Twitter chats, tweetups, hashtag chats – it seems like everyone’s been getting in on these lately, asking their followers to track a hashtag at an appointed date and time to discuss a specific topic.
But as positive as these can be for boosting a brand and for fuelling a great discussion, setting up a Twitter chat and getting people to participate is a lot of work, and doing it well is practically an art form.
Det.-Sgt. Cameron Field of the Toronto police’s financial crimes unit has been running one for about a year. Centred around fraud prevention at the hashtag #Fraudchat, the goal was to reach out to the public and educate people on how to avoid scammers. The chat, which takes place every Thursday night at 9 p.m., just marked its one-year anniversary this week.
For anyone looking to organize chats of their own, Field has a lot of advice based on his own experiences. We’ve rounded up a list of five things to consider before jumpstarting Twitter chats.
1. Build a community first – and leverage the one you already have.
When Field and his co-moderator, Kristen Rose, first began organizing these chats a year ago, they were doing them as part of a social media working group. So they already had a community that could support them in their chats, Field says.
Rose, a communications officer at the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, had a number of connections to people in finance, as did Field, so they leveraged a network of about 25 different companies and agencies to build a community to promote the chat. With all of these groups promoting the chats, they can probably generate about two million impressions, Field adds.
“Our dream is that people will talk about fraud, and they’ll mention our chat,” he says. But he cautions that having just 100 followers while trying to run a Twitter chat probably won’t be very effective.
“We send teasers to people, and ask them what’s critical in the world to chat about? But it’s no use if no one is listening,” he says.
And to reach out to members of the public, Field searches hashtags like #Toronto and #fraudprevention to see who he might be able to follow, based on who might be interested in his topic. Then he uses tools like Manage Flitter to weed out Twitter users who will probably never follow him back.
“It’s not spiteful, we just need to shorten the distance and identify people who would be interested,” he says.
The goal here is to build a community, Field adds, and one of the best ways to do that is to start reaching out to people who share a common interest.
2. Think carefully about a time slot for your chat.
When Rose and Field began the groundwork for planning their chats, they settled on an off-beat time slot – 9 p.m. Thursdays. That’s because they wanted to ensure they would have no competition with other Twitter chats, Field says.
However, he says picking the right time slot really depends on your audience. As he was reaching out to the general public, he wanted it to be at a time when people might be home, winding down, and gearing up for the next work day.
But if you’re running a Twitter chat for, say, mommy bloggers, maybe the best time will be during the day, when their kids are at school – it just really depends on your audience.
3. If you want your chat to take root, you have to be consistent.
While it’s a lot of work to fire up a Twitter chat every week, Field says he and Rose opted for a weekly session because it solidifies their chat as a forum for discussing fraud prevention.
That can’t happen unless people know the chat is going to take place every week. In Field’s eyes, running a Twitter chat even once a month isn’t going to cut it.
This also means Twitter chat organizers need to be strategic about picking the focus of their overall chat. Fraud prevention is a wide topic, Field says, so he and Rose are never short of weekly topic ideas. Their most recent chat centred around investment fraud, but other chat topics have included insurance scams, consumer shakedowns, and more off-beat types, like the ones targeting homeowners by promising to fix hot water heaters. And interestingly enough, one of their more popular, repeated chats has focused on romantic scams.
“Those are some of the most devastating emotionally. We couldn’t keep up with all of the input,” Field says. “What we’ve learned is that a ton of Canadians want to talk about fraud, but people don’t like to admit they’ve been the victims of fraud. They’re ashamed and embarrassed. But to come here, we’ve provided a forum that is relatively anonymous, and they can talk openly.”
4. Bring in a guest expert to draw participants in.
One of the best ways to attract participants to a Twitter chat is to bring in people with expertise, Field says.
During the Nov. 28 edition of #Fraudchat, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) filled the guest spot, fielding a number of questions about investment fraud and how to prevent falling victim to it. The chat was buzzing with questions from chat participants, and the OSC provided a number of links with tips on how to avoid unscrupulous would-be scammers.
So far, the strategy seems to be panning out. Field says he was especially proud to see #Fraudchat garner the number seven spot of the top 10 hashtags trending in Toronto on Nov. 28 – and that lined up nicely with #Fraudchat’s first birthday.
5. Be prepared to follow up with your participants.
One of the most rewarding things about running a Twitter chat is being able to connect with the community, Field says. But for #Fraudchat, connecting with chat participants is a little different than it might be with other chats, because many participants often share about crimes that have taken place.
To follow up, Field will tweet at those participants, asking them to follow him so they can exchange information via Twitter direct messages. While he won’t pursue anything participants tell him over Twitter chat, he will provide them with information about the right authorities approach and give them the opportunity to follow up.
That may not apply to all Twitter chats, but keeping in touch with chat participants is a good starting place, Field says.
The most important thing is to just experiment, he adds. Most of what he’s learned about social media has been through trying things and seeing how they turn out.
“We’ve been on social media since 2004, but three years ago, our communications team started having a huge presence.” he says, adding it may be a lot of work, but he feels the payoff is worth it.
“Social media presents this wonderful opportunity to share great success stories, and to demystify who we are and engage people, like walking up to a police officer by his car … So I would say, get in there, roll up your sleeves and do things by trial and error, and make a ton of mistakes.”