting.

Get a Twitter account: Twitter is free. It’s easiest to sign up for an account on a desktop, at www.twitter.com. You’ll need to provide an email address to correspond with the account.

Now what? When you get an account you’ll choose a Twitter handle, which begins with an @ sign. My Twitter handle is @AugensteinWTOP. Whenever anyone on Twitter types my handle I get a notification. That’s referred to as saying “someone is tweeting at me.”

What’s a tweet? Each tweet is a maximum of 140 characters. You choose who you want to follow, and others can choose to be your followers. Basically, when you tweet something, your tweet shows up on your followers’ feed.

So only my followers can see what I’m tweeting? Here’s where it gets fun. If someone you follow says something witty or interesting, you might want to share it with your followers, with a Retweet, which is accomplished by typing RT in front of the clever tweeter’s handle.

What’s this hashtag that Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon were talking about? The hashtag – #- the thing you used to call a ‘number sign,” is an important Twitter basic. The hashtag, when placed directly before a word, provides a way to group and view comments about that topic. So, if you type #myfavoritesong in Twitter’s Discover or Search box, you’ll see tweets from anyone who included #myfavoritesong in their tweet.

Ready to chat

As you’re getting comfortable with Twitter, you’ll no doubt see mention of an upcoming Twitter chat on a topic of interest. Take note of the date and time that it begins, and most important, what the hashtag is. Here’s an example:

A few minutes before the chat begins, search for the appropriate hashtag for the chat, in this case it was #mojochat. (By the way, mojo is short for mobile journalism, or reporting with mobile phones and tablets.)

When the chat begins, the moderator will introduce him or herself, as well as any guest panelists, and lay the ground rules. In each case, these tweets will include your chat’s hashtag.

Often when the moderator begins posing questions of the guests or chatters, the question will start with Q1.

If you want to respond, start with A1 (short for ‘answer to question 1) and make sure to include your chat’s hashtag in each tweet.

Others will chime in their answers. As long as they include your chat’s hashtag, you’ll see what everyone is saying.

At some point the moderator will ask another question (Q2) and the conversation will continue.

If someone tweets a question or answer that you really like, it’s considered good form to retweet, or RT it.

Generally Twitter chats run about an hour.

One of the nice things about Twitter chats is when the live exchange is over, you can still recreate the discussion by searching for the chat’s hashtag.

Often the moderator will memorialize the Twiiter chat with Storify, which essentially pulls together all of the interaction into a single URL, which can be shared. The moderator of the #mojochat created this Storify:

Got it? Those are the basics. See you at the next chat!

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPtech on Twitter.

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