20 Tips for a successful Twitter Chat

Twitter Chat image by @allisterfTwitter Chats (sometimes called Twitter Tweet Chats) are gaining in popularity because they provide a convenient way for organisations and groups to interact in real time with other people. Even pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is getting in on the act, and so could you.

But there’s no guidebook to steer you through your first Twitter Chat without winding up wishing you’d never set eyes on Twitter in the first place.

So, here are my top tips for success in a Twitter Chat session:

Little Bird 1 imageFirst up, what is a Twitter Chat?
Twitter Chat is simply a scheduled conversation that takes place on Twitter between a host (comprising one or more people) and an invited audience (and anyone else who happens to see/join the conversation. Twitter Chats are usually publicised in advance and use a hashtag to make it easy for people to follow the conversation and get involved. Some chats are regular events (like these) taking place weekly or monthly, while others are one-off events designed to serve a discrete purpose.

Little Bird 2 imageAnd, why would I host a Twitter Chat?
If you are a Twitter user or have an official Twitter account for your business or organisation, a Twitter Chat can be a great way for you to interact with customers and partners during a very focussed period of time. Twitter Chats typically last for 30-60 minutes, during which time the host will guarantee the availability of experts to reply to any questions or comments. This is also a perfect time to release ‘new news’ onto the web like product announcements or new research data as the Twitter Chat will help you amplify these messages across Twitter and beyond.

Planning bookGreat! So, how do I organise a Twitter Chat?
Unlike most events and marketing activities, running a Twitter Chat is remarkably simple and low cost.

Idea Folder imageMy 20 top tips for a successful Twitter Chat:

  1. First up, decide what you’re trying to achieve and verify that a Twitter Chat is the right thing to support your goals. If it isn’t, go do something else.
  2. Check that your target audience is active on Twitter. A few select tweets to test the idea can help validate that it’s worth pursuing. Identify a few key influencers who can help champion the event and draw in a crowd.
  3. Analyse Twitter traffic to determine when your target audience is most likely to be online and to get involved in the chat. Tools like www.tweetwhen.com and www.14blocks.com can help you identify the optimal day and time to host your Twitter Chat
  4. Assemble a crack team of people to host the Twitter Chat. Ideally this should be a multi-disciplinary team made up of people from various areas of the organisation so you’ll be ready to answer almost any question, no matter how complicated or niche
  5. Agree on a #hashtag that you will use in every tweet during the Twitter Chat and in all pre-publicity for the event. Ideally, this hashtag will be unique and distinctive to clearly explain what it means (e.g. #SmallBizChat)
  6. Fix the date and time in everyone’s diary, preferably a few days or weeks in advance to allow enough time to build a following and prepare any new information you wish to share on the day
  7. Now start publicising the Twitter Chat event. Add details to your website, newsletters, Facebook page; in fact, raise awareness of the event wherever you can. Don’t underestimate the amount of effort that may be required here if you’ve never done this before. Some companies buy ad placements to help or even Promoted Tweets. Ask your staff, friends and other Twitter followers to spread the word, and tweet regularly from the official account that will host the Twitter Chat in the run-up to the event. You can use a tool like www.hootsuite.com or www.TweetLater.com to pre-schedule tweets to publicise the event. Tweets sent exactly one week, one day, and one hour before the event can be especially effective as they catch people who are already using Twitter at the intended time of delivery. Invite questions in advance via email so you have some material to get started with
  8. If any of your team are not regular Twitter users, give them some training before the event. Explain how the hashtag works, how they should all tweet from the official account, and which tools you’ll be using to measure results. Send them away to perfect their skills and familiarise themselves with the platform.
  9. Set up some means to keep a record of the conversations and any use of your hashtag. For example, a www.twilert.com alert can send an email summary of all activity against your search query at a frequency of your choosing. Be sure to respond promptly to any queries or pre-submitted questions ahead of your Twitter Chat; showing that you’re responsive will help encourage more people to get involved.
  10. On the day of the Twitter Chat, make sure you have a reserved space where the team can assemble. Be sure to get together at least 30 minutes before the start for a short briefing and to ensure that everyone can get online in time for the kick off
  11. It’s a good idea to have one primary host who can announce the start of the Twitter Chat and explain how it works. A link to a website with details and pictures of the hosts and any guidelines, FAQs or rules can help lift any anxiety from your audience
  12. Start off by answering any pre-submitted questions to help get the ball rolling or by releasing new information you’ve not shared before. Ask questions of your audience too; remember, it’s a two-way thing
  13. Use a team tool like www.hootsuite.com to manage the chatter and ensure that all host participants can see what’s going on and who has replied to what. You want to give the impression that you’re a joined-up team and working together to reply to questions; the worst thing you can do is give two different answers to the same question. You can prepare answers to commonly asked questions in advance and then simply copy/paste them into a tweet to help save time during the Twitter Chat event. Ideally, every host participant should tweet from the same Twitter account so it’s easy to monitor the conversation flow and the agreed hashtag should be included in every tweet. It can be helpful to append a short code that identifies who sent each tweet, usually in the format ^AF, where ^ is called a caret and ‘AF’ is the initials of the tweeter).
  14. Be prepared for some possible disruption during the Twitter Chat. Your competitors or partners may join the chat, as well as possibly some ex-employees or disgruntled customers. To benefit from the social web, you have to play by the social web’s rules so be prepared to address any issues head on (take them offline if you can) and take some flak from time to time. Most importantly, be sure to show that you are listening. All feedback, however negative or inflammatory, is welcomed and can give you great insights into how your audience perceives what you’re doing.
  15. Great tip here from @Rossb82: Enable your entire audience to follow the conversation by placing a full stop/period before the @ symbol in replies. If you reply to a tweet, your message will begin by default with @theirname, meaning your reply will only be visible to people who follow both you and the person you’re replying to. However, if you add a period before the @ symbol (for example “.@allisterf blah blah…) it will not be treated as a reply but as a general tweet to all your followers
  16. Keep your tweets short so they can be typed and read quickly, and retweeted easily without requiring further editing. Include links to existing content on your site or elsewhere on the web where possible; 140 characters is not enough to give detailed answers so you may need to hold back longer replies and post into a blog post after the event
  17. Advanced tip: add some colour to your event by having a live video feed from the room so people can tune in and see what’s happening in real time. If you opt for this, try to find an interesting venue for the host team (as a minimum, make sure it doesn’t look like you’re sat in a grey prison cell) and put up posters or project onto a screen to add some interest to the video feed. Services like http://twitcam.livestream.com/ can provide this functionality at no or little cost.
  18. After the Twitter Chat, be sure to keep a record of all the activity so you can review at your leisure and see if there are any big themes or common threads. The participants in your Twitter Chat are the perfect group to start with when publicising your next Twitter Chat event so be sure to keep their names on file and to stay in touch where appropriate. If they follow your account you can send selected participants a direct message on Twitter to ask them what they thought of your event. Explore the topics you covered, the date/time, and the overall format and ask what you could improve for next time.
  19. Get the team together a few days after the event and collect feedback on what worked well and what could be improved while their minds are fresh. Document everything, including metrics that show your reach, impressions, retweet counts etc. to help build the case for more Twitter Chats in the future. Of course, if it was an unmitigated disaster you’ll need to decide if the issues can be fixed or if a Twitter Chat is the wrong vehicle for your goals. If, however, you’ve planned correctly and followed this advice you should be feeling flush with success and excited by the countless ideas you have on how you can do even better next time.
  20. Keep experimenting so you learn every time. Test different times of day, different days of the week, different pre-publicity approaches and different types of content to spark the conversations. As with most endeavours on the social web, you can always improve, so be bold and try new things. And before long you’ll be a Black Belt in Twitter Chats and writing your own guidebook.

Please let me know how you get on. Good luck, and have fun!