Effective marketing on Twitter involves an ongoing litany of activities: tweet, retweet, favorite, follow, unfollow, direct message, tag, hashtag, repeat.
With all of this existing activity, adding Twitter chats sounds a bit like the final straw heading for the camel’s back.
Fortunately there simple ways to engage in Twitter chats that allow us to connect efficiently with a large audience while still establishing meaningful, non-spammy connections. By wading into to the ocean of chats slowly and following some basic best practices you’ll be able to use this Twitter resources without letting it take over your week.
What is a Twitter Chat
Twitter chats are a little like meetups, only without the awkward lulls in conversation or coffee breath.
Basically a host will establish a time and topic of discussion, which will be identified using a chat-specific hashtag. The host also usually provides a handful of questions for the chat attendees to discuss; some release these in advance, while others prefer they be a surprise.
Those who want to join the chat can simply follow the designated hashtag in their tool of choice (more about this later), commenting and interacting as they like.
Twitter chats take place on basically every topic you can imagine, so whatever your audience is interested in you can find a chat in which to reach them.
TweetReports.com lets you sort Twitter chats by topic, time, moderator, and more so you can easily find one that works with your marketing agenda. You could easily spend your entire work week on chats, so don’t get too carried away.
Find a few high value chats and focus on those.
Steps for Getting Started
If you’ve never taken part in a Twitter chat, start off lurking.
Many chats have their own unspoken rules of etiquette, and you need to get a feel for these before you lumber in. This means that you’ll be watching the chat take place but not participating in the discussion.
This rule applies to any new chat that you join for the first time; watch and listen for your first one, then wade into the fray carefully.
Second, once you’re confident that you know the ropes of your chosen chat, begin tweeting your answers to the moderator’s questions.
Most importantly, make sure you contribute value and make connections during the chat.
Do your homework, and, if you’re nervous about on-the-fly interactions, prepare some nice shareable graphics and comments.
Above all, DON’T just throw out links to your own site or resources. It’s a conversation, not a promo parade.
If you’re digging on the chats and think it would be beneficial to your marketing strategy, you can progress to a third tier of Twitter chat participation: hosting a chat.
This is really only within your reach if you have a significant following (or access to one through a connection of some kind). You don’t want to end up hosting a ghost chat with no participants.
If hosting isn’t an option but you want a little more exposure via your chosen chat, you can sometimes become a chat sponsor. This can go awry very quickly, however, if you are more focused on promoting your product/brand and neglect the value of the chat to its participants.
When you sponsor a chat your focus needs to be on creating lively discussion, not bludgeoning the audience with your products.
Basic Tips For Your First Chat
|Before a chat starts send out a high volume tweet warning to your followers so they know you may be tweeting more often than usual while you’re in the chat. If you think they might be interested, you can also send out an invitation to the chat.|
|Regardless of how fascinating the chat is, don’t just retweet the questions.
If your followers were interested in the chat, they’d be in it themselves. If they aren’t in it, they most likely couldn’t care less about the questions from it.
During the chat, use “@” when you’re talking to a particular person to avoid confusion.
|Twitter Tip: If you start your tweet with an “@”, make sure you throw in a “.” first so everybody can see it. If you forget the period only you, the person you tagged, and anybody who follows both of you will see it.|
|When you want to reply to a particular person or favorite a specific tweet it can be helpful to pause the chat stream so you can be sure you’re grabbing the right tweet. Scrolling during a Twitter chat can get fast and furious and without pausing you might end up favoriting, retweeting, or replying to the wrong thing.|
|Make sure you use the chat’s hashtag for your chat-related tweets.|
|Stick to the topic! If you want to talk to someone off topic, send them a direct message or take the conversation outside of the chat (i.e. stop using the hashtag). It’s maddening when the flow of a Twitter chat gets interrupted by people talking about the weather or something completely irrelevant. Chats are hard enough to keep up with without extraneous tweets flying everywhere!|
|Follow up with people whose Tweets you found enjoyable. Part of the goal of a Twitter chat is to find new people to connect with, so save time right after for following, direct messaging, and tagging those who you want to keep on your radar.|
Goals and Takeaways
You should go into a Twitter chat with two primary goals: add value, and make connections. Doing the first will make the second much easier.
Add Value Always
Remember that Twitter chats are just one piece of your overall Twitter strategy, and it in turn is just another cog in your marketing machine. Therefore all of your tweets, within chats or outside them, should be contributing to your larger goals on Twitter and social media.
For most people those goals include establishing their brand as an authority in their field, and useless retweets or repetitive answer to chat questions aren’t going to achieve that goal.
Similarly, chats can be a gold mine for finding influencers in your niche. But if your tweets are forgettable or redundant or pointless, they’re not going to be excited about engaging with you.
Twitter chats aren’t exactly like real live chats, but you can use reality as a guide for the content of your contributions. If it’s not something you would find interesting in a live conversation, reconsider adding it to the chat stream.
Keep track of those contributors who you particularly like hearing from and/or chatting with, and make sure you follow them. (You should also follow the moderator and/or host of the chat before it starts.)
Retweeting good posts (with the originator’s handle of course) will help create a sense of reciprocity and provide value to your followers as well. Along the same lines, you can curate some of the best tips/tools/takeaways for your followers, mentioning people from the chat that you want to cultivate a relationship with.
Tools For Participating in Twitter Chats:
It’s almost impossible to follow a chat within Twitter itself. Fortunately there are lots of third party options where you can manage the onslaught of chat tweets.
Allows you to sort chats by topic, which is very helpful for finding new potential chat topics
Chat Salad: http://chatsalad.com
Provides a more timeline-centered view. A great option if you are driven primarily by schedule rather than topic.
Twubs has one of the nicest interfaces, in my opinion.
A simple, straightforward way to participate in chats
Owned by Twitter and a common tool for many already, you can simply add a column with your chosen hashtag and monitor/tweet within it. Also allows you to follow the same hashtag all week, not just during the chats.
As with Tweetdeck, you can save hashtags as streams within Hootsuite. Particularly useful if you join the same ones each week.