Twitter Chats: A Method to the Madness
I’ve recently gotten into the practice of managing, organizing and consulting for Twitter chats including #LBSchat, #TChat and others. Bear with me in this very straightforward methodology for creating a chat on Twitter.
A Definition: What’s a Twitter chat?
A Twitter chat is a scheduled group orchestrated around a hashtag. Chats usually last about an hour and can capture any size audience. Typically, Twitter users are drawn to chats because chats offer a forum to air out ideas and opinions about a specific topic.
A Twitter chat should exist to accomplish a set of goals. The goals can be specific and measurable or qualitative in nature. Some examples of Twitter chat goals are as follows:
- To grow thought leadership for the chat founders
- To create an open forum for discussion around a previously under-explored topic
- To fuel content for a blog, book, ebook or wiki
Determining a Need
There are already a ton of Twitter chats today. So determining whether or not enough demand exists is crucial to the success of a chat. Chat founders need to aim to create an experience participants can’t get elsewhere. Before jumping in head first, ask yourself a few questions:
- Are the existing conversations about my topic burgeoning, but disjointed? In other words, is there a need for organization around the conversations about this topic?
- Are there enough sub topics to fuel this chat for more than a few sessions?
- What influencers would be interested in this chat? Can I convince them to participate?
- How many people would be ideal for a conversation about my topic?
Establishing an official Twitter persona for your chat has several benefits:
- The profile bio can be used to give a description of the chat.
- The profile URL can link to a chat blog, group, category RSS feed, etc.
- The account can be used to ask questions during the chat.
- The account can build thought leadership in a niche vertical.
Some chats do not have an official Twitter persona behind them. They are run by the individuals who founded them. This format can work too, especially if the individual organizing the chat wants individual credibility.
One of the most difficult issues to work out during a chat is how closely you want to control it. The number of questions in your chat can steer a conversation into very niche discussions or an open-mic style chat puts the chat direction entirely in the hands of the participants.
For many chats, 5-10 questions work well. Some chats will change format from time to time by hosting an occasional open forum or bringing in a special guest to do a Q&A.
Most Twitter chats are weekly. Others are monthly. Still others are scheduled sporadically. Finding the right frequency for your audience will be largely based on how engaged they are and by how consistently compelling the content is.
It may take a few months to figure out an appropriate frequency. You will get a sense of how often a chat needs to take place based on the volume of participation.
It’s helpful to think of your Twitter chat like a community. Figure out where and how your chat community will reach its members. Some examples of touchpoint models are:
- Email newsletters
- Twitter reminders (public @replies or Direct Messages)
- LinkedIn group messages
- Facebook Group notifications
Growing an Audience
Momentum is crucial to a successful chat. In an ideal world, your chat would gather more participants each week. Unfortunately, your Twitter chat is just a Twitter chat. It will not be a high priority item for your community members. So some of your chats will be smaller than others. However, there are best practices for growing a community between chats:
- Encourage community members to spread the word about the chat.
- Create recap blog posts for anyone who cannot participate in the live chat.
- Thank and highlight chat participants regularly.
- Establish a paper.li for your chat hashtag and tweet it during each update.
- Keep engagement on the hashtag going even when the chat is not live.
Capitalizing on a Chat
Sponsored Twitter chats are becoming increasingly common. Some options you have for monetizing a chat are:
- Charging per tweet
- Charging per chat
- Selling a sponsorship package for a set number of chats
- Charging per click on a sponsored link
Some chats you may want to look at:
Some technology you may want to test into: