Everything you wanted to know about Twitter Chats

twitter chats

I’ve been very active on Twitter for about four years now and I would say the aspect that has changed the most in that time is the explosive popularity of Twitter Chats.  Twitter Chats have become an important networking and sales tool. In fact, you can even make money off of Twitter chats.  So let’s take a deep dive into this important social media trend.

The idea behind a Twitter Chat is very simple. A group of people with a common interest gather together at a designated time to share ideas and discussion. The chat is united by a “hashtag” so that all can follow along. For example, #CMChat gathers people who are in the country music business and #CookingChat brings together cooking enthusiasts. There are chats for every imaginable interest and the list is growing all the time.

There are several powerful benefits of chats:

  • Chats are a great place to learn and exchange ideas with like-minded individuals from around the world.
  • It is an excellent place to meet interesting new contacts. When you find a chat that you like, it would be a good idea to follow these individuals and perhaps even create a list of the chat members.
  • Chats are a great place to gain awareness for your own brand and ideas.
  • Participating in chats creates connections and content that can enhance your personal influence.
  • A company, brand, or individual can establish a voice of authority by creating and leading a chat.
  • Chats have become so popular, some companies are paying advertising fees to sponsor them. Yes, you can make money from a Twitter chat!

So how do you get started?

The first thing to do is find a relevant chat. The best way to keep up with this dynamic list is to google “Twitter chat schedule” and you will find a detailed list of chats by subject, day, and time. It will also list the leaders of the chat and provide a link to the most recent session.

Once you pick your chats, there are a couple ways to participate. First, follow the people who run these chats and get their updates on upcoming chats. When the chat is scheduled to happen, you can search for the designated hashtag in Twitter.  The best way to follow along is to use a free service like TweetChat or TwitterFall, platforms specifically designed to enhance your Twitter chat experience.

A word of warning: On the most popular chats, the tweets may be coming at a furious rate!  It can be challenging to follow when there are concurrent conversations occurring.

Participation is key for reaping the benefits of Twitter chats. Ask and answer questions, add insight, discuss. These are usually very open and friendly forums, so don’t be worried about posting a “stupid” comment or question.

Many times, there are pre-determined questions and the moderator will pose these in the form of this example:  Q1 What is the best way to get value from a Twitter chat?  Participants answer accordingly: A1 One idea is to participate actively and help newcomers.

Creating your own chat

Hosting your own chat can be a fun and rewarding way to create community around your ideas and subject matter. Let’s walk through the steps of creating a new Twitter Chat.

Set-up

First, I would want to secure a descriptive hashtag. At www.Twubs.com you can see if your hashtag has already been taken and secure one for your chat.

Once you have a unique name, it would be a good to reserve a Twitter handle for the chat.

To promote the chat, you may want to create a homebase on Facebook, LinkedIn group, or blog where you can make announcements and post completed conversations.

You’ll also need to pick a time and regular date for the chat. Every Monday?  The second Tuesday of the month? Find a date that fits your schedule because as the moderator, you are creating a long-lasting commitment to your community. Some chat communities have co-moderators, or even shared responsibility among all the members.

Planning the content

In preparation for your first chat, you’ll want to personally invite a few friends to get the momentum going. Create enough topic questions ahead of time to propel at least 30 minutes of chat. Involve your community in choosing topics and questions. Other chats are just free-flowing with no assigned agenda. It’s just a place to meet and touch base.

Many chats feature special guests who help answer questions and engage with participants. So for example, I have been a guest “speaker” on book chats, marketing chats, and leadership chats to name a few. If you are asked to be a guest on a chat, be sure to have the prepared questions ahead of time so you can get ready with a at least a few tweetable responses. It can be quite challenging to keep up with the pace of conversation with coherent 140-character responses!

Post-chat and promotion

As the moderator, you are creating some very valuable, shareable content so be sure to capture this. There are several free platforms to do this including ChirpStory and Storify. You can post this content on your Facebook or blog and then promote this content to attract new members.

Promoting a link to your homebase in industry publications, social media outlets and related forums is another way to find people who might be interested in the topic.

Another best practice is to email a transcript to your community members after the chat. This will serve as a reminder of the next chat and also keep people in the loop even if they miss the event.

During the chat, everyone participating will be tweeting with the hashtag in the tweet. Just the act of having the chat is a great way to promote the event.  I’ll often pop into a chat when I see an interesting hashtag pop up. As long as you stick to a consistent schedule and provide interesting content, your attendance will pick up over time.

Just like everything else, Twitter chats have limitations. The 140 character maximum can limit the depth of a commentary and even good ideas can get lost in a big chat. Still, the serendipitous connections you make in these forums are often more important than the content of the chat.

What have I missed?  How do you get value from Twitter Chats?  Positives and negatives?  Tips you can share?

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  • Some excellent advice here on how to leverage Twitter Chats.
    As you said contributing to Twitter chats is an excellent way to increase awareness, grow your online influence and position yourself as a thought leader.

  • They have become very effective tools James. I need to do better in this area myself!

  • Great post Mark! I’ve only taken part in 2 or 3 Twitter Chats but I would really like to find some good ones to join.  Can you recommend any social media ones? 

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  • Ok, you are forcing me to admit something. I don’t like Twitter Chats. I acknowledge their importance but it is not my preferred mode of communication. I have been the “guest” on many chats and find it a harrowing experience to try to keep up with the questions, the comments, and the various concurrent conversations.  Still, many people love them. I have not yet found one that I am addicted to. My suggestion is that you look through the Twitter Chat list and try a fee out. Let me know what you think Samantha!

  • Thanks for this lesson on Twitter chats.  I had a chance Sunday night to just follow along with #blogchat.  It was challenging enough to try and keep up with the conversation, so I can only imagine how hard it would be to moderate this fast paced form of communication.  However, I do see it’s value.  I think I will try a couple controlled chats first with just a few invited guests.  A chance to develop my skill gradually.

  • This has been very informative – and I read The Tao of Twitter!. I have to admit, I’ve given them a try, but whether it’s the “fast and furious” flow of tweets or the fact that I simply can’t quickly formulate my ideas in 140 characters, I find them annoying.
    I prefer ongoing tweet conversations with a few tweeps at a time. 

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  • Might try some smaller ones to start. Blog Chat is so huge.  My feeble brain can;t take it in. : ) 

  • Thanks Mark. I have been wanting to get the skinny on this very thing for a while. The information here lays that all out. So I will be keeping this post and giving it a real good try to see what it comes too.
    I am a fan of membership forums, with my own coming along later this fall, Bit easier to control the conversation. Just as easy to collect the great content to repurose for the users and members. I think even a way to catch a small grasp of the social media whirlwind.
    Thanks again, this got the wheels in gear. Billy

  • That’s where I am too honestly but I needed to highlight the positives too!  BTW, this will be part of a chapter in a new edition of The Tao of Twitter scheduled for the fall!

  • Nicely done, and thanks for sharing your perspectives on how to host a tweet chat. I kind of sympathise with Ray’s comment below, actually. There is definitely an optimal size for tweet chats, although what the number is is ultimately contingent upon how vocal your community is. Over the years, I’ve concluded that it’s possible to follow up to three conversations simultaneously during a scheduled tweet chat, but any more than that can make meaningful participation difficult. Much, ultimately, depends upon the moderator’s skill in finding enough interesting things to say to keep the scheduled question (assuming your tweet chat is question-driven) on-topic.

    I wrote a post about this subject a while back. The comments it was lucky enough to attract say rather more cogent things than the post itself, IMO 😉

    http://stwem.com/2011/08/31/how-to-host-a-tweet-chat/

  • Nice post Mark! I have learned a great deal from chats and it was a great way to get started meeting people when I was new on Twitter.

    It was wonderful to host you on #MyBookClub. 
    Peggy

  • Great Billy. Glad this helped!

  • Great Andrew. Thanks for sharing that post! 

  • Had fun with that Peg. Hope to be back soon on your chat.

  • Thank you Mark for sharing a great marketing tool… 

  • Rosemary

    I’d add a few more tips to the mix:
    1. Find out the topic in advance and start thinking of obvious questions that might come up and how you would answer them; that helps with the speed issue
    2. Don’t tweet anything longer than say 110 characters, and don’t use the word “I.” Make yourself totally retweetable.
    3. After the chat, follow up and connect with anyone you might want to network with further; perhaps send out an “it was great chatting with you” to a few folks, or thank someone who made a really great point that helped you.  Keep the connections going in between weekly chats.

    Twitter chats are a necessary evil; completely clunky, but very useful. I’ve made a ton of great connections from chats I participate in.  My favorite by far is the Wednesday at 2pm Eastern #cmgrchat, for community managers of all types. Great group, and full of awesome tips.

  • Mark, some great points here. I would like to add a few additional thoughts, both as a regular chat participant and more recently as one of the moderators of #b2bchat (a weekly chat on B2B marketing), for folks considering starting their own chat.

    Promotions are key, particularly with the increasing number of chats competing for time. Here are a few getting started steps.

    1) Check the time. Watch your all friends or broader twitter list streams during your selected time. Are you going to be competing with an existing established chat?

    2) Start participating in chats that draw a similar audience. Your best initial chat participants will be regular chatters. They are used to the quickly moving dialogue and proving thoughts in well less than 140 characters.

    3) Be consistent. Bi-weekly and monthly chats are very difficult to maintain. If your audience questions if the chat will happen each week, it quickly falls off the radar. If you are serious, make it a weekly chat.

    Once your chat is up and running, weekly promotions are key. Chats are a weekly tentative appointment, you need to confirm that appointment with promotions each week. Here are steps I would recommend (learned more through error than trial):

    1) Announce your topic and any guests at least a full day in advance, ideally longer. Your topic or guests are what will confirm the appointment.

    2) Monitor the chat hashtag, for the 24 hours leading into the chat, it should always be easy to see what the topic is.

    3) Invite key individuals you want to have participate. This outreach should include very targeted outreach based on the topic set for the week (for instance, with last week’s #B2Bchat on mobile marketing, I invited individuals focused on mobile).

    4) Step carefully with promotions beyond Twitter and your chat community. Remember that only a small fraction of your audience is likely on Twitter, unless of course you sell to social media folks.

    Promoting a chat via email to people that are not active on Twitter means you are sending irrelevant emails to much of your list. Consider adding other elements to make it relevant by also promoting a recap of your last chat.

    5) Consider creating a brief framing post with more detail on the topic. A brief headline on Twitter is more directional than explanatory. Not everyone will read the post ahead of time, but it will get many of your regular participants on the same page before the chat.

    Chats can be social, but if you are running a chat for business, it needs to consistently deliver value to participants if they are going to return. One chat I frequently join asks about new tools every couple weeks, and I consistently learn about something new and worth quickly checking out.

    Ok, wrapping this up before it becomes too long for a blog post! Thanks for highlighting this topic, it is definitely an opportunity more marketers should have on their radar!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve participated in chats for about a year.  Recently started my own.  #colorchat  The reason is other chats,  graphics, branding, marketing, interior design, etc., would touch on the topic of color but not really discuss it.  The convo would occasionally turn to something about color and mods understandably want to redirect back on to specified chat topic(s).

    Obviously, I’m interested in the general direction of the established chat else I wouldn’t join but I found myself wishing for more focused color conversation.  So, I started a chat of my own.  It is a commitment but I’ve managed to show up to other chats for over a year so apparently chats work with my schedule – why not manage one.

    As far as fast and furious pace, I think that comes from chats having very broad subject matter. Macro chats if you will. Can see the logic of broad subject matter, always have something to discuss, but it attracts many different kinds of participants (chatters).  More the merrier is the right attitude to have for a chat but at the same time diversity in subject matter as well as diversity in community contributes to creating fast and furious chats.

    Still using my color chat as an example, I believe by default of its narrow focus (micro chat if you will) the chats will be more controlled. Thereby easier to follow and arguably more meaningful for participants.  That’s what I believe. . . three weeks into hosting my own chat.  Maybe ask me again in three months.

  • Wow, this comment IS a very good blog post. One of my first thoughts was ‘check for competing chats’ – you beat me to it.

  • You didn’t tell me what I wanted to know Mark: how do I find the time?! 😉 No seriously, there are days and times, I’m booked – not chatting. The only chat I consistently make is #soloPR and I really would like to make more but it’s sort of an afterthought. (Plus my priorities are askew as I’d rather dinner, movie, wine, cards than do a marcomm chat most nights.)

    And should I step outside the box, or stick w/ the ‘usual’ interests? I believe in networking and connections – you know this – but serendipity? IDK If I found a chat on Game of Thrones or Disney or cruising, I’m sure I’d have fun, but not sure it’d really be right for me. Think @wittlake:disqus nailed it in his excellent comment: the chat will grow, people will come back for more if they get value. I get value when I learn something, when I meet a ‘different’ blogger, when something opens up to me that I didn’t know – and I can somehow use that to make my day/work/life better. FWIW.

  • Awesome!  Great job! 

  • Tremendous comment Rosemary!  What a superb contribution to the discussion. Thank you so much!

  • Wow. A great blog post in its own right. I am humbled by the amount of great information you have shared here Eric.  Some of your ideas might find there way into Tao of Twitter 2!  Thank you!!! 

  • I really appreciate you lending your first-hand experience to the discussion. Superb commentary with some important insights. Thank you!

  • Here’s my standard answer to the “time question.”  You have the time. You have the same amount of time as anybody else.  But you decide how to prioritize. If it’s important, you’ll do it. If not, you won’t. That’s how life sorts itself out. I see chats as more of a “network building” activity. My growth of my network is sort of on auto-pilot so the focus of my time is really content creation. Many thanks for asking the question probably on EVERYBODY’S mind Davina!! 

  • And see, I’m still trying to figure out @ifttt – what processes can I truly trust to auto-pilot?! Guess I’m too much of a control freak or something. And yeah, I know .. sorta answered my own question (priorities: less TV, more chats). Totally stealing “the same amount of time as everyone else” BTW, so true. It’s how we work and one day, I’ll master the ‘work smarter, not harder’ I’ve heard so much about. 🙂

  • Yeah, that iftt is really taking off. @pushingsocial:twitter swears by it.

  • Thank you Mark for your encouraging, and kind words…

  • Check out #SMchat for one, and please connect with me on twitter CASUDI and I’ll think of some others for you. There were over 550 chats when I checked a couple of months ago 🙂

  •  Yes, I agree with you about the micro chats as you call them ( I call them mini-chats) where the subject matter being more focused, makes for better information exchange than chats will hundreds of participants. I always enjoy meeting you whether in mainstream or micro chats.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for saying so, I always enjoy meeting up with you too, CASUDI! The energy of hundreds of chat participants can be exhilarating once you get in the groove of a larger scale chat. So, the concept of a micro or mini chat isn’t meant to detract from that rather they are an addition to the buffet of Twitter chats available.

    Another assumption I’m making is by being zoomed in on one specific area of expertise, color, the size of community will naturally regulate smaller and slower. For examples, all interior designers do not specialize in color, some are traffic flow experts. (That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it) 😀

  • Mark, you know I am a fan of Twitter chats. Or at least some twitter chats. I agree with many of the commentors that some are way too broad to be useful. And sometimes participants start having side conversations that can become distracting. However, if you use TweetChat as your platform you can tell it to accent certain tweets (I always have it accent the tweets from the moderator) and to de-emphasize or ignore others (sometimes you get a real aggressive re-tweeter, and they are repeating topic 1 tweets when the group is on to topic 4). Here are my suggestions if you are new to Tweet Chats

    1-Identify yourself as a newcomer when you first join; people will go out of their way to help you. They will take pity upon you if the pace is too quick. 

    2- Look for the transcript or the storify post so you can catch up on what you missed if it goes too fast. Then pick out those folks who added the most value to the conversation and follow them.

    3-Find lists of chats in your area of interest. For example there is a great list of medical chats that is much easier to follow than the huge spreadsheet of all tweet chats. 

    4-Never, and I mean NEVER try to actively participate in a chat on your blackberry. I know I can only do it on my laptop or desktop. Perhaps the iphone is better, but I suspect not. You can follow the hashtags OK from your phone, but its really hard to write quickly and annoying to have to add the hashtag yourself.

    5-Be polite. Introduce yourself, say hello to others, be kind to newcomers, and don’t hog the chat. 

  • Great post and what  a good thing you wrote it, otherwise I might have had to 🙂 I have been asked several times in the last week or so to write a post, as there are those who want to know how to monetize a chat with sponsors. Lots of the advice you give about having a presence on multiple platforms is very important and I might add the “Real Life” events associated with a chat can be very compelling in attracting sponsors.

    Consider a chat you want to monetize as a small business? What would you need to do to start a business? Write a business plan might be first or second on the list and really understanding what thread of similarity your community has, in order to make it attractive and viable for a Brand to sponsor. Does everyone on #blogchat drink coffee?  What products might Architects and Interior Designers recommend to their clients? is there a community of designers on the Design chats? Yes, and #intdesignerchat is the longest running chat, on the most platforms and has live events.

    Not all chats are destined for the sponsor route, some are “Think Tanks” where groups of like minded people get together to brainstorm, and some are friends just getting together having a good time, like the corner pub.

    Mark, this is an excellent post on twitter chats, one I will pass around. You’ve come a long way “baby”

  • Thou rocketh Casudi.

  • Oh gosh cell phone Twitter chats.  My goodness that would be my idea of torture! Good advice dear doctor.

  • Ha!  Well you would know!  Thanks for your amazing comment (a real gift) and your consistent support and friendship Caroline.

  • you’ve done the leg work for so many of us, and it is appreciated. 

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  • Mark,
    Thanks for tackling the topic of Tweet Chats.

    The key ingredient to a successful tweet chat,
    no matter how we define success, is a strong moderator(s). The moderator(s)
    needs to have a strong background in both tweeter and group facilitation skills.

    Tweet Chats may come and go but the ones that
    consistently bring value have a person(s) behind them putting in a great deal
    of hard work and devoting a number of hours before, during and after a chat.
    I’ve enjoyed actively engaging both as a participant and as a guest moderator
    in a number of Health Care Social Media chats.

    I believe the best way to begin to actively engage on
    twitter is to find a tweet chat community that meets your needs and become an active
    community member.
    I was humbled to have the chance to provide a webinar for the Mayo Clinic discussing tweet chats. Mark, thanks again for sharing your insight on Tweet Chats. http://socialmedia.mayoclinic.org/2012/02/09/health-care-tweet-chats-101-everything-you-need-to-know/

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  • Mark what’s so ironic is that years ago I told you that twitter chats would be the next wave of marketing. It may very well have been a comment I made on one of your blogs and you said no way — firehose! Though I’d have to admit despite your reluctance you were still willing to jump on the firing lane and guest host our #CXO [Customer eXperience Optimization] chat. It’s amazing how the market shifts. If you don’t shift with it you’re left eating dust.

    One key element of successful chats is fostering community. When the relationships transcend that weekly hour on twitter you.position yourself to have a better tweetchat.

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