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How to Grow a Twitter Chat to Reach 1 Million People: Learnings From Two Years of #bufferchat

Aug 1, 2016 13 min readTips / How To

From productivity and social media strategy to self-care and reflecting — even gifs! — we’ve had a blast getting to join with our community every week for the past two years in #bufferchat.

More than one hundred chats later, #bufferchat has turned two! ?

What began as a curious community experiment has grown into a pillar of our community efforts. We are so grateful to have an amazing community who keeps coming back each week, offers a breadth of knowledge and drives us to be a better company and community.

At the beginning, we had a lot to learn about how to start a Twitter chat. And we continue to learn new things about how best to grow our numbers and engage with our audience — all of which we’re excited to share with you.

We wanted to take a moment to reflect on what we’ve learned so far, how we’ve grown, and what the future of #bufferchat looks like. We hope these lessons will be helpful for you as you start and grow your chat!

Jump to:

The origin of #bufferchat

The data behind #bufferchat

Our current #bufferchat workflow

The 8 lessons that drove #bufferchat’s growth

Looking ahead to the future of #bufferchat


Two years ago: The origin of Bufferchat

Community has been a driving force within Buffer from the start.

In the early days of Buffer, our co-founder, Leo, ran a Twitter chat called #toolschat and found it to be a really great way to connect with others on Twitter who loved social media and social media tools.

Here are some of his recaps from those chats.

Toolschat, circa 2012

Eventually, we shifted focus a bit and stopped running #toolschat.

When Nicole was hired as Buffer’s first Community Champion two years ago, the idea of starting a Twitter chat resurfaced.

Our goal for community was to show our gratitude. We were doing this on a one-to-one basis with sending handwritten cards, and starting a Twitter chat allowed for one-to-many communication. We also wanted a place for our community to come together, meet each other, and learn from each other.

We shared some of our initial learnings after the first few months here in a blog post, but we’ve learned a lot more since then!

A Twitter chat’s potential: 7 million in reach, 500 participants, 4,000 tweets

From our early chats with 128 participants (quite a big group to start!) to our largest chat with 511 participants, it’s been amazing to see #bufferchat grow over the past few years!

Here are some more numbers that stood out to us, along with the topics and awesome guests who have helped make this possible:

Our most popular chats:

Our lifetime participant average for #bufferchat is 299.

(The participant average for the new #bufferchat time is 90.)

Chats with the furthest reach:

Our lifetime average reach for #bufferchat is 1,802,738.

(The average reach for the new #bufferchat time is 506,731.)

Our chats with the most tweets:

Our lifetime average tweet count per chat is 2,730.

(The average tweet count for the new #bufferchat time is 510.)

Some of the most unique topics:

  • Fun in Social Media (for April Fool’s Day 2015!)
  • Living Your Passion
  • Lessons in Happiness (All the Buffer Happiness Heroes jumped in!)
  • Digital Mindfulness

Total number of Bufferchats: 108, as of July 27, 2016!

Total number of questions in 2 years: 707

Total number of tweets in 2 years: 261,539!

Some notes about how we’ve tracked #bufferchat data:

It’s worth noting some potential discrepancies about the data we’ve collected. The first is that we’ve used different tools to collect this data over the years, so there might be some variation caused by the switching of tools. We started off using a tool called Hashtracking, and soon switched to our own Buffer Happiness Dashboard. In March of 2016, we migrated over to Looker, which has been a fantastic tool so far!

We also include some of the tweets and conversations after the chat has officially ended – so this could potentially inflate our numbers rather than if we stuck to the 1-hour parameters. However, we feel the whole of the conversation matters most, and we strive for consistency to see the week-to-week numbers rather than the sheer volume itself.

Lastly, there can sometimes be a bit of Twitter spam that occurs during some of our bigger chats. We don’t currently have a process for removing these tweets and participants from our data, though we’d love to hear any suggestions!

What our Bufferchat days look like: Our current process

Community is a part of the foundation of Buffer and we’ve been fortunate to include many Buffer team members as guests and sometimes even meet some of our job applicants in #bufferchat before they are interviewed!

#bufferchat has relied heavily on our customer service team, the Happiness Heroes, from the very start. We were blown away by the massive impact on our Twitter mentions and how many participants showed up each week.

When we first started #bufferchat, two or three Happiness Heroes would work with our Community Champion to respond to tweets and foster conversation.

Here’s a little of how the process looked then, two years ago:

  1. The community team (Nicole) would organize the guest and questions, and promote the chat (using Buffer to share on all our social channels)
  2. Nicole and a few Happiness Heroes would jump into Sparkcentral before, during, and after the chat to respond to tweets
  3. Many team members would join from their personal Twitter handles, too, using tools such as Tweetchat, Nurph,
  4. Afterward, Nicole would curate the tweets into a Storify story and blog recap and document the stats in an internal document
old bufferchat

As we scaled, both as a team and in chat participation, our process and tools changed a little to be more streamlined and (hopefully!) more effective.

Here’s how our process looks today:

  1. The community team (Arielle, Alfred, and Bonnie) continues to recruit the guests, brainstorm questions, and promote with Buffer.
  2. Our community team bands together with the Twitter Happiness Heroes (Darcy, Paul, and Julia) and we even have some incredible volunteer community members on our Twitter Squad who join in! We use our Twitter support tool, Respond, to engage with all the awesome participants. With 2,000 to 3,000 tweets, all these rockstars help us welcome, engage, and thank our #bufferchat community!
  3. Many of our team members still join in from their personal handles.
  4. We currently curate a handful of tweets into a blog recap each week and no longer do a Storify for each chat. We experimented with a variety of recap tools and found this to be the most efficient process with the biggest impact. One key aspect of our recaps is that each question links to a Twitter search of the specific question and date.

New: We started a second #bufferchat

Our community is truly global. When we first started #bufferchat, we chose a time and day when a big portion of our community was awake and hopefully able to pop into a chat: Wednesdays at 9 am Pacific time, 12 pm Eastern time, 5 pm UK time.

While the #bufferchat community kept steadily growing over time, we felt like we were leaving out an important part of our community — all of our friends in Asia and Australia! Amazingly, some night owls would join in from Singapore, Seoul, Sydney, and other cities (at 12 am, 1 am and 2 am, respectively), though it was understandably a hurdle for many!

Within the Community team, we discussed how to go about involving our Asia/Australia friends:

  • Should we begin to rotate the time of #bufferchat each week, or start a whole new chat time?
  • What time could work for folks from India to New Zealand?
  • What’s the work schedule/culture like in various cities?
  • If we had two separate chats, would we plan different topics for each chat or keep them the same?
  • Would they have the same hashtag?
  • If they were the same topic, would the repeat chat clog up our followers’ Twitter feeds?

We spoke to many community members from cities across Asia and Australia and learned so much about our community and cultures around the world in the process! In the end, we decided to create an additional chat time with the same hashtag and topic. We hoped this would allow the Asia/Australia community to feel a part of the #bufferchat community as a whole.

We kicked off our new #bufferchat time on March 2, 2016, with 111 participants! Now, 15+ chats in, the participant average is 90 and growing.

It’s important to note here that we’re usually not super present in our second #bufferchat time as most of our team is asleep or offline during those hours! We have an awesome Twitter Happiness Hero in Australia and a Community Champion in Singapore who help us out here when they’re able to, and we encourage the community to self-organize and grow.

We’ve had a few awesome community members step up to engage with other community members and spark conversation during this #bufferchat time. It’s a great practice in empowering our community and giving them a real voice in #bufferchat! To us, that’s the mark of a strong and healthy community, when our community is interacting and engaging with each other without our nudging!

8 Lessons Learned From Growing #bufferchat to 1 Million+ Reach

When you get your global community together for an hour or two each week, the sky is the limit on what you can learn! We’ve been fortunate to pick up a number of key lessons that have helped us grow over the past two years.

Here are our eight best takeaways for growing a Twitter chat.

1. The community will always surprise you!

Some chats where we expected one type of conversation may have gone a totally new (and even better!) direction. It’s key to go with the flow and learn all that you can from these twists and turns.

Allow your chat to go naturally in the direction it chooses, and release the need to force the chat onto the chosen topic.

2. As your participant count grows, look for ways to make your questions and moderators stand out.

After six months or so, we started using images to identify our questions and key messages (Welcome! and Thank you!) to stand out in the river of tweets.

Recently, we also began to change our personal Twitter names to “_____ from Buffer” during the chat so our participants can know who is joining from the team. Here’s an example from our teammate Paul:

3. Words and phrases are understood differently across cultures.

Several of our chat titles created a bit of confusion within our community:

  • Digital Mindfulness
  • Self-Care
  • Social Media Superlatives

These were a few topics that helped us learn that not all concepts are universal! When coming up with a chat topic, find a way to vet the phrasing with a diverse group of teammates or community members to make sure nothing gets lost in translation.

4. Help your followers as much as possible — and remember that Daylight Savings Time (DST) is different in various parts of the world!

This was an eye-opening one that keeps us on our toes!

Some countries start observing DST earlier than others, some don’t observe DST at all, and even some regions within countries don’t follow the same time changes as the rest of the country (looking at you, Hawaii and Arizona).

Here’s Wikipedia’s time zone map, just to show how complicated it can all get:


We check tools like EveryTimeZone all the time in order to get the timing right!

5. There are so many ways to make Twitter chats more accessible.

We’ve received incredibly valuable feedback from our community with suggestions for improving the accessibility of #bufferchat.

We started tweeting the questions in an image ahead of time to give people more time to think through their answers, which felt like a great step forward. Then, we realized that screen readers couldn’t read those images, and we made sure to also start posting the questions in plain text on our landing page and in our Slack community. There’s so much more we can learn here, so we’re open to more feedback!

6. Keeping questions open and pointed in a positive direction can help spur the most constructive conversations.

We’ve learned a lot from crafting questions for each chat. We’ve shared more than 700 questions and brainstormed perhaps another 150 more that hit the cutting room floor.

Some of our biggest takeaways have been to be very clear, keep the question simple and ask things in a positive way vs. negative (i.e. “If you could add one new feature to Twitter, what would it be?” vs. “What don’t you like about Twitter?”)

7. When tracking data for your own Twitter chat, consistency in tools and timing is key!

We noted a bit above and have learned a lot from the variety of tools we’ve used to collect data. We’ve relied on tools that use Twitter’s API, though some tools collect data from Twitter at different intervals. The key is to be consistent with your data collection: Use the same tools, and check stats at the same time.

We’ve used Hashtracking, Looker, and an internal tool to come up with #bufferchat stats.

This consistency makes for the cleanest data and the best conclusions. It’ll be easiest to analyze when you’re comparing apples to apples!

8. Often, the most beautiful and meaningful conversations happen without the Buffer team involved.

The truest mark of success for us is when we see our community members greeting new participants, asking thoughtful questions to others, supporting each other and gaining new realizations and knowledge – without any Buffer team members involved.

The community thrives each week and it’s amazing to watch! In the weeks when we’re not as able to be involved (for instance, when the whole Buffer team was in Sydney for a retreat and #bufferchat was happening at 4 a.m.!), we know the conversations and discussions amongst the community will still happen.

Looking ahead: The future of #bufferchat

#bufferchat has become a place of support, positive energy, learning, and inclusion, and that’s all because of our incredible community. Here are a few of our wonderful community members sharing their appreciation for the chat:

We’re excited to look ahead to find ways to improve the chat experience, involve more perspectives and ideas, and better engage people!

Some ideas we’re exploring:

  • Implementing a system for sending reminders about the chat. We’ve heard this request many times and can really see the value in this! We’re researching the best methods for sending reminder pings, and find out how folks would like to receive reminders – via email, a text, a push notification, a tweet, or something else. Do you know of any helpful products or methods here? We’d love your suggestions in the comments!
  • Incorporating live video into the chat. As #bufferchat continues to grow, we want to be creative in the ways people can get involved! We want to be mindful of the size of the chat, as it can be quite overwhelming at times to keep up with the speed of tweets coming in. Having an option to tune into a video of folks discussing the #bufferchat or to hear a guest’s perspective on the chat topic could be a great way to reach more people and involve folks who might need a break from the speed of #bufferchat on Twitter! Also, having a video component to #bufferchat could make the chat more accessible – involving people who might not be able to type or type very quickly, who prefer to listen than to read, and many others as well.
  • Improving the visibility of our guest and their tweets during the chat. We have some amazing featured guests who share their expertise in the chats, though sometimes it can be hard to notice their insights in the sea of tweets that are coming in! Some other Twitter chats do a great job at showcasing their guests in various ways, and we’d love to reflect and improve on this ourselves. We’ve recently experimented with having a guest share their answers in video form during the chat, and we’re planning to try this again!

Finally, a heartfelt thanks from Buffer

We couldn’t have learned all that we learned, laughed as hard as we laughed, or smiled nearly as much as we smile every Wednesday thanks to the incredible #bufferchat community.

Thank you all!

Check out our Bufferchat home page for recaps and news about upcoming chats:


Over to you

What Twitter chats do you enjoy? Have you ever participated in #bufferchat? Do you have any advice or things you’d like to see us do with our chat?

It’d be wonderful to hear from you in the comments!

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