Everything You Need to Know About Twitter Chats

As you grow comfortable with Twitter and settle into a rhythm of posting, listening and managing followers you may find yourself wondering about next steps.  A great way to kick your social activity into high gear is to start participating in chats.  This guide will discuss what Twitter chats are, how they are used and how to get started.

What are Twitter Chats?

Twitter chats are scheduled events during which Twitter users discuss a specific topic using a common hashtag at the end of each tweet.  Chats are typically hosted by a moderator (and sometimes a special guest) who sets the topic and facilitates the discussion through a series of questions that spark conversation.  Participants engage by answering the questions and responding to each other.

Tweet chats are a great way to meet like-minded people on Twitter and establish new connections.  Although many engage in chats just for fun, they are particularly useful for professionals and businesses whose reasons for participating include:

  • Sharing and gaining knowledge
  • Creating brand awareness
  • Establishing thought leadership
  • Listening for possible leads or partnerships
  • Supporting customers
  • Building community

To take it a step further, businesses will sometimes choose to host their own chats.  This allows them to engage with their community on a regular basis, introduce topics of their choice and create awareness of their brand as a social entity.  Hosting a chat and being in control of the topics can also be a fantastic way to gather market research.

Learning how to find and participate in chats does require some getting used to, so below are my tips on how to get started.

Finding a Chat

Oddly enough, finding a chat can be one of the more challenging aspects of this venture.  The sources that list chats are typically populated by submissions from chat facilitators who don’t always remember to remove the chats when they stop hosting them.  A few sources for finding chats are listed below, but if you find one you are interested in be sure to do a search for the hashtag in Twitter to confirm that it is still active.

Another good way to find chats is by listening to your community.  Look for chats that appear in the trending topics area or ask your followers what their favorites are.  Most chat participants are more than happy to bring newbies into the fold.

Preparation

Twitter chats are typically promoted a few days before the event with information about the topic and the questions that will be discussed.  Whenever possible, it is helpful to review the questions ahead of time and prepare your responses.  The better chats tend to move very quickly.  Preparing ahead of time will free you up to listen and engage during the actual event rather than worrying about how you should respond to a question.

If you are feeling at all uncomfortable with the concept of joining a chat I would suggest that you listen to one first.  At the designated time, use your preferred listening tool to search the chat hashtag and simply watch the discussion unfold.  Seeing how these events play out without the pressure of actively engaging will help you to feel more prepared when you are ready to jump in.  If you wish to remain anonymous use a basic tool like Tweetdeck or listen directly through Twitter (rather than using a chat tool) because some chat tools announce participants when they log in.

Chat Tools

Although you can follow a chat through the Twitter interface I find it helpful to use a tool that is designed specifically for this purpose.  Two of my favorites are Nurph and TweetChat.  These tools differ somewhat in their functionality so experiment with them to see what works best for you.

The method that works for me is to open a chat tool on one side of my screen and Twitter native on the other.  This allows me to follow the conversation with the chat tool while quickly responding within Twitter when someone directs a tweet to me.  If you have a small screen, you might find it easier to accomplish this using a second device.

Engaging in Tweet Chats

There is no standard way to participate in a chat, but it is common to start by alerting your followers to the fact that you are joining one.  By doing this, you are warning them that your tweet volume is going to increase temporarily.  I often join chats with something like this:

This allows me to say hello to the host and alert my followers at the same time.

It is also polite to sign off when you leave a chat by thanking the host and guest with something like this.

During the event it is common (but not required) to retweet the questions and any responses you feel might be of interest to your followers.  And, of course, the real value is to engage in conversation with the participants of the chat and make new friends.

Conclusion

That’s all there is to it!  So, find a chat of interest to you and check it out!  Do a little preparation in advance so you can go in feeling confident and experiment with the different chat tools.  Chats can be intimidating at first, but it is worth taking the plunge.  This is what social media is all about.  The people on chats are welcoming, friendly and ready to engage so it is truly one of the best ways to experience the real-time aspect of social.

It is not uncommon for people to enter a chat and announce that they are there for the first time.  The community will appreciate the heads up so they can be extra supportive.  A little warning though – chats are addictive.  Before you know it, you’ll be a regular and will look forward to this new way of interacting every week.

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