By Brenda Bethman
For this installment on best practices, I wanted to write about my experience helping to set up a Twitter chat. The #femlead chat (held every other Tuesday at 2 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. CST) is a project of the University of Venus (as well as other contributors who write for us, ProfHacker, and/or other places). We held our first chat in February 2012, so we’ve been going strong for almost a year (which is hard to believe, I have to say!). Here’s what we’ve done that I think has helped us keep the momentum going:
- Filled a need: The mission of #femlead states, in part, that “#femlead is for those who lead, those with vision, those who seek to support one another in the challenges and opportunities facing us in all areas of academic life (faculty, staff, administrators).” We are female-centered, but welcome all voices to the conversation. There was no similar chat on Twitter before we started, but there was definitely a need as has been evidenced by enthusiastic response, including this blogpost from Liz Gloyn, in which she describes #femlead as a type of “informal mentoring.”
- Recruited widely for facilitators: In an attempt to involve as many people as possible, we have recruited widely for chat hosts — and each facilitator hosts the chat from her/his own account. This has allowed us to include many voices and also gives the facilitators more exposure — exposure they wouldn’t get if we hosted the chat from a generic femlead Twitter account.
- Archive: After each chat, we post an archive on Storify, which allows folks who missed a chat or who just want to review shared links/advice to access the chat after it’s over.
- Keep it short: #femlead is a 30-minute Twitter chat. When setting it up, we debated whether to go with 30 or 60 minutes and decided to try 30 in case no one showed up. Well, folks did show up, but we’ve left it at 30 as we’ve found that, while, it goes by quickly, it allows us to focus in a way that an hour might not. It also seems to encourage participation and interaction between chat participants as it’s easier to find 30 free minutes in a day.
The other reasons for our success, I think, are the wide variety of topics we’ve covered (there really is something for everyone) and community-building through the use of the hashtag during our off weeks. And, of course, my fabulous collaborators, Mary Churchill and Janine Utell, not to mention the participants. If you haven’t yet joined us, mark your calendars for Dec. 18, 2 pm EST / 1 pm CST when Natalie Houston will facilitate a chat on how to get the most from your winter break.