How to Run a Successful Twitter Chat

written on June 06, 2011 by Jason Therrien

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A Twitter chat is not a new concept. There are a few that have been running weekly or monthly for a few years now, but starting a Twitter chat can be intimidating. Below are some tips to help your company lead a successful Twitter chat with the best of them.

What is a Twitter chat?
First, we should probably explain what a Twitter chat is. Twitter chats are a way for online users to gather at a specified time to discuss certain topics or issues, enabling a company to bring its users together on a platform where they can interact in real time. This is a great way for brands to engage all of its Twitter users and potentially increase followers.

How does Twitter chat work?
Before starting a chat, a hashtag must be established. A Twitter hashtag is used to denote keywords or topics in a tweet. When a user clicks on a hashtag, it will automatically pull up the most recent tweets using that hashtag. A hashtag creates a running stream of tweets that include that specific word allowing administrators to track of all the participants and questions being asked in one Twitter stream.

Consider using a hashtag that can easily be associated with your brand, but remember to search the hashtag through Twitter search before you use it. You never know who else may have already used that hashtag or what it may already be associated with in the Twitterverse. Just remember to try and keep the character count as low as possible for your hashtag since it will be added onto the end of each tweet during the chat.

How to prepare for a Twitter chat
A specified date and time must be designated for the chat to take place. Target a time when your followers are most active and schedule accordingly. You must also consider time zones because you don’t want to schedule a chat for 9 a.m. Eastern time since most people on the West coast will be waking up and most likely won’t be inclined to participate. Many Twitter chats take place either during lunch when people at work can participate on their break or in the evening when people are home. You should also determine a topic prior to the chat to help steer the conversation in a certain direction and avoid jumping around from subject to subject.

Attracting Twitter chat participants
Once the date and time is decided, utilize your website, e-mail marketing techniques and any social media platforms where your company has a presence to notify followers when the chat will occur. Let people know beforehand when they can join and how the chat will run. It is a good idea to inform followers of the upcoming chat at least a week in advance with multiple updates leading up to the chat. You can also search for Twitter users who are talking about your topic already and personally invite them to join your chat. Alerting your followers of the chat also prepares them for an increase in tweets from your account during that time period.

Moderation
There are tools available such as TweetChat and twebevent that will help the moderator focus on the specific chat within Twitter without getting distracted by other tweets and news feeds. It is best practice to identify the followers who will be leading the discussion and answering questions, which should be no more than one to two people at a time.

We recommend at least one person manages the computer and types questions and answers, while another relays the questions to the representative and assists in crafting the correct answer to fit the 140 character Twitter limit. The more help in the beginning, the better because an online chat can move rather quickly as users are shooting in questions and the moderators sift through and try to provide the best ones. You shouldn’t feel like you have to answer all the questions during a Twitter chat, but if there are a lot you can’t get to, consider scheduling a follow-up Twitter chat on the same topic.

Starting the conversation
Begin the conversation by reminding followers what the topic is, provide a couple of facts and allow followers to ask questions and chat about the topic. Sometimes, even other followers will answer questions. The online moderator is responsible for keeping the conversation on track and ensuring the conversation ends at the appropriate time. Even though the chat may end at a specific time, followers may continue the chat themselves without official company representation.

Final thoughts and other tidbits
Provided you’ve already established followers for your company Twitter account, a Twitter chat is a unique way to connect with fans and keep them engaged with the brand. It can also provide insight into your company’s environment and personality to media and your followers.

Don’t expect to attract a lot of new followers or chat participants if you haven’t taken the time to establish a Twitter presence. Also, don’t get discourage if your first Twitter chat doesn’t garner a lot of attention. The most popular chats have been running for months or even years. Twitter chat is a learning process, and once you’ve administered one or two, you will have a better idea of what works best for your company and followers.

Extras
Did you know that there are more than 300 existing Twitter chats? Here’s a complete list. There was also an interesting case study regarding Toyota’s use of Twitter chat. Finally, here are a couple of useful articles to get you started:

Have you ever moderated or attended a Twitter chat? What tips or tricks can you share?


Jason Therrien is president of thunder::tech, an integrated marketing agency based in Cleveland, Ohio, that provides services in the areas of web, graphic design, interactive media, video, public relations, social media and advertising. To learn more about thunder::tech and the agency's capabilities, please visit www.thundertech.com or call 216-391-2255. To get the latest marketing industry thoughts and random musings from thunder::tech, follow us on Twitter @thundertech.