A chat is defined as “an informal conversation”. To engage in a chat is “to talk in a friendly, informal way”.
Chatting is equally applicable to friends and strangers, and is customarily performed in a relaxed and leisurely manner.
But almost all of this changes when it comes to a Twitter chat, and you are one of the chat hosts.
Which is exactly what I did, and was, for the first #HFChitChat live Twitter chat, which occurred this past Tuesday, August 27 at 9:00pm Eastern.
Best laid plans
I’ve previously written about the origins of #HFChitChat, the online Twitter community for writers and lovers of historical fiction that I co-founded with fellow histfic writer Sydney Young.
This community was Syd’s brainchild that, in due course, she convinced me to get involved in as well. Syd and I were committed to having our first live chat be a success—for it to set a strong, positive tone for future chats and community activities.
And so for three whole weeks, we worked on doing just that.
Mine and Syd’s chat planning comprised three main requirements: 1) promotion of the chat, 2) engagement of people we hoped would attend and participate, and 3) creation of the specific chat content.
Although we consulted each other on all of these, our individual skills and experience saw us naturally gravitating towards certain areas.
Syd, the lawyer, the actor, the gregarious Texan, was a perfect fit for engagement. She knew exactly what was needed to get @hfchitchat, our brand-new, ground-floor, zero-followers Twitter identity up and running.
She jumped straight into scheduling tweets, getting the attention of historical fiction influencers, and interacting both with new followers and those @hfchitchat was now following, in hopes of getting them to follow us back.
Meanwhile, being a nitpicky program evaluator and coordinator, I found an unexpected niche in promotions. This included designing our branded graphics (although Syd devised the initial design), determining our messaging and calls to action about the chat itself, and the creation of our promotional workback plan for the three weeks leading up to the chat.
Syd and I both worked on the chat content, first separately and then together—an iterative collaboration via cloud-based shared documents. It was also a meeting of minds of two question-focused professions, those of lawyer and program evaluator.
In many ways, coming up with various chat topics and specific chat questions was the easiest part of the entire planning process. This was in stark and surprising comparison to the selection of the first live chat topic.
Typically, I’m very slow to make up my mind about anything. In this matter, however, from almost day one, I knew which topic I wanted to do first.
Syd, however, #HFChitChat’s ongoing “idea maven” to my more operational bent, wanted to take her time considering the best first topic. And consider it she did—until at least five “we have to decide the topic” emails and DMs from me later, she finally agreed to the topic I’d suggested.
That topic being “why write and read historical fiction?”
Behind the times
All of our efforts worked swimmingly and yielded continuous progress. (We did so well I actually tossed out the last couple days of my promotional plan.) The three weeks passed in a flash and the next thing we knew, the chat was tomorrow.
Nitpicky coordinator that I am, I’d for days been thinking about how best to operate during the chat. Neither Syd nor I had ever hosted a Twitter chat before, but we’d both participated in them.
The most recent one I’d joined was a few months ago. In one browser tab of Twitter, I’d followed the chat hashtag, which moved quickly. At the same time, in a second tab of Twitter, I followed my notifications, which multiplied the more tweets I posted and responded to.
It was, in a word, hectic. But also valuable practice, for now I’d be on the back end of the event for #HFChitChat.
Which was, again, in a word, HECTIC. To wit:
It was fun and frantic! pic.twitter.com/m0dlp57MQS
— Janna G. Noelle (@jgnoelle) August 28, 2019
I’d volunteered to run the @hfchitchat Twitter during the chat (it’s a shared account for which Syd and I both have access) while Syd would tweet from her personal account. Since the seven chat questions had been scheduled via Tweetdeck, I didn’t think the experience would be drastically different from tweeting from my own account.
I was wrong.
The challenge with tweeting from the same account that posted the questions meant that I received a notification for everything. Every like, every retweet, every comment people posted, every comment on their comments, every like or retweet of those comments.
It was very difficult to keep up. By the end of the chat’s allotted hour, I was still engaging with tweets from half an hour earlier.
I only found time to post my own answers to two of the seven chat questions.
The problem is that Twitter notifications are logged chronologically. This meant that although I mainly wanted to see people’s direct answers to the questions (or their retweets where they commented with their answer), all the comments on comments from earlier questions (of which there were *a lot*) prevented my getting to the direct answers in a timely manner.
Thank goodness for Syd! With fewer notifications to wade through, she got to the direct answers much faster (although the next day she told me she’d done it all on her phone, which was 78% fewer fingers than I’d employed on my laptop).
I saw many of her comments on comments in the @hfchitchat notifications, and was glad that she was able to stay more or less on schedule.
Still, both of us were still tweeting away a whole other hour later. I was on vacation back home in Halifax at the time, in the Atlantic time zone. Thus for me, a whole other hour brought me to midnight.
My butt was killing me, I was starting to get a headache from staring at my computer so intently for two hours, and I was now so wired, it was hours more before I settled enough to fall asleep.
But it was such a great experience overall! The reason I was drowning in notifications was because so many writers and lovers of historical fiction were engaged with the topic, and the community we’d created in general.
There were so many thoughtful, eloquent answers as to why people find historical fiction special and valuable. And best of all, people were connecting with each other as well, not just with Syd and me.
All those notifications for comments on comments were the result of people chatting amongst themselves—discovering their commonalities, sharing tips and recommendations, and celebrating their love of the genre.
Exactly as Syd (and I—eventually) envisioned.
I can’t wait for the next live chat—and not just because it will be Syd’s turn to run the @hfchitchat account. I’ve got some ideas on how to better manage the volume of notifications in any case.
With luck, as we progress and this community continues to grow, we will need them.
Follow @hfchitchat on Twitter to be part of the community, and join us for the next #HFChitChat live Twitter chat on Tuesday, September 24 at 9:00pm EDT (UTC-04:00).
(Images: J.G. Noelle)