July 17, 2009

Using Twitter for a global conversation

Amy Sample WardOver the last few months, we have seen Twitter serve the global community by playing an important role in communications – whether it’s finding new friends (#FollowFriday), or telling the world about your government/election/political state (#IranElection), whether it’s having a conversation together (#4Change), or non-linearly replacing your RSS feed.  What do those # mean? That’s part of the key to success when using Twitter for a Global conversation. Using hashtags lets you mark your message as pertaining to a certain topic, then automatically include that message in a stream with everyone else’s that include the same hashtag.  Using Twitter search or other tools, you can watch news and updates about the election in Iran by using #IranElection; or, find interesting people to follow and connect with using #FollowFriday to peruse the recommendations that pile up on Fridays.

There are many opportunities to see hashtags in action! There are also more and more opportunities emerging for people to coordinate global conversations that happen at the same time, instead of disconnected over time (still tied together via hashtag). I am part of the planning team working on the monthly chat series behind #4Change. There is also a Twitter-based chat starting up for consultants who work with social benefit organizations.

I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from my involvement with organizing Twitter chats. I’m looking forward to your ideas, too!

1. Build a landing pad

It is helpful to have some place where you can send people interested in your topic or chat that haven’t participated before – whether it’s a website, a blog, or just a separate Twitter account.  If you have a landing pad somewhere online where you can refer people and provide information about your chats, your group, or your purpose in more than 140 characters, it will save you a lot of extra tweeting!  Plus, it will provide a natural and obviously place to aggregate your content, thoughts, updates, and promotion of the chats.

2. Brainstorm lots of questions but pick a few

It seems obvious that people using a communication tool like Twitter, and then electing to participate in a large-scale public chat would not require much prodding to keep conversation going.  But, it is actually just this reason that it’s more important to pre-select your questions.  Twitter chats are slower moving than you’d expect because everyone is waiting on the Twitter search to refresh with new posts.  It works best to have 3-5 questions selected ahead of time and shared with a core group of chat leaders or guides.  This way, there is a group of people helping keep the conversation on track, focused on one question at a time.  Otherwise, the group can quickly and easily splinter off to other topics using other hashtags, after all, that’s what Twitter enables all day, every day.

3. Consider your time

If you really want to pull in participants from all over the world, it’s important to consider what time you are holding the chat.  It’s also important to consider how long you want the chat to be.  Knowing that Twitter based chats are slower in development and pace than something like a live web chat, you don’t want it to be too narrow of a window, but you can only hold people’s attention for so long as well.

4. Narrow your focus

#4Change or #NPCons (nonprofit consultants) seem like pretty obvious topics. But coordinating a conversation would be far too difficult without a specific topic for that chat because the possibilities for questions or specific ideas within those two general topics are endless.  For example, recent 4Change topics have included using competitions for social change and Twitter as a political/revolutionary tool.  This also means people can identify ahead of time any resources they want to share during the chat and if they are interested in the specific topic of the month or not.

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July 2, 2009

Creating a compendium of Competitions for Change

Amy Sample WardThe June #4Change chat topic focused on Challenges/Competitions for Social Change. Early on in that online chat, the request emerged for a compendium or other list of “all” the Challenges and Competitions focused on social benefit. Such an overview would let those interested in participating or facilitating a competition review the full landscape of options, characteristics of each, and so on.

So, to answer that call, the #4Change crew has started building the compendium and now it’s your turn to chip in! Here’s the link to see what we have so far.

Please contribute to the Competitions for Change Compendium!  Simply click here to add to the resource!

June 11, 2009

Join the conversation 4Change!

Amy Sample WardHere’s a new monthly Twitter-based conversation about how social media is helping to create change: #4Change. You can see it via the hashtag #4Change. (See our glossary for info about hashtags.) I’ll be chatting this Thursday for the June #$Change chat and hope you’ll join me!


  • Date: Thursday, June 11
  • Where: Twitter (search for #4Change)
  • When: 5 – 7 pm US Eastern Time
  • Topic: How can challenges/competitions be used to discover, support, and accelerate social change projects and solutions?

Why are we doing this and why would you want to join? Great questions:

Social media is becoming a key driver of social change, allowing for the dissemination of new ideas, the formation of new communities and coalitions and the realization of new efficiencies and reach by existing social change groups. Throughout the world activists, organizers and non-profit professionals are exploring how best to use these tools, and sharing the results using the tools themselves. However these conversations are less international and therefore less effective than they could be.

We have so much to learn from each other. From new forms of political campaigning in the United States, experiments in e-government and civic participation in England, from the fight against internet censorship in Australia and New Zealand and from start-ups in Canada and France. And beyond.

We need a platform for lightweight, easily-organized and openly accessible conversations involving people from numerous countries. Twitter, I believe, provides us with such a platform.  –#4Change

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