The Art of Running a Twitter Chat: Lessons from Dr. Richard Besser and ABC News

March 16, 2011 at 7:51 am 7 comments

I learned that Dr. Besser runs a weekly Twitter chat on Twitter, of course: @drrichardbesser: Reminder: Twitter chat today #abcDrBchat 1PM ET Are you prepared for a disaster? Let’s talk about it. @ABC

For the uninitiated, this translates to: Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor of ABC News and former acting director of the CDC, is running a Twitter chat about disaster preparation.

I participated in the chat because disaster preparedness was on my mind after being interviewed earlier in the day about how social media is being used in Japan and because I follow Dr. Besser and wanted to see how he conducted his chat. I participate in the weekly #hcsm chat when I can and lurk in others, so it’s fascinating to compare moderation techniques. The chat, by the way, was lively, informative, and well-attended. My personal highlight was when Dr. Besser retweeted me and then @ABC retweeted him!

I was in my office at Tufts School of Medicine and the door was open, so colleagues came by and enjoyed looking over my shoulder (they fell in the uninitiated category and were uniformly impressed that Dr. Besser wasn’t). After the chat ended, I contacted Dan Childs, aka DanChildsABC, who heads the Health section of ABCNews.com, to ask how Dr. Besser’s weekly chat started, how it is conducted, and what happens after the hour is over.

Lisa: Who had the idea to start the weekly chat with Dr. Besser? 
Dan: This was actually an idea that was hatched during a discussion between a few of us on the Health team and Niketa Patel, the Social Media Producer for ABCNews.com. We had wanted to do something special that would allow Dr. Besser to connect more directly to his audience through social media, and Niketa offered up this idea. This is the first such effort for a correspondent here at ABC News, so we’re the trailblazers in a way. Or the guinea pigs, depending on how you look at it. Trailblazing guinea pigs.
 
Lisa: Did he like the idea? 
Dan: Dr. Besser loved the idea. 
 
Lisa: This was my first chat with Dr. Besser but I see there is another next week. When did they start? 
Dan: Today was our fourth Twitter chat so far. We started about a month ago.
 
Lisa: How are topics selected?
Dan: Generally, the chat crew will share ideas either in a meeting or online. As with the chat today about disaster preparedness, we try to pick topics that are in the news and, therefore, within the public consciousness. Last week, Dr. Besser tweeted from Africa on issues of global health in the developing countries there. We try to pick something that is relevant, but also gives participants a feeling of going beyond the headlines to explore how these current issues are relevant to them.
 
Lisa: I was very impressed that Dr. Besser was supported by @LaraSalaABCNews, @BigCityRig, @CarrieHalperin, and @DanChildsABC. What actually happens during the chat?
Dan: Several members of the chat crew set up laptops in Dr. Besser’s office, while others of us participate from our offices and desks. Certain members of the chat crew will be responsible for certain aspects of the chat; one may be tasked with presenting questions during the chat, while another will be in charge of scouring ABCNews.com for articles that are relevant to the discussion at hand and posting those links. It is also usually helpful to have one or two people navigating various external sources on the web to ensure that all tweets we put out are based on the most current and reliable information available.
 
Lisa: What happens after the chat to review how it went? Who is there and what is the discussion? Are there noticeable changes the following week?
Dan: This is generally a discussion that takes place in the course of our Health team morning meetings, and then more informally throughout the day as we think of the things we learned from the previous chat session. What is great about this whole process is that the product has evolved pretty much constantly since its inception – every time we do this, we do at least one or two things a little bit differently. Sometimes these adjustments are small ones, probably barely noticeable to our audiences. But then there are larger changes that really seem to have an impact. In our most recent session, for example, we were able to coordinate with ABCNews.com to have the tweets appear in real-time in a text box on the Home Page and the Health page of the website. So when something like that happens, where the rest of the eyes in the network can see what you’re doing and how you’re interacting with the audience, that’s pretty exciting.

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End of Life Decision Making Social Media Metrics for Healthcare

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. https://www.rebelmouse.com/verbarrator  |  January 1, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Have you ever found it impossible to express yourself in Spanish simply because you didn’t know how to conjugate a Spanish verb? You knew the vocabulary words that you needed to express yourself in Spanish.

    Reply
  • 2. Helen Corless  |  March 18, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Hi Lisa,
    Great interview. Can’t wait to hear from Dan Childs in person in our upcoming Social Media class!

    Reply
  • 3. Ashleigh Pugh-Clarke  |  March 17, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Hi Lisa, Great post! Thanks so much for sharing…the de Souza Institute is trying out our first ever Twitter chat that will occur synchronously with a videoconference on April 5th for Oncology Nursing Day. This post will be really helpful in our planning of the chat portion of the event.

    Reply
    • 4. Lisa Gualtieri  |  March 31, 2011 at 3:18 am

      Hi Ashleigh,

      Please let us know when it is and how it goes – perhaps your experiences would make a great blog post?

      Lisa

      Reply
  • 5. Bridgette Collado  |  March 16, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Great post! I agree with Dan, interesting to learn about the behind-the-scenes functioning.

    The discussion about reviewing the chat afterward is a great reminder.

    Reply
  • 6. Dan Hinmon  |  March 16, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Appreciate the view into the back end of a Twitter chat. Thanks for the insight. Clearly a support team is key to their success.

    Reply
  • 7. Mike Morrison  |  March 16, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Great post Lisa, and congrats on the high profile RTs!

    Reply

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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Online Consumer Health, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design (online), and Digital Strategies for Health Communication (1 week summer institute). Contact Lisa: lisa.gualtieri@tufts.edu

@lisagualtieri


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