Understanding the Power of Twitter Chats at USAID #KMWorld

kmworld-socialSpeakers: Zachary Baquet, Knowledge Management Specialist, US Agency for International Development (USAID); Maciej Chmielewski, Communications Specialist & Digital Media Producer, Insight Systems Corporation

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2014 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

Session Description: For the past year and a half, USAID Bureau for Food Security has experimented with #AskAg Twitter Chats to drive engagement and knowledge exchange inside and outside of its Agrilinks.org community. Part of Twitter’s value lies in its ability to foster global, multidirectional communications between users that can lead to real and meaningful knowledge exchange. The #AskAg Chats have moved from one-way, ask-the-expert type events to lively conversations in which participants share their experiences with the experts as well as each other. Speakers describe the process for implementing the chats and how it has changed, other products developed from the Twitter Chats, metrics used, and more.


  • Challenge: how to distribute knowledge housed in the organization to all the field staff and affiliates around the world.
  • History: They had a very elegant “Ask the Experts” system in place. However, those experts didn’t have the bandwidth or incentives to engage with everyone in the field who had a question.
  • Why Twitter Chats: they are quick, easy and globally distributed. By doing an 60-90 minute Twitter chat, they were able to concentrate the focus of the experts and the field staff.
  • Method: The chats have a structure to help people understand what the conversation is about and how it will proceed. They are conceived as a highly controlled Q&A session where it is ok to say no. Behind the questions is a Google Docs spreadsheet for each chat. That spreadsheet contains the themes that will be asked during the chat. These themes are then translated into 4 guiding questions. The experts can type their answers into the spreadsheet before the chat. Then a guiding question and the related answers are released every 15 minutes. This eliminates dead space on the chat. After each chats, the gather the tweets via Storify. Storify provides a recap of guiding questions. Further, it might also include a specially written synthesis plus an aggregated list of links and resources that were shared during the chat.
  • Roles & Responsibilities: They work with approximately 100 experts who are the chat players. There are also chat operators: 3 individuals to run a particular chat:
    • Curator
    • Controller
    • Director
  • Lessons Learned: 
    • Encourage a conversation. You need to show participants how to participate and gain value. (The structure helps — especially for newcomers to Twitter)
    • Have a framework so people know what the conversation is about. This helps them find order in the chaos of Twitter
    • Summarize and curate the knowledge shared.
  • What value emerged? After their first 12 Twitter chats, they prepared a chat report tat desceibed the process, metrics, feedback and recommendations. Their spreadsheet for each chat is available in Google Docs for others who want to use it.  Finally, they gave their experts a guidance document that explained roles, respsonsibilities and expectations. You can find these resources at Agrilinks.org/TwitterChats

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