By Mark Schaefer
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
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.
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?