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How to launch a Twitter chat

4 min read

Brands & Campaigns

On Friday, SmartBrief hosted the first of what I’m sure will be many Twitter chats with the #sbsocialclub hashtag. It was an educational experience, as I learned plenty from readers about hosting chats and about social media in general.

If you’re looking to build community around your brand, hosting a chat is definitely something I’d recommend. That said, there is a bit of a learning curve, so here are eight lessons from SmartBrief’s inaugural Twitter chat.

  1. Get the word out. The key to getting a chat off the ground is getting people to turn up for it. Synergy is powerful tool here. If you’ve got an e-mail newsletter, that’s a great place to promote your event. Facebook, your blog and LinkedIn group discussions are all great places to let people know about your upcoming chat. Twitter, paradoxically, isn’t such a great tool for getting people to put an event on their calendar because of its immediate nature. Twitter moves so quickly and is so full of interesting information that it can be difficult to make people stop what they’re doing, open up their calendars, make a note to join you on a specific day and then join you when then time comes. Case in point: Most of the people who retweeted messages about our chat actually forgot to show up Friday. If you are using Twitter to promote the event, be sure to send out reminder direct messages to those who expressed interest using Tweet Guru or some other multi-DM client.
  2. Stake your claim. Be sure to register your hashtag, which should be short and catchy, with What the Trend well in advance of your event. This will help make sure you don’t inadvertently pick a hashtag that’s already being used for another purpose. It will also help people who see the tag floating around Twitter later look up who you are and what you’re chatting about.
  3. Pick your tools. Standard Twitter clients actually aren’t that great at handling Twitter chats. I’m typically a HootSuite user, but for this project, Twubs was a much better tool (hat tip to @shelholtz for the recommendation). Twubs lets you pause the live stream for your tag; it makes it easy to add links to multimedia content to your stream; and it automatically plugs in your hashtag.
  4. Consider your chat format options. We didn’t use a standardized format for our first Twitter chat. It ended up taking more of a help-desk approach. I think our next attempt will be more structured, so participants have a better idea of what they’re getting into when then show up. Whatever format you decide to use, pick it early in the process and spell out what you’re going to do on your blog for easy reference later.
  5. Bring in ringers. You don’t want to be the only person facilitating conversation. Some chats feature special guests, some have co-hosts, others take more of a panel-style question-and-answer approach. The goal in all of these cases is to facilitate discussion and keep the conversation moving — a job that’s too big for one person. Having two other SmartBrief editors on hand (@SmartBrief and @SB_Food) definitely made the conversation more natural.
  6. Keep it focused. You don’t want to let the conversation stagnate during your chat. Have discussion topics and links handy so you can change the direction of the conversation if it seems you’re losing momentum. Having a time limit keeps the conversation lively — you’re less likely to devote too much time to the minutia of a given topic if everyone’s going to disperse in 60 minutes.
  7. Go into this with an open heart. Don’t confuse hosting with lecturing. You’re there to facilitate the conversation, not dominate it. Not only is that more fun for everyone, but it also increases the value of holding the chat for you. I easily learned as much while chatting with the likes of @eileenpnolan, @sipaonline, @JayMassey, @shashib and @maddiegrant — among others — as they learned from me.
  8. Preserve it for posterity. Blog posts, like this one, aren’t a bad way to recap a Twitter event. But if you really want hang onto the insight and info that came out of your chat, you’ll want to preserve the record. There are a couple of ways to doing this, but I recommend Tweetdoc, which creates a permanent, sharable copy of your Twitter chat that’s easy to search. Here’s the record of last week’s chat.

Did you take part in last week’s chat? What would you like to see us do differently next time? What other tips do you have for hosting a successful Twitter chat?

Image credit: coreay via iStockphoto