Tweet and meet: Building an online community with PRStudChat

April 1, 2010


Deirdre Breakenridge and Valerie Simon met on Twitter and have enjoyed a productive relationship ever since.
An August 2009 blog post titled “Is PR Right For Me?” by Central Michigan University student Angela Hernandez (@AngelaHernandez), president of the school’s PRSSA Chapter, featured a Q-and-A with Breakenridge, co-author of “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.”
The Hernandez post and Breakenridge’s follow-up post generated a lot of Twitter chatter and retweets. Simon (@ValerieSimon), senior vice president forBurrellesLuce Media Monitoring and Measurement, was among those following the discussion thread.
In only four Twitter direct messages they conceived PRStudChat — a Twitter chat with pre-organized times to tweet on hashtags — for PR students, professionals and educators. Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge) serves as moderator and Simon is the host. Participants use the #PRStudChat hashtag and applications like TweetGrid and HootSuite to help follow comments.
While PRStudChat is Twitter based, there are many platforms available to help build communities including Facebook fan pages, LinkedIn groups and blogs with enhanced tools like DISQUS, a comment system and moderation tool.
If you can generate discussion online, then you have the makings of a community. You must also design simple rules of engagement and additional ways to keep people connecting and conversing.
Managing expectations
Breakenridge, president of Mango! Marketing, and Simon stress listening — a common social networking ingredient for success — when building community.
They use qualitative and quantitative methods to monitor what interests their community, and topics frequently mentioned often become monthly chat themes. Tag clouds — a visual depiction of user-generated tags — on community-related sites also help them identify trending topics.
The first PRStudChat in August 2009 polled more than 200 participants via Twitter and a LinkedIn group.
“We let the community drive growth and direction,” says Simon, adding that the LinkedIn Group is valuable for maintaining conversations and connections between official chat events.
A Web site named“What the Hashtag” gauges community activity by measuring usage of the #PRStudChat Twitter hashtag. Recent results, captured during a week the chat was not being held, showed a healthy level of member tweets. Seventy percent of these included multiple hashtags indicating an active community that is open to expanding its reach. Simon also uses the hashtag site to capture thousands of monthly tweets and determine if any require follow-up. She converts portions of the transcripts into blog posts that examine specific topics further.
Creating opportunities
PRStudChat generates opportunities for its members. Students are selected to help moderate monthly chats. Homework assignments involving networking activities are common, and several educators have implemented the chat into their curriculums.
The community held its first student chat challenge last October, with more than 40 schools using unique hashtags to identify themselves. PRStudChat recognized the University of Maryland for bringing the most attendees.
Virtual connections turn into real meet-ups as well. One student was planning to visit Breakenridge in her New Jersey office over spring break to learn about agency life. She and Simon are generating new contacts and business opportunities too. It’s a natural by-product of a well-managed community.
“We’re all students who need to continue networking and learning,” says Breakenridge. “After 20 years in the profession I can truly say you always need to be giving back.”
Copyright © 2010 PRSA. All rights reserved.
Ryan Zuk, APR

Ryan Zuk, APR, is a media and analyst relations professional, Phoenix PRSA Chapter member and Sage North America representative. Zuk can be reached @ryanzuk on Twitter. He also blogs at

Email: ryanzuk at gmail dot com


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