Almost as soon as we sent our first tweet (back in 2008), the HIV.gov team started participating in Twitter chats. Over the years, we’ve joined chats as an invited federal voice; we’ve guided community members in joining their first Twitter chat; and we’ve helped managers to plan and assess the effectiveness of their Twitter chats. Today, as we approach the February 7th observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, our team is sharing our ideas on what makes a successful awareness day Twitter chat.
Tip #1: Leverage Partnerships
You work with partners in real life, so it should be the same online. Working with other organizations, you can co-host a chat or join as a participant. Not only does this share time spent preparing for and promoting an event, it can enrich the dialog and extend the reach of your content. As you consider opportunities to invite co-hosts, participants, and guest experts, think about organizations that have messages that are consistent with and/or complementary to your own but that reach different audiences or provide different services. This will help broaden the visibility of each organization.
Tip #2: Promote Early and Often
Getting people to participate in your chat is key to having a meaningful conversation. Since we know that visuals often get more engagement than text, create a promotional graphic to help your chat stand out in a crowd of digital communication. At HIV.gov, we also find that posting several reminders at different times of the day is helpful for reaching different parts of your audience. Twitter is the obvious place to promote your upcoming chat, but how else can you get the word out? Leveraging your other social media platforms, your website, your email platform, and traditional communications (make sure all of your team members know to talk up your chat!) can increase attendance and participation. Promoting outside of Twitter should occur more than a few days out.
Tip #3: Leverage the Official Hashtag
Each HIV/AIDS observance has a commonly used hashtag (e.,g., #NBHAAD for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day). Many people will be searching Twitter for the official hashtag so it’s important to include it in your promotional content and during the event. Some events also include a chat-specific hashtag to make it easier to track metrics and look back at what happened during the chat. However, be thoughtful when choosing a chat hashtag; hashtags that are too long or using too many hashtags may make it harder for your participants. If you’re using a new chat hashtag, remember to see who else might be using the same hashtag and, if it’s available, register it in advance. Here is some additional information on the basics of using hashtags.
Tip #4: Ask the Right Questions, the Right Way
A well-crafted set of questions for a chat is essential. Broad-enough questions lead the conversation to a meaningful depth and allow diverse handles to weigh in with substantive comments. When developing the questions, ask yourself: is each question relevant to the theme and core messages of the observance? Have I allowed room for different viewpoints? Are we prepared to address follow-up questions from the participants? Once you’ve developed a draft of your questions, remember to review for plain language to ensure your questions are clear to the general public. This will help followers who may not be deeply familiar with the HIV epidemic.
Tip #5: Make Time for Conversation
The right questions matter, but allowing participants adequate time to respond is key to generating genuine interaction and engagement from your audience. Structuring a chat with a script is a matter of striking the right balance between asking the right number of questions, engaging with different participants as they answer, and leaving room for additional comments. The conversation will be enriched by considering what pace and volume fits the topic. For some participants, hearing from each other about local activities is of particular interest. During the chat, remember that your script is a guide that can be adjusted in length, order, and tone, as the conversation evolves. It’s often helpful to have all chat co-hosts on a conference call line together during the chat to discuss changes in the script and other logistics.
Bonus Tip: Include a Call-to-Action
Pointing your audience to educational resources for the awareness day is great, but we think it’s always important to ask yourself: what action do I want my audience to take? What behavior am I trying to impact? Clearly identifying a single action step you want all participants to take (e.g., get an HIV test, share campaign resources, watch a video) can increase the effectiveness and focus of your chat. Repeat the call-to-action often and make it the primary link in your tweets.
Terricha Phillips, Digital Media Specialist, My Brother’s Keeper, Inc. (MBK) told us about the effectiveness of Twitter chats:
“A social media chat provides a digital public forum for individuals to express reasons for spreading awareness during observances like National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Fresh ideas, innovative strategies, data, and stories from the field show the world how everyday people come together and do their part to eliminate health disparities and advance health equity.”
The future of HIV communication is digital - the time to act is now! For more about the HIV/AIDS awareness days and more tips about organizing Twitter chats, check out these articles and links: