I had the pleasure of meeting Kim Garland when I was in NYC for Independent Film Week in September. I was fascinated by how she and her Treefort group built a devoted community on twitter using regular Twitter chat sessions. She graciously agreed to write a post explaining their process – but in the process she provides great guidelines on building community.

Building a Dedicated (and Rocking) Twitter Community
By Kim Garland

Sometimes the real action is happening in the peanut gallery. There’s the main show on stage, carefully planned and rehearsed, and then there’s that wild bunch in the crowd, landing more jokes than the paid performers. I’ve always been partial to the rebellious, high-spirited nature of a good peanut gallery, and that’s where the Twitter community called Scriptchat began.

A year ago, a few screenwriters and I popped into a Twitter chat for writers. We found it to be entertaining, and a cool way to talk craft, but quickly realized the chat was geared to Fiction writers – a fine form but not the one we were obsessing about – and we started bellyaching to each other about how we didn’t have a chat of our own.

In the time it takes to type 140 characters, the idea for #scriptchat was born, and by the next week we were hosting our own chat.

Today, Scriptchat is a Twitter force of hundreds of dedicated chatters, supporters, colleagues and friends. We work together, back each other’s projects and offer camaraderie and advice. We even landed a juicy Scriptchat mention in the September/October 2010 issue of Script magazine. We’ve kept our community close-knit, and growing, by blending a screenwriters classroom with a raucous playground.

I’ve learned a lot this past year about some fundamental best practices for building a community on Twitter. If this is a project you’re considering, work hard, have fun, and hopefully soon you too will be hanging with your own creative and high-spirited crowd of friends.

Five Brains are Better Than One
You may have noticed I used the word “we” a lot in this intro and that’s for good reason – there’s no “I” in Scriptchat (okay, there is, but nobody said screenwriters could spell).

Scriptchat is run by the Treefort, a collective of five writers, in five different burgs, stretching from London to Los Angeles. We call ourselves the Treefort because we often feel like kids squirreled away in our virtual hideout, getting tipsy, when we really should be making plans for world domination.

We don’t operate as simply one voice speaking from behind the curtain of @scriptchat. We’re distinct personalities using our own identities (and Twitter accounts) to reach out to the filmmaking community. We attract different followers on Twitter. We have differing ideas on how to run the chats and have to negotiate with each other to hone in on ideas that are so strong, all five of us give the thumbs up.

If you want to build a community, start by being a community. Think about the project you’re hoping to launch and the team you can bring together to do it. In addition to screenwriting, the Treefort brings backgrounds in film production, book publishing, magazine-writing and franchise- and small-business ownership. It’s this diversity and team-like support that has probably had the biggest hand in our success.

Your Hashtag is Your Brand

Select the hashtag for your Twitter community carefully because if you’re a hit, this will be your brand. Keeping the 140-character limit in mind, think short and catchy; the longer your hashtag, the shorter your messages will have to be.

Keep the spelling of your hashtag simple. Using uppercase versus lowercase doesn’t affect the searchability of a hashtag so go with what makes the tag easiest to remember, such as #FilmCrew or #NYCfilm.

Check to see if anyone else is consistently using the hashtag. Via Twitter’s site, your favorite app or a site like wthashtag.com, you can search a hashtag to see if it’s been used recently. This won’t guarantee that some group isn’t using it intermittently, but it should tell you if there’s an active community already gathering around the tag.

Follow your own hashtag by always keeping a search column open when you’re online. Use your hashtag to share information related to your topic, to ask questions and engage with your followers. When retweeting relevant ideas, don’t be shy about adding in your hashtag, this is how you’ll start to build name recognition. As tweeters notice the hashtag go by, they’ll want to see what other ideas are being shared through it, and then start using it themselves. Create a worthy conversation, not just a bunch of promotional tweets, and an interested community will build up around it.

Back It Up With a Blog or a Facebook page
As cute-sounding as a “tweet” is, it’s near impossible to share all of the information needed to keep a community tight in only 140 characters at a time.

Create a blog or a Facebook page named after your hashtag and use it as a repository where you can send people to from a tweet. Include event calendars, instructions on how to follow a chat, relevant biographies, links, transcripts and everything you’ll need to give your Twitter community a reliable way to stay in the loop.

Everybody Likes a Party
Plain and simple: Don’t be boring. It’s better to draw a few less people who may be offended by your rousing personality than to be the snoozer with a generic marketing pitch. Decide on the spirit you want to bring to your community and insert that energy into all of your tweets and posts.

At Scriptchat, to keep it lively, we use tequila. Figuratively and literally. During the first week of promoting the chat, our Treefort ringleader, Jeanne Bowerman, threw out the line “leave your ego behind… but bring your tequila,” and that seemed to perfectly capture the mood we were trying to create. If Scriptchat had a mascot, she’d be fastening brads with one hand while shooting tequila with the other.

If you’re wondering, yes, we have had a few complaints about not being serious enough or being too jovial about alcohol, but you can’t please all the people and it’s a losing proposition to even try. On the flipside, we draw a lively group of writers looking to talk craft while having fun, and our ranks continue to grow. Joking about tequila at Scriptchat is our way of saying, let’s keep it loose and friendly, we’re not curing cancer here.

Real Life Trumps All

I’d be the first to raise my hand if asked who thinks social networking can change lives. What I’ve accomplished in a year, with the help of a consistent online networking presence, would have easily taken me five years of me hoofing it to events. The relationships I cultivate online also have the added bonus of being accessible for daily, ongoing conversations. I may have met these folks online but I probably know more about some of them than their co-workers do.

Yet still, there is no replacement for meeting someone in person. The bond that forms when you take relationships offline is the difference between an acquaintance and a friend. I regularly attend other people’s meetups, screenings, live shows and events.

Our London Treefort member, Mina Zaher, has recently started organizing local Scriptchat meetups. It’s so obviously brilliant an idea, it’s embarrassing the rest of us hadn’t thought of it before, but that won’t stop us from making it our new thing.

If you’re building a community online, be sure to take it offline as well. It doesn’t just have to be the community founders that do the organizing either, encourage local get-togethers and share pictures and stories on the group’s blog or Facebook page. Make it personal, not just professional, have fun and drink tequila, literally or figuratively. But I’ll be rooting for literally.

Kim Garland
is a screenwriter from Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, a co-founder of Scriptchat and works in Development at Braven Films. You can learn more about Scriptchat and the Treefort at their blog and you can always (always!) find them on Twitter.

And thanks to Sheri Candler for introducing me to Kim!!

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