Chloe at the dog park 1/1/10

Everything I Know About Twitter Chats, I Learned At the Dog Park

Owning a dog can be a very rewarding experience, especially if you adopt. With a dog you need to pay for the adoption, vet, and license fees. But it’s worth it.

Dog ownership taught me to live for something beyond myself. I have step-children and grandchildren but they grow up. Dogs do not. Always looking for an analogy, I realized this is helpful in social media. Why? The most egregious crime of social is to be self-centered.

Many people start their Twitter accounts and build a small community, interacting as time allows, and that’s great. I’m a huge advocate for Twitter as you can tell by the quantity of posts I’ve written. Your Twitter use can exist without a chat, but the chat is more rewarding.

The next step in your “dog ownership” is to join a chat. It’s unnecessary but more advanced. In many ways that’s like going to a dog park.

Just like dog parks, Twitter chats are fun.

If you feel like you’ve plateaued maybe you have.

It’s great to run by yourself or find a few friends to chat with here and there but going to a Twitter chat is way more fun. It’s just like going to a dog park. It’s a great time to sniff around, smell the smells, explore, and run off leash.

It’s true that you can have small bursts of conversation on Twitter, if the parties happen to be online at the same time. However, during a Twitter chat, they’re all online, active, and present. And each chat revolves around a topic which makes the interaction both focused and engaging.

Twitter chats are exciting because they are live, sometimes the answers are even controversial.

Types of Parks

Sully at the Dog Park (The Mr. in the background); Chloe is running closely behind him. 2/21/11
Sully at the Dog Park (The Mr. in the background); Chloe is running closely behind him. 2/21/11

There is a dog park to suit both your and your dog’s needs. Many towns have neighborhood parks that are usually smaller with a regular (local) attendance.

Some parks have grass and some have sawdust. Even better are parks that segregate by size. Many beaches allow off leash access and if you want to meet with people with your exact dogs, you can find breed-specific clubs.

Twitter chats are like that, too. There are many different kinds of chats, big and small, with wide and narrow topics. For example, #LeadWithGiants is a large weekly chat that allows nearly anyone to attend since we can all learn to be better leaders.

Either way, they are a fantastic way to expand your horizons, learn new things, and connect with people you never would have met.

Local Culture

Chloe and Jake at the Huntington Dog Beach 5/16/09
Chloe and Jake at the Huntington Dog Beach 5/16/09

Culture is a vogue way of referring to a group’s written or unwritten rules. Each dog park has both written and unwritten rules.

Some rules (protocol) are obvious. Pick up after your own dog, be aware of your dog’s behavior. In a Twitter chat, that means not starting fights and adhering to the chat’s structure (answer Q1 with A1 and include the hashtag at the end).

How do you learn the unwritten rules? Stand back, observe, and listen. You’ll see quickly (especially if you go regularly) who the alpha dog (and dog parent) is. It’s exactly the same in a Twitter chat. There is always a dominant personality  (or two or three) as well as a moderator (the person who asks the questions). Now, being dominant isn’t bad. It just is.

Sometimes as attendance shifts, the culture shifts. Honing your online social and observational skills is a good thing. Always listen. Always watch.

Making Friends

Chloe with a french bulldog and labradoodle at the dog park 11/11/07.
Chloe with a french bulldog and labradoodle at the dog park 11/11/07.

While joining the chat is fun, you won’t instantly bond with everyone there. No, you’ll bond with people more like you.

Not all dogs chase balls. Some chase other dogs. Some dogs spend their time sniffing. Other dogs intensely watch for squirrels. These dogs may not fight, but they don’t have a lot in common.

Look for the people in the chat with whom you agree and be friendly toward them. Give them a high five, fistbump, or retweet. No need to pee on their leg. HA!

On the Watch

Just like in real life, you need to be aware and you have to watch for the bullies. It’s a reality of our life, online and off. It’s exactly the same at the dog park.

Being at the dog park, like watching children at a pool, isn’t a time for multitasking. It’s your responsibility to watch your dog. People open the gate and your dog could escape, an aggressive dog could walk by, there could be a fight.

Twitter chats require an intense amount of concentration and presence. You can’t really automate (pre-schedule) your answers. People will know you’re not present.

Truthfully, it may not be for you. After our second dog, we went to parks for a couple of years. Then it became too much work. You may find the same with chats. Just be aware. It is a commitment.

How do you find a chat?

You can go to Twubs or ChatSalad to search for hashtags. TweetChat has a list of active “rooms.”

The easiest way to find a chat, I’ve found, is through one of your trusted followers. Just like my adventures in the dog park days, Twitter chats are full of very friendly and welcoming people.

As I answered in #BufferChat, here is my 140 character advice:

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