What we learned from running our Twitter chats

With hashtag-based chats cropping up everywhere you look in the Twitterverse, now seems like a good time to talk about how you can moderate a Twitter chat to help you build your brand and connect with your audience.

In case you’re not sure what a Twitter chat is, this is a way for you to run a discussion on Twitter, with all participants following the conversation by using a hashtag. A note of caution – Twitter chats can get chaotic, especially when there are tweets coming from all directions.

But as the moderator, it’s your job to keep the conversation flowing and on track. But the actual role of moderating on the day of the chat isn’t difficult – as long as you are running Tweetdeck, HootSuite, or another social media dashboard that will allow you to search tweets within a hashtag in real-time, you can keep track of everything that’s going on.

The real key to moderating a successful Twitter chat is preparation – doing all of your homework ahead of time, reaching out to participants, and promoting the beans out of your chat to get the best possible participation at the appointed hour.

Read on for a set of tips on how to run a Twitter chat – and boost your brand in the process.

1. Choose a strong topic.

It may seem like an obvious point, but you have to give this one some serious thought. First of all, you need to know who your audience is and what topics will draw them in.

In our experience, two of the best Twitter chats we’ve run have been on hot topics like crowdfunding and Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), subjects relevant and timely for our readers. That attracted a lot of interest and encouraged people we didn’t know to promote the chats for us on Twitter, touting the chats as sessions that could be informative for their own followers.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Picking a broad topic can be helpful because it can make it more accessible for Twitter users, allowing them to tweet and share their experiences. However, the topic must be specific enough to generate value for them. If they are spending roughly an hour on Twitter and participating in your chat, they need to feel they are learning something and gaining valuable insights.

Publish a blog post containing the questions for your chat ahead of time, so participants know what to expect. We did this two weeks in advance and used the post to promote the chat and provide a landing page. For example, if someone was looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign, by perusing our questions, they could tell this chat would have some helpful tips for them. But if someone was solely interested in backing campaigns, they might have noted this chat might not be the right fit.

Many of the best questions include how-tos, or they ask people about their personal experiences – for example, asking people how they kicked off a successful crowdfunding campaigns is a great place to start.

2. Bring savvy guest experts on board.

Unless you are an expert on the topic at hand, it really helps to have one or two people committed to attending your chat and fielding questions from Twitter chat participants. And even if you are already an expert in your domain, as the moderator, you will already be busy asking questions at different intervals and following up on what others have tweeted about. That’s why it’s a good idea to have people in place to speak on the topic and offer their insights.

Ideal experts are people who know their subject well, and who are also adept at using Twitter. They should be familiar with using hashtags, and it also helps if they have active accounts online. If a guest is unfamiliar with Twitter, it can be difficult for them to follow the chat once it starts rolling.

For our crowdfunding chat, we brought in Danae Ringelmann, co-founder of Indiegogo, one of the biggest crowdfunding sites. We also had Cindy Gordon of Invest Crowdfund Canada on board.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

And for the CASL chat, we brought in John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, as well as Bret Conkin, chief marketing officer at Fundrazr, Canada’s largest crowdfunding platform. A lawyer, Lawford was instrumental in explaining the legal ramifications of CASL, while Conkin provided some great insight on tips for marketers seeking to navigate the new legislation.

Having one or two notable names also encourages others to promote the chat, and it helps boost discussion during the actual event, especially when participants begin directing questions directly to the experts.

3. Promote, promote, promote.

While the Twitter chat involves an intense amount of tweeting and moves at a relatively fast pace, the real legwork might be in promoting the chat.

After we announced each of our chats, we spent two weeks promoting them on social media, taking to Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and of course, Twitter. There’s no real limit to how many times you can promote a chat, but it really depends on the social network.

For example, it may not be a good idea to spam Facebook users with reminders about the chat everyday for two weeks, but so many tweets go through Twitter each day, it doesn’t do any harm to tweet about the chat multiple times a day. With HootSuite or Tweetdeck, you can also schedule future tweets to promote the chat, especially if you are too occupied during the work day.

But besides the social media blitz, it may be a good idea to reach out to people individually. Check back through your past contacts – who do you know? Who do you think will be interested in your chat? Tweet directly at them, or even better – send them an email to invite them personally because you feel you both could benefit from their presence online.

At IT Business.ca, we’ve been inviting people to our chats via Google Calendar. Calendar invites are an easy way to remind people of the chat, as well as to confirm who is going and who needs to bow out. It also provides a quick and easy way to email a list of attendees and potential participants, so you can keep them updated as you get closer to the date of the chat.

You can also reach out to others in your company. Raising internal participation is a good way to get help on promoting future chats and to encourage everyone to be involved with your company brand.

4. Moderate the chat as organically as you can.

On the day of the actual chat, things can get hectic quickly. Tweets don’t typically flow in a logical order because people will answer different questions at different times, according to how quickly they type and how quick they are to follow the conversation.

What we’ve found helpful is using Q1. to signify question 1, and we’ve asked participants to answer with A1. when they want to respond to a question. That makes it simpler to keep track of who is tweeting about what.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Things become more complicated once Twitter users begin to respond to each other and to ask follow-up questions, or to provide comments. But if that happens, don’t hurry onto the next question! That’s a great thing – what you’ve done is start a discussion that can actually be even more productive than the questions you have prepared.

So don’t feel compelled to use all of the questions you’ve prepared – be ready to be flexible and to drop questions, as well as bring up new ones, in the spirit of the conversation.

5. Now that your chat is over… What next?

You put all of the prep work, you brought in great guests, and now you’ve run a successful chat. It would be a waste to leave it at that – so don’t. Make sure you have some resources ready to continue to draw attention to your chat after it has already happened.

For example, on ITBusiness.ca, we’ve been posting follow-up posts about our chats. For the chat on CASL, we published a roundup of curated tweets from the chat, and we also ran a blog post from one of the guest experts based on his material. The blog post was actually scheduled to be posted 10 minutes before the chat ended, giving us plenty of time to tell attendees we were wrapping up but that we also had a great takeaway for them.

Summarizing what participants discussed at the chat also paves the way for promoting the next chat you do – and it builds a community of people expecting to attend your chats on the regular.

So make sure you follow up, and build on your past experience. Happy Twitter chatting!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Candice So
Candice Sohttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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