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Twitter Chats Reveal the Future of Online Communities

TalentCulture Team + Guests
TalentCulture Team + Guests
by
June 18, 2011

Written by Omowale Casselle

Recently, I have been paying a lot of attention to different chats that happen on Twitter. Quite honestly, these community focused discussions are extremely interesting to me because of what I believe they reveal about the future characteristics of online communities. (If you’re a regular here at TalentCulture, you probably have participated in this community’s popular Wednesday evening #TChats. If not, I recommend you do!)

Collective vs. Individual Ownership

  • While there is usually someone who has come up with the initial idea for a hashtag, by and large it is owned by the community of participants. No one can trademark or copyright a hashtag. Also, the social nature of the platform makes it difficult to prevent anyone from using it.  This collective group ownership is a valuable element of future online communities. When people feel ownership, they become careful stewards of what has been created.  In many ways, they are so in love with their experience that they refuse for others to destroy what has been built. As a result, you will often find community members passionately maintaining community norms.

Participation varies and depends on interest/expertise/willingness to share

  • In online communities there has always been a distribution of participation. With hashtags, there are additional ways to foster participation. For example, even if you are too shy to speak; one can simply re-tweet something that they find especially valuable or interesting.  By lowering the barriers of participation, more people are drawn in which is the key to utilizing the collective knowledge of the community.

Many of the most popular are based on niche topics with the core value proposition being the opportunity to learn more

  • Many hashtags are first and foremost an opportunity for others to learn about an area of interest.  This shift away from self-gratification towards mutual gratification is one that I think is especially exciting about these communities.  Instead of people hoarding knowledge, hashtag chats give participants an opportunity to share their learnings with others. In the process, valuable social capital is earned which gives people with key insights increased hierarchy within the online community.

Heavily focused on crowdsourcing (Moderator asks questions and variety of people weigh in on the subject, the most popular or well received answers are typically re-tweeted)

  • Many hashtag chats are loosely organized around the topic of a few questions with the community being asked to respond based on what they think.  Within this dynamic, community participants can ask burning questions that are on their mind around the subject of interest.  This simultaneous loose and rigid structure is especially appealing to participants.  In addition, the real-time nature of the communication channel enables moderators and community members to key in on subjects that are of great interest.  This helps keep the interest of community members and keeps them coming back each week to learn more about a specific topic.

While these trends are just developing, it will be interesting to see how they evolve to become what I believe will be the foundation of successful online communities moving forward.  This represents a shift from the closed model that many web 1.0 communities were based upon.

Remember, the model that forced you to register for a site to figure out if the community was interesting.  Once you realized it wasn’t, they already had your email address to spam you with.  No longer! In this new dynamic, you have to show your worth in the open community before people will even give you a chance to move into a closed, intimate relationship.

This dynamic is especially crucial for employers who are seeking to engage with prospective candidates to master. By moderating online discussions around subjects related to their industry, company, or individual opportunities, employers can create a dynamic recruiting environment that will be irresistible to candidates.

Comments

  1. Nice summing up of the benefits of Twitter chats. Another benefit I’ve found to using hashtags is to continue a conversation once a chat has ended. As @JLichtenberg told me, the conversation in #scifichat is never really over, and I like that we can continue to contribute and learn from the conversation even after the live chat has ended. I also find that hashtags in tweets makes it easier for me to zero in on what may have particular interest for me in the stream, which has gotten pretty fast (like all that machine code going by in a Matrix trailer). Even further, hashtags can provide very short commentary on a link or quote (#justsayin) or clarify what may be made obscure by the 140 char limit (115, if you leave room for retweeting).

    • Robyn,

      Thanks for the comment. That is definitely a great point about the semi-permanence, asynchronous nature of a Twitter chat. Those who may have missed it can simply search the hashtag to see the great conversation that took place.

      Omowale

  2. Omowale,
    What a great topic. I like the perspective you’re spreading with this post. TweetChats are a great idea to duplicate within an organization (within the firewall for SM conservative co’s). I love the idea particularly for company’s planning and rolling through change. I can see using crowdsourcing for input on prototypes, events, process improvement, and so on.

    Like you said, this trend is developing. I hope that it evolves into a valuable tool to involve the organizational community (even customers) in decisions and formation of ideas.

    Shawn

    • Omowale Casselle

      Hi Shawn,

      That’s a great point about bringing this concept within the walls of the organization. Since we can often benefit from the wisdom of others, it makese sense to leverage employees when working through major changes.

      I’m interested in what those who use Yammer would have to say about the usefulness of the tool for the examples you highlighted.

      Omowale

  3. Your point about participation is spot-on. Interestingly enough, it’s the reason why many teachers are starting to bring Twitter into the classroom to complement lectures and discussions. Hooray for dynamic education!

    • Kevin,

      Thanks for sharing another great example. Glad to see Twitter being brought into the classroom. Love to see social media connecting students locally and perhaps globally. By generating a collective knowledge base, these students will be well equipped to solve future global challenges.

      Omowale

  4. Chris Jones

    Truly excellent post, Omowale, on the dynamics of the twitter chat. As the founder of 2 and an avid participant of 4-5 more (incluing #tchat and #blogchat) I thought I had a decent handle on the key drivers – but you introduced some fresh thinking.

    - Collective hash tag ownership (a steward’s role)
    - Low barriers for participation (engagement)
    - Sharing, not hoarding
    - Loose, while structured (balance)

    Great to see energy and creativity on this at TC. Thanks for sharing, some great insights!

    Chris @SourcePOV

    • Omowale Casselle

      Hi Chris,

      I definitely appreciate the feedback. Keep up the great activity in social media, there is a lot to learn.

      Omowale

  5. Although I think you might be overselling them a little bit, you’re definitely on to something. I’ve been looking at these for a while now (e.g. http://mistakengoal.com/blog/2010/02/05/beginning-new-research-sachat/ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3_NpscCwJQ&hd=1) and they’re definitely an interesting use of a very limited tool. Having given this considerable thought for well over a year now, I believe that Chris’s idea of “low barriers for participation” should be extended. The medium itself has low barriers to participation and those are important to the growth and perceived success of many Twitter chats. In particular, it seems important that Twitter is (a) free, (b) very simple, and (c) very accessible (i.e. accessible using many different tools on many different platforms).

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the feedback. I’m a big believer in the benefits of social media and social networking. Not trying to oversell, simply highlighting what I see as some emerging benefits of one element within the channel. I appreciate the opposing point of view. Ideally, through these exchanges we can both learn about potential benefits as well as limitations.

      Best,

      Omowale

  6. GregoryleNt

    Too bad about twitter search … Useless after a few days

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