The rise of the #chat

I’m absolutely delighted that Sue Sibbald @BPDFFS has produced this guest post on #tweetchats for my blog. Hope you enjoy and do let Sue know what you think:

The #chat has become a popular feature on Twitter, with many people taking part. I co-run a chat on Twitter called #BPDChat with @amanda_stand, which was launched in April 2012 for people with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Each week we have a topic which people discuss for an hour, for example’ the positives of #BPD’ and’ self esteem and what helps to improve it’.

I also take part in other chats such as # MHChat , and occasionally on #NURChat, #OTchat and #nhssm. Some may say I’m a bit of a chat addict?

Whilst participating and running my own chat I started wondering about the reasons people love to join in these #chats – so here are a few thoughts, which I’m sure people could add to…

So what is the purpose of a chat and why do people decide to set them up? It can be quite a bit of work organising one and it’s not very well paid…. hmm volunteering again. To be brutally honest when #BPDChat was originally set up by @broken_mind and me last year its sole purpose was to simply provide a space for people to come together at the same time and chat. The idea came at about 11am and the chat took place later that night. It trended on Twitter – I often wondered who was taking part as it was a bit of a blur to be honest. Peers talking together on a chat in full public gaze, to have the confidence to do that, to feel able, who would have thought it? Particularly from those with such a highly stigmatised diagnosis.

For me this peer led chat is about supporting one another, educating each other to gain insight and understanding, sharing coping skills so we can manage better day to day and in crisis and sharing research. It’s also about just being together and most importantly as the tag line says ‘YOU ARE NOT ALONE’. The chat, I feel, engenders feelings of belonging and not being out there by yourself struggling alone, feeling you are one of a kind. I Know when I was diagnosed I felt so isolated, I knew there were others in similar situations, but where?

I think through #BPDChat we have created a virtual community, a place of safety, so you are not left feeling quite so alone.

People do go onto form friendships and then even meet in real life – wonderful.

As an aside, I think listening is an interesting skill on Twitter, how do you really get meaning from the 140 characters? It can be difficult, but it is important on the chat to stay present as it can be really busy.  This is why we have two or three of us running it, so we can ensure people are listened to and their voices heard. People with BPD can often feel rejected, so this can be really important. I also think it helps as sometimes you feel you are shouting into the void that is Twitter, words or moments to connect can be lost.

I’m just using words here to give understanding to people, I want to call the other #chats that are held the ‘professional’ chats – the people who are working as practitioners in mental health services.

These chats are usually subject led – for example, recently #MHChat ran one on ‘stigma’ and ‘stereotyping’ was another. I perceive subtle and some quite strong differences with these chats and our peer led ones. Quite often people give text book answers to the questions – stating facts, exchanging very strong opinions, debating and quite often simply ‘selling’ themselves. I often wonder if some people are on the chats as an advertising platform for their products… they make money from mental health don’t you know. I wonder how big a business it is? But you can get such a lot of information from these chats, and it’s interesting to see the different views and the discussions taking place.

When I first went onto #MHChat i wondered if they hated me being there as I was a person who used services. I think I was one of the first to go on that #chat. They were very welcoming, but I did feel a sense of not quite belonging. However as time has gone on there are so many people on there, things have changed, it’s expected. These things evolve. 

I see on some of the smaller specialised chats such as #OTchat and #nhssm people do come together more to share information, what works, what’s the latest thinking and people seem to know one another, are’ virtual friends’. They are the little cosy chats. Some may see them as quite cliquey, but when I have nipped on I feel they would make me a cup of tea in reality.

The most positive thing to come out of these chats is that the boundaries between people using services and professionals are becoming blurred, we talk together, we share and it feels like we are equals and it’s so positive. I think it should be a rule on Twitter chats, we all come together as equals to discuss and share. We can learn from one another. I wonder if we should state this implicitly or is it understood by everyone taking part? I do think it’s a very important point, everyone feels valued, everyone’s opinion is valid.

I believe the #chat is a wonderful invention and I apologise to people who may know me when I clog up your timelines on a Sunday during #BPDChat. I am wondering what your thoughts are about #chats? Please let me know.

10 Comments

  1. Thanks for such a great post about Twitter Chats Sue. You are spot on about the benefits and opportunities. I have learnt so much in the past two years since actively participating in them and wonder what life would be like without them now.

    For me, the most beneficial area of chats (and Twitter in general) is the levelling nature. I learn so much by listening to and enaging with such a wide range of people from across the country and around the world in some instances.

    Another great thing about chats is using them as an opportunity to introduce friends & colleagues to Twitter. They are a fantastic way to demonstrate the power of social media to others.

    Thanks again for sharing your insights to this ever evolving medium.

    Reply
    • Thank you David, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I agree the #chat’s are a great place to engage with others and the fact it is with people from around the world is amazing. I love that it is a level playing field , where people feel safe to speak out, it’s so positive. I wonder sometimes where will things go from here?

      Reply
  2. Hi Sue, I was there tweeting in a corner when you gave a presentation on #BPDChat at our inaugural social media surgery in Leeds in October :-)

    There’s a common plot device in lots of musicals from the 1930s onwards, where somewhere like the orphanage or the church hall needs money for repairs, so a benefit concert is planned – but no ‘big’ stars can be found to perform. “Hey,” the line usually goes from someone in the town, “so why don’t we just put the show on ourselves?”

    Being newer to Twitter than I am to formal forums, and bulletin boards etc – it’s this ‘let’s just do it?’ aspect of #chats which I like the most. They don’t need a dedicated space, or a different log in, or a sign-in sheet, or an evaluation form, or everyone to necessarily introduce themselves or say something, or (hugely importantly) permission from a ‘professional’ to set one up – all you need is a hashtag, a time, and an interested group of people.

    The fact that you had the idea and it happened within 12 hours is just brilliant. Where else could something like that happen?

    So I’m a fan! I do worry slightly that the more popular a tweetchat becomes, the harder it will be for people to keep pace with everything being said. Searching back, tweets don’t have a very long lifespan – and although things like Storify help, they crystallise what was said and make it difficult to go back and contribute. This is where I still kinda like forums, where I can have a revelation two days later and go back and say “Aha! But what about THIS brilliant point!” :-)

    But I completely accept that that’s not how #chats work, and I have to confess there is something really cool about seeing people from all over, all coming together at the same time – again, where else would/could that happen?

    I do wonder if some #chats will eventually obtain a kind of critical mass, where it’s like “we’ve actually got enough of a regular community now to set up something larger and less time/character constrained”. But still keep the #chat as a sort of meet & greet, and a way to connect with new people? Who knows – this is all really new stuff – but I’d be interested to know what you thought about one day maybe being a victim of your own success? In a really positive way, obviously!

    Finally I think your point about #chats having the potential to bring together people from different backgrounds cannot be overstated. Every good (offline) group I’ve ever been in or observed has had as a house rule something like “we may not all have had similar experiences, but everyone is allowed to share theirs, and to have their contribution valued and be treated with respect.”

    I’d LIKE this to be implicitly understood by everyone participating in an online chat (especially as you say, when they stop being ‘for people who use services’ or ‘for people who provide services’ and just become chats for people) – but hey it’s a good rule, and there’s no harm in repeating it!

    Thanks Sue :-)

    Reply
    • Thanks Alistair for such a thoughtful reply. I remember you well on that day tweeting away, I was nervous. I like your thoughts around reaching a critical mass, I find people on the chat often break into small groups discussing something, often off topic, which is great. It reminds me of a party, where people circulate-mingle.
      I also think that Twitter itself is a forum, just a rather large one!!!
      Finally your point about chats for people.. So true : )

      Reply
  3. I love the dip-in dip-out aspect of the #chats. You can as easily be spectator as participant, which for a lot of people it it’s great boon. For however many or few participate, there are tenfold that will be watching and reading. Well I guess anyway, comes from my time as a forum moderator; Where 75% of the readers of the forum are non members, people just browsing that if they see something of interest feel compelled to join in.

    The more the word gets out, the more it will draw people in to look, which in turn increases the potential patronage. Personally I love watching and learning, but if I feel I need to interject, I can; and I know I will not get flamed. We need a directory of #chats with subjects and timetables. I might just get on that and make a bulletin board.

    Reply
    • Yes, it’s so true people do come along and just watch, people have DM’d me saying they can’t take part because people from work may find out, or they don’t feel able. What a good idea to set up a directory of #chats. That will be really useful for people : )

      Reply
  4. That sounds an interesting chat, I’m really interested in the power of education. I will check it out one time, thanks for the invite : )

    Reply
  5. I have registered the domain twitchat.info Just got to build the site. Hopefully it will grow over time.

    Reply
  6. It might be helpful to note that a comprehensive site detailing healthcare chats already exists on the Symplur site where hashtags and chats can both be registered.

    Reply

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