By Caroline Henley

January 30th, 2015

Twitter chats are a new(ish), casual way to meet people in a similar industry or field of interest and exchange ideas. Many of these chats can be thoughtful, lively, and worth a social media manager’s time. Whether you are jumping in on your brand’s handle or your personal handle, here is a rundown of how to engage in a Twitter chat. 

Where to start? I like to map out which upcoming chats I’m interested in, and plug them into my calendar. Here is a handy Google spreadsheet that lists over a hundred active Twitter chats. You’ll see that they cover a variety of industries and are usually scheduled for a regular hour each week or each month. 

I seek out the social media marketing chats, and always enjoy #SMChat (every Wednesday at 1pm EST) and #InsiderChat (the last Wednesday of every month at 1pm EST). Sometimes I just listen, other times I join them.

The host of #SMChat, Amber Cleveland, weighs in on what makes a quality, lively social media chat: 

"Quality participants and participation makes a lively and informative chat. For #SMChat, it is at a consistent time every week and it has evolved into a community that participates. People are open, engaging, respectful and are happy to share their insights and perspectives."

I have been enjoying reading through the #Cloudtalk chats this month, and decided to jump in last week. 

#Cloudtalk is every Thursday at 12pm EST, and covers topics ranging from the cloud, tech, big data, mobile, and the Internet of Things. It’s also a cross-media chat—hosts Brian Fanzo and Daniel Newman video-chat on Google+ from their desks. They are also feeding tweeters a set of questions, and picking out the chatters’ most interesting answers to talk through. Meanwhile, chat participants are engaging with one another, asking and answering questions  themselves.

Yeah—it gets pretty crazy.

The first rule of Twitter chats

The first rule of Twitter chats is: Do not forget the hashtag in Twitter chats.

The second rule of Twitter chats is: Do not forget the hashtag in Twitter chats!

Check out my first tweet when I jumped into #cloudtalk:

 No hashtag? No one saw it. Womp, womp.

Remembering your Twitter chat’s hashtag is really the one and only rule for joining in these weekly occurrences. Leave it out and you’ll be tweeting to your regular followers who have no context for the conversation, and all your insightful, brilliant tweets will never reach their intended audience.

Now, before making fun of me, you should also know: there is an unspoken graciousness between tweeters in these chats. People usually announce themselves, are chatty and friendly, and are open to new ideas in the industry. SocialTimes adds, “Many participants are looking to expand their networks as well as participate in the chat. So it is good etiquette to return a follow from a fellow chatter.”

There are also various live-event tools made just for Twitter chatting (like Nurph and TweetChat) that will automatically refresh the page with the newest tweets and auto-include the chat’s hashtag in each of your new tweets.

Keep it simple: Q1, A1

Most Twitter chats are announced a few days beforehand with a theme for the chat and four or five pre-determined questions, allowing chat participants to pull together some answers before the chat starts.

In last week’s #cloudtalk, the theme was “Startups vs Enterprise – Tech Trends and Innovation.” I felt Falcon Social had an interesting point of view here, being a SaaS company. Falcon Social is proud of building itself from within and not piling up a Frankensuite full of ill-fitted mergers—we feel that doing so makes a stronger, more unified tool. That’s a point-of-view a bunch of cloudtalkers would be interested in, surely! And personally—well, my dad worked for IBM for many years, and I’m now fully engulfed in startups. I was interested in what these guys had to say, and hopefully some familiar topics would allow me to jump in on behalf of Falcon.

The host announces the first question with a “Q1” written before his tweet, and all answers to that first question should be marked with “A1” before the answer. This is important, as it creates a clear flow in your feed and allows everyone to be able to read through all the questions and answers in order.

When tweeting for Falcon, I’m careful about which tweets I publish to all our followers, and which tweets I contain within the chat. If I believe Falcon’s answer could be interesting to all our followers, without context, I start the tweet with “A1” and share to all our followers; if it’s too specific and might confuse people who haven’t seen the original question, I will reply directly to the question-asker, followed by the “A1.” Here’s an example—’scuse my abbrevs.

Quality tweet reach

As you read through others’ answers, favorite and retweet the thoughts and data points that you find most interesting. If you’re lucky, you might find others interacting with your content, too. Twitter chats are a great way to get some traction with a very engaged audience, and provide a new source of content for your own followers.

#Cloudtalk’s Brian wrote a great rundown of the potential a quality Twitter chat holds for brand handles, but what a possible disconnect might be for a brand trying to enter one of these established communities. “The number of followers you have or the amount of tweets you send in a day aren’t relative in Twitter Chats, as those that engage and participate regularly give more than take, and come together because they want to engage and learn.” Step away from the numbers, and remember there’s another side of ROI. Just think—how unique is it to have a free and open forum to exchange ideas in your industry like this? 

Well, okay, you can step back over to the numbers. Give it a day, and then look through your tweets’ analytics. You’ll most likely find these chats give you fantastic reach. Proving that Twitter chats are not only an excellent arena to learn from a wider network of marketers, but also a powerful way to increase you and your brand’s presence on social. 

Brand handles will get more social

In an interview with Neal Schaffer, Dun and Bradstreet, a credit agency, brings up the fact that a brand handle jumping into a chat can be off-putting for the users that are there as themselves (imagine a credit agency, engaging with creditees on social!). If you bring your personality out from behind the handle, and are able to offer information from the company’s point-of-view that the chatters would not have been able to otherwise come across, the value you are providing to the chat will trump any initial doubts. Dun and Bradstreet also offers nine tips for joining chats (mostly covered in the above).

There’s no doubt that the number of Twitter chats will multiply as brand handles widen their social nets, tapping into authentic experiences with customers and potential customers alike. More brand handles will jump into these chats in the industries in which they want to extend brand awareness and one-on-one personal engagement. Why not give it a try?

Do you participate in Twitter chats? Which ones do you find valuable? Let’s take it to Twitter.

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