Twitter Chat Set to Debut on Wednesday!

SIPA’s First-Ever Twitter Chat Set for Wednesday

On July 6, 2011, the nation’s first White House Twitter Town Hall took place. After an introduction by Twitter creator Jack Dorsey, President Obama walked into the room like Jay Leno, shaking hands with invited guests as he made his way to the podium where a laptop computer was waiting for him. It took him a little while to type the first Tweet to get the conversation going—prompting Dorsey to remind him that “you only get 140 characters.” Finally, the video screen revealed the President’s question: “in order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo”

Starting next Wednesday, Oct. 19, SIPA will be following in those presidential Tweetsteps by hosting a weekly Twitter chat to be held every Wednesday from noon – 1 p.m. Eastern time. Complete instructions for how to take part will be published shortly on our website and in this space—and, of course, will be tweeted as well to our followers. The first week’s topic is “Defining Specialty Publications: How do you define and market yourself in your niche area?” Given the traffic on Twitter, we expect a big “turnout” and a spirited discussion on many of the issues you care most about.

In the White House Twitter Town Hall, questions started coming in from all over the country—through eight curators who helped to choose which questions actually made it to the President. And so it went for the better part of an hour. One of the questions concerned the exorbitant cost of higher education; is it becoming too expensive for the middle class? (A story on the TheAtlantic.com yesterday reported that of the 17.6 million undergraduates enrolled in American higher education, just 15% of them attend four-year colleges and live on campus. Forty-three percent attend two-year institutions and 38% are over the age of 25. This is indeed a new age.)

The President went on a little longer for this question—“I know from Twitter I’m supposed to be short,” he said—but the positive momentum of the occasion had been established. Twitter had reached the rafters. At various times, you could see the percentages on another video screen of what topics the questions were on: jobs, education, housing, health care. You could also see those little pictures that are on the side of all of our Twitter accounts. That gave the President an opening for some humor. (One guy was patting his head and rubbing his stomach.) He also smiled when a question came from Speaker of the House John Boehner with “that’s” spelled with funny characters in the place of the apostrophe. “That’s his fault,” said Dorsey with equal parts humor and seriousness.

I don’t think a week goes by any more without some kind of Twitter headlines in the news. This week it was LeBron James of basketball’s Miami Heat speculating on what he will do as the NBA lockout extends into the regular season. He sent a tweet to ESPN’s NFL football insider John Clayton (nicknamed The Professor) Tuesday asking: “When is the deadline for a team to sign a free agent?” Then Pete Carroll, the coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, posted a photo of his team’s jersey with the number 1 and “LeBRON” stitched on above it.

SIPA’s Twitter Chat will have a lot more heft to it than LeBron and Carroll. Put SIPA members and followers together in a room—physical or virtual—and the information that emerges is always practical and enlightening. This openness remains one of the biggest benefits of participating in SIPA. So clear your calendar for Wednesday, Oct. 19, at lunchtime in the U.S. and at the end of the workday in the U.K. and Europe for what promises to be a stimulating Tweetfest. Stay tuned for detailed instructions.

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