Twitter chats are powerful. They're an opportunity to build deeper trust with your audience, build up your brand, and ultimately help your bottom line. They offer a huge bang-for-your-buck, and not nearly enough companies are taking advantage of them.
What is a Twitter chat?
When several people tweet using a single designated hashtag, they create a real-time conversation that is similar to live messaging.
How are chats useful?
First, Twitter chats build rapport with customers and clients. Leading a discussion shows the audience that you are knowledgeable on the topic, even if in reality you just began learning about it. It’s a branding experience that demonstrates your (or your company’s) authority.
Second, it sells product. As part of the purchase cycle, a quality Twitter chat grows and expands its reach. There is a good likelihood that many of the participants will want to know more and check out your website.
Finally, it helps you get to know your audience on a personal level. When you’re engaging in a Twitter chat, you are speaking with both clients and peers in an informal environment. You don’t get insight like that every day.
How to host a Twitter chat
Before the chat
1) Pick an overarching topic that connects you to your audience. For example, if you’re a local coffee chain that caters primarily to college students, you could talk about coffee. But unless your clientele are mainly coffee connoisseurs, you won’t get far. Instead, you could invite participants to talk about the local music scene or how to survive finals week. Likewise, if you’re an advertising agency merely talking about advertising will connect you with other advertisers, but not your target audience. If instead you talked about workplace management, you would reach a greater pool of professionals who might be inclined to use your services in the future. Your overarching topic does not need to be your industry. Instead, look for a topic that gives your business and your target audience common ground.
2) Choose a relevant hashtag. Make it short and easy to remember. It’s also a good idea to check that it’s not already being used by someone else – a quick search on Twitter should show this. A hashtag already in use may give you a wider audience, but be wary of encroaching on claimed Twitter chat territory.
4) Choose a time and frequency for your chat. Consider your audience; teenagers might be willing to meet at 9pm, but business professionals with families at home won’t. Then, how often will you meet – Weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Going too long between chats will lose audience interest, but chatting too often could give you more work than necessary. Find what works for you – and your audience.
5) Make a list of topics for each chat. If you just throw out “Let’s talk about business success!” you will probably get a bunch of random responses and, more importantly, have nothing to talk about next week. Narrow the topics down. If you’re a company that sells winter sports equipment, weekly topics might be about gear care, skill development, safety, etc. Mix time-sensitive topics (such as addressing some recent news) with timeless ones.
6) For each topic, create a few questions. They should be related questions that lead a discussion, not just a jumble of random thoughts. For example, let’s say you’re a b2b that does employee personality mapping to improve workplace efficiency. This week’s topic is workplace productivity. Your questions might be: What are the greatest inhibitors to productivity in today’s workplace? How much time should employees spend each week on furthering their education/skill set? What would you suggest to a company that struggles with keeping employees on-task?
7) Once you have everything set up, it’s time to market like crazy. Get the word out. I suggest making event pages on both Facebook and Google+, as well as tweeting about it regularly. Personally invite influencers in your industry who might find the chat interesting. Make sure your chosen hashtag is prominent in your advertising efforts; put it in your copy and on promotional images. Let your last Tweet go out about 5 minutes before the chat as a reminder.
During the chat
8) Your first chat is the most important one. In this event, all attendees (including your influencers) will be deciding whether or not it will be worth their time to come to the next one. Use the best topic you came up with.
9) Start with an introductory tweet welcoming attendees and reminding them of the hashtag. Explain how the chat will work. Follow with your first question.
10) Engage with the participants. Encourage questions and answer them. Retweet. Be human. Don’t be afraid when participants share links to their own content; it’s the sharing of knowledge that will keep them coming back each week.
11) Release a new question at regular intervals. Every 10 minutes is a good pace to start with, making adjustments made as you learn your audience’s tweeting habits better.
12) Don’t drag it out too long. Wrap it up at a pre-specified time so that your audience won’t view future participation as too time-consuming. Thank all participants, remind them when the next chat is, and leave them with the link to where the highlights/transcript will be posted.
After the chat
13) An important step in encouraging long-term participation is to document the chat. This lets anyone who couldn’t make it see what they missed and be inclined to join in next time. If your chat didn’t get much involvement, you might want to include everything that was said. If it was a lively discussion, your job is to prune out the best comments. The most popular ways of documenting are by creating a blog post or using a media compilation tool such as Wakelet.
14) Continue brainstorming great topics and questions for your discussion. The benefit of Twitter chats is that they don’t require much time at all to be successful. However, make sure that you’re not letting your responsibilities fall to the wayside. A dying Twitter chat is a sorry sight.
15) Consider enrolling with Hashtracking. This is a powerful tool that provides insight for hashtags, which can help you monitor the pace of the conversation, participation, etc. They offer a 30-day free trial to follow one hashtag – definitely a tool to check out.
Expanding the chat
16) Once you have steady engagement, you can begin to expand your reach. A tried-and-true method of increasing engagement is to invite an appropriate influencer for a Q&A session. Different members of your audience may be encouraged to come, and your influencer will undoubtedly be inviting all of his/her audience to join in as well.
17) Consider integrating with Google+ Hangouts. This might mean running a Twitter chat that supports the Google+ Hangout, or it might mean two separate events that complement each other, such as hosting a guest speaker on Google+ and then discussing the same topic the next day on Twitter. Engaging an audience on multiple channels not only draws in more viewers and participants; the different options of interaction (140 characters vs. video) also attract different types of participants. The more your chat grows, the vaster its reach will be, and the more leads will ultimately be led back to you.