5 tips for lively Twitter chats

Gathering well-versed participants for a topical discussion can drive traffic to your site.

Gathering well-versed participants for a topical discussion can drive traffic to your site

There are many tactics companies can implement as part of a smart Twitter Marketing strategy. Growing the initial following is important, as is providing the budding community you’re building with something of value to keep coming back and to spread the good word to their networks.

One such tactic that offers value and brings people together is the Twitter chat. I’ve been involved with about five or six different Twitter chats as a guest, and they are a unique experience. In this post, I’ll share my observations about what seems to work, some logistics and a few examples of some well-run Twitter chats for the marketing and PR verticals.

1. Pick a great hashtag — The hashtag ties your Twitter chat together. It should reflect the topic and be intuitive. Examples might be: #poetry #crmchat or #seo411. Here’s a list of over 150 chats, topics and the times they run at: Twitter Chat Schedule.

2. Decide a format and schedule — Part of what makes a Twitter chat successful is that there is a consistent time that requires little reminder and a format that’s easy to follow. There are a certain number of early adopters on Twitter that “get” how #chats work, but there are many, many more who don’t. They’ll see a sudden flurry of #chat handles in their friends’ Tweets and wonder what’s going on. Make it easy for the audience you’re after to join in and know when the next chat is happening. Although there may be more, I’ve seen two formats that stand out.

  • Free for all. This is where the chat is treated like a cocktail party, people start posting comments and questions, and anyone can reply. Without the use of a tool like Tweetchat, it can be difficult to follow.
  • Outside guests or experts. If you start the chat, you’re the moderator. One of your duties if you choose the format of bringing in a guest is to find guests that your attendees respect and want to hear from. Prep the guest with how you run your chats in advance. Use a template e-mail or Web page to communicate this. If your guest hasn’t participated in a chat before, they might need a little more guidance but once you’ve done one, the rest go pretty similarly. Prep the guest with questions in advance so they have an idea of what the specific topic will be. This helps them provide better answers more efficiently.

Promote the guest, and get the guest to promote the chat. Tell the guest what your group responds well to, and give examples if you can. This will provide some appreciated guidance for the guest and will help give the group members what they’re looking for.

3. Create a Web page explaining your chat — Although a Twitter @account for the chat is a good idea, it’s also smart to have a static Web page somewhere that the Twitter account can link to. People should also be able to easily find the About #chat page through search engines, so get some other pages or chat members to link to it using the chat name. Explain what the purpose of the chat is, who the moderator(s) are, when the chat runs (including time zone), and whether the chats are archived and where. Also, make it easy for visitors to spread the good word about the chat by offering social sharing links/buttons.

This page can live on your blog or your website, or you can easily set up a page on Posterous, WordPress or Blogger. If you want to explain more than what is reasonable on a Twitter page, a Web page offers more room. A blog, Facebook Fan page or LinkedIn group that explains the Twitter #chat can also be used, and several #chats mentioned below do just that.

4. Recognize #chat participants — Call out participants during the chat by retweeting interesting things they’ve posted. List all chat participants on the #chat Web page. Offer a TweepML list of participants to make it easy for someone to follow everyone in a single click. You might also manage a Twitter list of past guests, another list for moderators and a third list for most-active participants. Possibly promote the Twitter list on services like Listorious. Besides ensuring quality questions, on-topic tweets and great guests, recognition is a powerful thing to do in order to grow a Twitter #chat group.

5. Archive the #chat — Saving the threads of discussion that occur during the chats can be very useful afterward, especially if you have a good guest and/or participants who come prepared. I like to prepare 10 to 12 Tweets with links to useful resources before the chat starts. That way when people ask questions I can answer immediately. I’ve done this several times, and it’s gone over pretty well. Look through the Twitter stream of the chat, and archive the whole thing or just the most interesting threads into a Web page. Archived Twitter chats are an excellent source of content for your blog. Over time, archived chats can be a very useful repository of information, attract links and create search traffic for your website.

Lee Odden is CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, where this article originally ran. Follow him on Twitter @leeodden.

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