Twitter has more than 200 million users. This makes it increasingly difficult for people and brands to break through the noise to reach their target audience.
While Twitter may not have a groups function like LinkedIn or Facebook, communities can engage with each other through Twitter chats.
A Twitter chat involves a group of online users who use a designated hashtag at a scheduled time to discuss various topics and trends.
Whether you participate as an individual or on behalf of a brand, these chats are an effective way to grow your following and increase engagement with thought leaders in your community.
Joining a Twitter chat may seem intimidating, but it can be a beneficial and fun experience. If you've never joined a Twitter chat before, here are eight things you should do to get the most out of them:
1. Find the right chat.
Each week, hundreds of groups and organizations host Twitter chats on a variety of topics. From event professionals to Justin Bieber fans, there is a chat for everyone. Not sure which is best for you? Check out this public Google Doc that keeps track of all Twitter chat schedules.
2. Do your homework.
If you've never joined a particular chat before, it's important to understand the community before you jump in. Many chat communities have their own rules and best practices for participation, so make sure you know what they are before you join.
It's also a good idea to silently observe a chat before you join so you can get a feel for its format and flow. You can also scope out the key contributors and thought leaders.
3. Reach out to the moderator.
It's extremely beneficial to reach out to the moderator before the chat to see what questions he or she plans to ask. If you know the chat's agenda in advance, you can plan how to contribute to the discussion.
4. Take time to prepare.
Although Twitter chats happen in real time, the worst thing a person or brand can do is wing it. Prior to the chat, think about the message you want to get across with the chat's topic and questions.
5. Use a chat tool.
There are several useful social media tools designed for Twitter chats. TweetChat and TweetGrid are two of the many sites that allow you to monitor a chat's hashtag in real time while you post tweets.
6. Actively participate.
After you introduce yourself to the chat's participants, don't just watch the conversation happen. Find a way to contribute throughout the chat.
7. Don't abuse the hashtag.
Keep in mind that the purpose of joining a Twitter chat is to increase engagement and expand your social network—not promote your product or service. If you use a chat's hashtag in a self-serving or irrelevant way, you will quickly lose credibility and respect.
8. Keep in touch.
The chat may only last an hour, but the new connections you make can last a lifetime. It is important to follow up with the people you talked to and thank them for their insight. If possible, try to take the conversation to another social media platform, or offline at an industry event.
Once you have successfully participated in a Twitter chat, offer to moderate it the next time. Moderating a chat opens up even more opportunities for you and your brand.
Kaylen McNamara is a senior account executive at Affect Strategies, an award-winning public relations, marketing and social media agency specializing in business-to-business technology companies. A version of this post first appeared on tech effect.