Is a #TweetChat the best way to debate a thorny issue? 4 learning points and a question

Is a #TweetChat the best way to debate a thorny issue? 4 learning points and a question

So how effective is a TweetChat for deliberating complex issues? Can you properly debate in 140 character snippets? And can a TweetChat be satisfying or frustrating to participate in?

For those of you new to the concept, a TweetChat is a pre-scheduled chat on a specific topic, in which people can participate using a #hashtag, during a specified time period. There is a range of health related regular chats emerging, such as the well-established #nhssm and the more recent #BPDchat,as well as a range of chats organised by specific professional groups.

@wenurses organise weekly TweetChats on nursing topics and I’d like to share a few reflections on the chat that took place last night (17 January 2013) using the hashtag #wenurses. You can find a post and storify of the conversation here.

The chat came about on the suggestion of @Anniecoops after she had read a joint post I put together with @chaosandcontrol on the subject of social media use in mental health inpatient settings. The post had a lot of hits, and a number people with inpatient experience, shared negative experiences they had had on wards, in the comments.

It was for this reason that I hoped that lots of people with personal inpatient experience would participate in the chat. In my experience of other NHS TweetChats, the professional/practitioner voice has predominated, and people with a patient or personal perspective have often only tentatively contributed. One possible reason for this became apparent when a tweep expressed concern about the amount of jargon that might be used and that they might not be able to keep up.

First learning point  even in social spaces like Twitter we all need to think carefully about using language that is inclusive and avoids alienating others from getting involved or creating cliques. It is necessary to actively invite people who may feel excluded and make an explicit point about avoiding jargon. The host should ask people to explain jargon when they use it.

The chat lasted an hour, and during that time there were 140 participants, over 1000 tweets and nearly 2 million impressions. The web page for this chat has already had over 1500 visits. It would not have been possible to organise anything offline on this scale without substantial expense and time.

Second learning pointthe potential scale of participation on Twitter is immense and so is the reach, even to those who do not participate at the time. The ability to amplify and spread deliberative conversations is immense and makes Twitter a powerful tool in this respect.

I was struck by the diversity of participants during the chat. There were many nurses plus others with an interest in the topic, but most importantly there were lots of people sharing personal experiences. I believe this importantly influenced the quality of the discussion that took place. How often do nurses have the opportunity engage with people using services as part of their professional development?

Third learning point – the level playing field created by Twitter affords a more equal space for people to participate in deliberative discussion (assuming people aren’t excluded by jargon). Professionally led chats should actively seek out and encourage people with lived experience to get involved in enhance the quality and diversity of points of view.

Lastly, the sheer volume of tweets made it incredibly difficult to keep up with the discussion in real time. This caused me to reflect on the depth of deliberation which can take place during a Twitter chat, when the conversation is moving so fast.

Fourth learning pointthe speed of chats may be at the expense of depth of discussion. However, this can be mitigated by the use of pre-reading, blog posts with invited comments, and curaton of the chat with the opportunity to comment provided. This means the deliberation starts way before the chat itself and can continue some time afterwards as well.

And a final question… to what extent does the public nature of the chat decrease people’s willingness to say what they really think? Is there the potential for people to agree with each other to either be seen to be nice or to avoid embarrassment or conflict? And is this any different to fears which we all tend to have in any group setting? Or does an online space ecrease inhibitions and enable people to say things they would not feel comfortable expressing face-to-face?

I would love to hear from you if you participated in the chat (or in other chats), either on the basis of your personal inpatient experience, nursing experience, or as just someone interested in the topic. What was your experience and do you have different or similar reflections to me?





Tweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookPin on PinterestFlattr the author


  1. Can a tweet chat leave a service user adrift if they tweet a comment about their experiences then cannot follow the rest of the chat due to a ‘bombardment’ of other tweets? How can this be addressed? There may be an initial desire to contribute but a failure to ‘keep up’ may result in anxiety.

  2. Hi Victoria, I’ve recently come across your blog after being alerted to it by Chaos and Control blogger Little Feet. I work for the mental health team of a charity supporting the third sector in Powys in Mid Wales –

    Little Feet also told me about the Tweetchat. I didn’t contribute (no twitter account for our team yet), but I did watch on from the sidelines, and my first impression was – this is so interesting, but I just can’t keep up because the tweets are streaming in non-stop! Afterwards I read through the chat using Storify, but whilst this did help, I found it tricky to bring the discussion back to life.

    Are there any other digital tools that could be used to sum up the main points of a discussion, or would this basically require a person to sift through and do this manually?

    • Although it is time consuming, if you are really interested in the content of a Twitter Chat there is value in organising the content into themes that emerge. Storify let’s you do this. An example of how this could look are in this blog post:
      and this curated, organised storing:


  3. Hi Victoria, My experience is similar in that unless the chair person keeps things in order, such as keeping people on topic and reminding people to use the hashtag then things can easily get scrambled.

    There are a few chats that have a set time to debate a questions within the chat, so people have to finish up and move on to the next topic. I see no reason why some discussions can’t be then moved to a blog as you then get a more considered discussion if required. Or if the topic perhaps needs considered responses be a blog chat.

    Totally agree about inclusive language, but not convinced about the level playing field point. I say that because there is the question of the usual suspects potentially hogging the limelight. People who are new to a tweet chat can feel nervous about dipping their toe in amongst seasoned veterans.

    I suppose taking it a bit further, I’m interested in how many people view or lurk. That applies to blogs too. I find if I read a blog post that I like then I will ‘like’ it and perhaps leave a comment. Some I just ‘like’ to show I’ve looked and wanted to show I appreciated the read. I never retweet a blog link without reading the post first though. Sometimes I won’t retweet the blog link if I don’t see the post as relevant to me or my followers, even if I might have ‘liked’ the post.

    And perhaps it is the same with tweet chats. I don’t see why people can’t just say they agree with a tweet and leave it at that.

    Interesting post, thanks.

  4. Hi @VictoriaBetton _just read yr blog – In answer to your Q, I believe that ppl don’t always say what they really think


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *