So you want to run a Twitter Chat—awesome! Before you jump in and get started, let’s dig into this question: what is a twitter chat, really?
Twitter chats are a scheduled gathering of people online to discuss a topic—really it could be anything. They are an easy, no-commitment way to meet people with similar backgrounds or interests online and exchange ideas in an organized question and answer structure. There is always a host that pushes the questions and advances the conversation, and sometimes there is a guest of honor who answers them.
Twitter chats are one of my favorite ways to personally engage with others online—meet new people who share a common interest, grow my own personal knowledge in a vertical, and help build my personal brand. I also don’t mind the fact that after participating in one, my follower count usually sees a little bump—it’s a total bonus—who doesn’t like more friends?
Both brands and personal accounts can experience the benefits from participating in—or hosting—a Twitter chat, but where do you start? What are the do’s and don’ts of running a twitter chat? Rest assured, tweeps, I’ve got your back with a step-by-step list:
1) Do Your Research: Partner Up!
To the outside world, it’s pretty easy to set up a Twitter chat. All you have to do is pick a date, time, topic, chat-specific hashtag, and promote it. But let me pull back the social media curtain for you and expose you to the prep work that goes on behind the scene.
There are some recurring chats that have a strong following and always focus on a similar topic or industry (running, fashion, advertising, etc.). Before you go to create a new one, be sure to do your research and see if the chat that you want to have is already happening. It’s ok to create a new one, but don’t host a duplicate chat at the same competing time. Instead, consider joining the other chat or seeing if there’s an opportunity to partner with the host and be their headliner guest. Joining forces will make the workload lighter and combining your audiences will help you expand your potential audience and reach.
2) Plan, and then, Plan Some More
Once you have done your research, it’s time to enter the planning stage. Start by considering the geographic location and unifying interests of your fan base and potential audience. We recently bumped up the timing of our Twitter chats with Advertising Week from 10AM PST to 8AM PST to make it easier for more of our European fans to join in.
Your topic likely won’t appeal to every single one of your thousands of followers, but you can choose a high level, specific theme that you think will resonate with them and be generally engaging. For example, Advertising Week hosts #AWchat every Tuesday morning and Marketo joins as the headliner guest once per month. Our past three topics have focused on content marketing, real-time marketing, and Super Bowl advertising, each of which generally appeals to a large variety of marketers but aren’t too restrictive, which allows us to do a deep dive within each topic.
Most Twitter chats last 1 hour. While this seems pretty long, they actually fly by especially once momentum picks up a few minutes into the chat. For the structure of your chat, I recommend that the hosts pose 6 questions over the course of the hour, as you need time to tweet that the chat is starting, introduce any guest of honor, post the question, reply to your favorite answers, and close out the chat by sending a thank you tweet (ideally with a call to action). It’s important to remember that your chat is a conversation, not a 1-way street, so it’s essential to find the right balance with the number of questions. Try not to push out more questions than you can actually answer and engage with and be careful not to post too few that you let the conversation drop.
If you have a guest of honor for the chat, be sure to share the questions with them ahead of time so they can draft their answers. Guests help draw in a larger audience by combining forces (or fans) on social media. This creates an awesome positive ripple effect which is the stuff of a Social Media Manager’s dream. Providing the questions ahead of time to the guest (and only the guest) allows her to pre-write her responses, so she has more time to engage with the people who join the chat.
3) Promote Your Chat!
You’d never throw a party and then not invite anyone. My favorite way to promote a twitter chat is to write a blog post on the partner’s website (assuming they have a blog option), because it 1) helps feed their content machine, 2) exposes your company to their audience, and 3) drives their audience to your social accounts. Check out my most recent Twitter chat promotional post on the Advertising Week Social Club blog. Bet you didn’t realize it was a Twitter chat promo until you got to the end when you saw the call-to-action paragraph!
Additionally, make creative promotional assets to post on Twitter that introduce your fans to the topic and your guest. Be sure to promote your post on the right channels and always include the hashtag for your chat. Your Facebook fans might not also be your fans on Twitter, so promote your chat to the right audiences on the right platform.
4) Have Fun—It’s an Online Party!
You’ve done your research, picked a partner, developed a topic and questions; and promoted it with the hashtag. Now it’s time to start the party! If you’re hosting your chat with a partner, be sure to jump on the phone with them for the hour. It’s amazing how easy it can be to miss a tweet, especially in the larger chats, so having them on the line as an extra set of eyes is essential. Remember that you always, always, always, need to tweet with the chat hashtag. Otherwise, your incredibly insightful or sassy reply will be lost in the vast Twitterverse.
If you’re the host, be sure to post every question with “Q1, Q2, Q3…” and if you are a participant, then always reply with “A1, A2, A3…” It’ll help provide a consistent flow in your feed as the chat happens and helps people follow and read through all of the questions and answers in order, both during the event and after the chat is over.
Phew! You’ve made it through your first Twitter chat! #PatYourselfOnTheBack! What are your favorite Twitter chats for marketers? Have you ever hosted a chat? Share your experiences below in the comments..