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The Power of Social Media: Insights on #AskAg Twitter Chats

Why do Twitter Chats? Do people find them worthwhile? One regular participant who joins our chats from Jamaica expressed the value he found in these online conversations: "I have no running water, but I have enough bandwidth to join a Twitter Chat, that is pretty great." Twitter Chats allow global conversations and information exchange online with low bandwidth requirements. The hashtag system (for us #AskAg) helps to hold these conversations together and connect various participants within the huge Twitter stream. With our #AskAg Twitter Chat Report, we share why we do them and what we have learned. 

I was a reluctant convert to Twitter. I have become less of an early adopter as time has gone on. I like to see evidence of the concrete things a given technology or software can do before trying them out. So while I was initially curious about Twitter and looked for possible uses within the context of my knowledge management work, nothing I came across seemed applicable. Of course, every new idea once thought changes how you think. 

It started with me looking for an alternative to Ask the Expert systems. These systems are deceptively simple to set up but often difficult to maintain because you need to have experts with the time to respond to questions. How many subject matter experts in your organization have time to do their jobs and answer submitted questions in a short time period? Unless the experts can respond within 48 hours, the person posing the question likely will consider it a wasted effort. 

Fortunately, I work with smart colleagues who share their experiences. A couple of years ago, I had coffee with Elizabeth Creel and Katie Cook with the Knowledge Management Services Project. They described doing Twitter Chats for Global Health. The chat would focus on a topic and have an expert taking and answering questions via Twitter. Epiphany. It seemed I had found both a minimalist Ask the Expert system and a professional use for Twitter. I brought this idea to my other smart colleagues (Lindsay Levin, Maciej Chmielewski, and Megan Murphy) with the Knowledge Driven Microenterprise Development Project, who had had similar thoughts about this use for Twitter. We decided to experiment with our own Twitter Chat. We just needed some experts willing to try something new. Emily Hogue and Tania Tam with USAID's Bureau for Food Security graciously volunteered to be our first Twitter Chat experts and answer questions about the Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index. #AskAg was born. 

We have had 14 #AskAg Twitter Chats since that first one in April 2012. We continue to learn and experiment with Twitter Chats. We have moved a long way from Twitter in Plain English to the present day Agrilinks #AskAg Twitter Chats. To keep with the spirit of sharing that helped to initiate the #AskAg Twitter Chat, I want to share with you resources we have developed. 

  • #AskAg Twitter Chat Report -- This report covers our first 12 Twitter Chats. It describes the metrics we used, our process and it's evolution, feedback from participants and experts, and recommendations for the future.
  • #AskAg Twitter Chat Spreadsheet -- This Google Doc was developed to help us and our experts handle the chaos of the Twitter stream.
  • Understanding the Power of Twitter -- A presentation that Maciej Chmielewski and I have given on the #AskAg Twitter Chats.
  • #AskAg Twitter Chat Guidance -- We provide this guidance to our Twitter chat experts to give them an overview of our process and what we expect from them.  

I hope you find these useful. Let us know what you think. How do you run your Twitter Chats? What do you get out of them?

Check out some photos from past Twitter Chats: