A Twitter Chat is a live, open discussion on a particular topic. The host account, which can be anyone that decides to start a conversation, picks a topic or poses a question on a regular basis and Twitter users from around the world can jump into the conversation.
A myriad of chats are happening on a weekly basis in every major industry; social media, business, education, parenting, writing, video, medicine, non-profit, sports, travel, architecture, fitness… and so many more! There’s something for everyone, and always something new to be learned.
One thing that some chats do is pick a different host to kick things off each week. Someone that is an expert in that area to provide great insights and fresh ideas to users who are following along. For instance, if the chat is generally about social media and one topic they choose is Instagram, they’ll bring in a host who is a really successful Instagram photographer to get the conversation started.
As a brand, listening in on and contributing to the conversation has even more benefits than attending a trade show or networking event for your industry. Not only do you get to talk shop with others who you can relate to, but you can meet lots of other people who have different experiences, advice, insights, and opinions from anywhere in the world.
How to Participate In a Twitter Chat
Prepare for the topic. Twitter chat hosts often share the next topic well in advance, and sometimes the questions, too. Brainstorm some of your own thoughts and opinions that you might like to share, and maybe even draft some tweets beforehand. The chat moves fast and you don’t want to take too much time crafting tweets.
That said, don’t only rely on your prepared statements. Be prepared to find new inspiration and ideas that you want to talk about as you’re reading through other people’s responses.
Choose your tools. TweetChat is a great tool to use when you participate in a Twitter chat. Log in with your Twitter handle, enter the hashtag of the event, and TweetChat will pull up all the related messages so you can follow the conversation. It will automatically add the hashtag to your tweets, so you don’t have to remember to do it yourself. It’s just one less thing to worry about when the tweets are coming through by the hundreds.
Follow Twitter etiquette. Let your Twitter followers know before the chat that they’ll be seeing a lot of messages from you. They’ll appreciate the warning and won’t be confused by your Twitter stream. You could even invite them to participate themselves if you think they may be interested in the topic. Make sure you add the tweet chat hashtag to your tweets (if you’re not using TweetChat) so participants can find your messages in the conversation.
The tweet chat host will mark their questions with Q (for question) and the number of the question. When you submit your answer, mark it with A (for answer) and the number of the original question so other participants can link your response with the correct question.
Promote yourself, but don’t spam. If your recent blog post, upcoming event, or services can provide value to people in the chat and is relevant to the conversation, mention it in your tweets. Freely share your knowledge about the topic, but don’t use the chat as a sales opportunity. People are participating to learn something or bond with others who share their interests, not to hear sales pitches. Sales may come later if you provide no-strings-attached value up front.
Follow up. Other users will retweet your words of wisdom, offer compliments, or ask follow-up questions, so make sure to reply accordingly. You will probably meet new people and get new followers through the process. Introduce yourself and follow them back. If there were tweets that caught your eye during the chat, follow those people too and keep the conversation going.
How to Host A Twitter Chat
After you start monitoring and participating in a couple of Twitter chats, you should start to see the value for yourself. At that point you might consider hosting one yourself. Doing so is a great opportunity to…
- Promote your own social media presence and brand. Even though the conversation may seem limited to the topic at hand, anyone involved in the chat, and even some outside observers, will look to see who’s behind the hashtag. And, if they’re paying attention to the chat, it’s likely they’d be interested in what you have to offer.
- Speak to and hear from your community. So much activity on social media is just passive consumption, but the engagement during a Twitter chat is extremely high. That’s from both the number of people participating and the number of tweets per person. Those are your fans, followers, and customers, and you can get their unfiltered thoughts and opinions on your industry.
- Create a community around your business or industry. A Twitter chat is one of the most engaging social media activities and becomes a habit for some people. Your followers tune in weekly at the same time to interact with each other, follow each other, retweet each other, etc. They’ll become friends and have you to thank for it. That’s one of the best ways to turn your followers into your brand advocates.
The first step to setting up a successful Twitter chat is coming up with the right hashtag. The hashtag is what pulls the whole thing together. Once selected, it will be extremely difficult to change. Some things to keep in mind:
- It should be unique. Do a search to make sure that something you have in mind hasn’t been used before. Not just on Twitter, though. You should also search Google and Urban Dictionary to make sure there are no alternative meanings or associations with the word you’ve chosen.
- It should be as short as possible. Remember, the hashtag will be included with each tweet of your chat. The longer the hashtag, the less your chat participants will be able to say.
- It should be easy to remember. The hashtag should reflect your topic or brand name to create instant associations. Even though it should be short, careful not to make any confusing misspellings, like taking all of the vowels out of your business name.
- It should be easy to type. Even though there are a lot of tools to make Twitter chats easier, most people will be manually typing the hashtag each time. It helps a lot when your hashtag is easy to type. So, avoid double letters, symbols, etc. Also keep in mind that a lot of symbols (like currency symbols or ampersands) don’t work in hashtags.
Because Twitter chats happen regularly and become part of some people’s routines, it’s important to try and pick a time that works for as many people as possible. That’s a tall order when talking to people all over the world, but depending on your industry and where most of your audience is located, you can pick a time that works for as many people as possible. Make sure there are no major Twitter chats on a similar topic on the same day that yours is scheduled, be very clear about timezone when quoting a particular time, and summarize the discussion to keep it focused so that it ends on time.
Once your Twitter chat gets a bit of attention and regular participants, you won’t be able to do it all by yourself. You need people who will help you get your message across. Inviting moderators is a great way to enroll powerful people to work on promoting your event and keeping the chat focused or egging in on when necessary..
Obviously, you should use all available media (your own blog, your social media accounts, press releases, etc.) to announce your upcoming Twitter chat. Here are a couple of things to remember:
- Create a short but helpful “static” reference page listing when and how often your Twitter chat takes place. Your announcement article should also contain a good explanation of how Twitter chats work, as well as which tools the participants may use to follow and take part. Make sure that this page ranks #1 in Google search for your hashtag so that people can find your event to start following it.
- Allow your followers and brand advocates to promote your Twitter chat by creating all sorts of promotional media such as badges (which are easy to embed and share) and introductory videos. People love promoting contests and events if you give them rich media.
- Create embedded media to let your followers promote your Twitter chat.
When you’re more comfortable hosting Twitter chats, you’ll find your own “unique” style and approach. For now, here’s a checklist for you to build on:
- Start with a welcome introduction (a couple of minutes to let your chat participants introduce themselves and begin tweeting about your event).
- Announce your chat topic. Pick one specific idea for each of your chats to keep the discussion focused.
- Tweet your own thoughts and ideas on that topic.
- Give at least 5 minutes for your chat participants to share their ideas, and retweet the best ones.
- Summarize the most important points as you go along.
- Ask questions, and label your questions as Q1, Q2, etc., to make it easy for your chat participants to answer and encourage discussion.
- Retweet and summarize the best answers.
- Share some related tools and links and invite your chat participants to share their own as well.
- Announce the upcoming end of the chat and thank everyone for participating.
- Tweet the chat conclusions.
- End the chat by announcing the next chat day, time, and topic.
- Rinse and repeat..
There’s no “right” answer on how to set up your Twitter chat. There’s no “best” time of day or frequency. There’s no “correct” format for how you run it. It all comes down to how creative you get and how seriously you want it to succeed. And don’t forget that “success” can just look like a bunch of Twitter users having fun, getting to know each other.
Like any other long-term social media endeavor we get involved in, hosting and promoting a Twitter chat requires a lot of patience and persistence. Just put lots of time and effort into making it work and you might be surprised at how well it does.