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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, [email protected]

Are you using Twitter? If so, you are not alone. As of March 2016, 310 million people were active users, 83% on mobile phones. Twitter is a micro-blogging site where users post messages of up to 140 characters called tweets. A key component of tweets is the hashtag (#) symbol, which enables people to search a topic (e.g., credit) or share an experience (e.g., a professional conference).OneOp personal finance screenshot

Similar to a face-to-face focus group, Twitter chats provide a synchronous environment for participants to answer a structured series of questions and respond to both the chat facilitator and each other using their Twitter user names (a.k.a.,”handles“). Chat participants gather at a specified time (e.g., Tuesdays at 3 pm) to “discuss” certain topics, questions, or issues. The Twitter chat hashtag connects the tweets for everyone to follow the “conversation.”

The formatting convention used for Twitter chats is Q1 for Question 1 and A1 for participant responses. There are more than 300 Twitter chats on a wide variety of topics. There is no cost to run a chat except for a sponsor’s time for preparation, marketing, and evaluation and the (optional) cost of incentives (e.g., gift cards) to attract participants.

Want to host a Twitter chat for your clients or students? Include the following steps: select a topic, set a date and time, designate a unique Twitter hashtag, welcome participants and moderate the chat conversation, evaluate the impact and outreach of a Twitter chat using online survey links and/or applications such as and TweetReach, and write impact reports.

It is a good idea to have some pre-typed answers to each question in case initial participant responses are slow. Chats generally last one hour and have 8 to 10 questions. Some chat sponsors offer prizes, such as gift cards, as an incentive for people to participate.

Organizations that organize or participate in personal finance Twitter chats on an occasional basis include the Cooperative Extension System, America Saves, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE).