How to Host a Twitter Chat
While Twitter has its share of issues from a business standpoint (e.g. lack of focus and low engagement), the network provides compelling ways to unite like-minded people.
The most popular way to join in on a conversation is with hashtags, of course, but some brands are elevating their Twitter marketing by hosting Twitter chats. These organized events bring together people who want to get info and share their knowledge about a certain topic. When done right, Twitter chats can extend an enterprise's reach while also increasing current and prospective customer engagement. What's more, the insights and leads gleaned from the event can last long after the chat ends. With that in mind, here are the basics of hosting a Twitter chat:
Pick a Topic
Very similar to how a writer would choose a subject for a blog post, a brand needs to decide what topic is most relevant to its enterprise's goals. For instance, in preparation for its company event, Share15, BrightEdge conducted a Twitter chat entitled "Content Battleground," discussing nearly every aspect of content marketing (creation, challenges, changes) as this topic was very relevant to its conference and its offerings.
For help picking a topic, marketers can conduct keyword research to understand what people are searching for, consult their customer service reps or ticket system to find out what people are frequently asking of their company, and/or look to Facebook Insights, their social media management platform or content management solution to analyze what topics have been most popular with their audience in the past.
Once a topic has been chosen, brands should write (and likely re-write) their questions in advance, which offers moderators (more on that later) and influencers (more on that later) a chance to prepare their answers, as Twitter chats move quickly. It's important that core participants are prepped so the material is useful to all. What's more, questions should be labeled and tweeted (by the moderator) as Q1, Q2, Q3 and so on, allowing participants to correspond their answers using A1, A2, A3, etc.
Emails, social posts, landing pages and other marketing collateral should be prepared and published to inform a wider audience of the Twitter chat. As the event gets closer, brands will also want to reach out to individuals (see image) to increase audience size.
Prior to general announcements, however, hosts should find industry influencers who will commit to being there at the scheduled time. Enterprises should ensure that this is a diverse group who will bring different perspectives to the digital table. It should be noted that these influencers will likely make up the bulk of responses, as a lot of participants will just watch and/or respond to other people's answers with their opinions. Core participants don't have to be paid, but these individuals and their companies should be promoted to make it worth their while (social shout-outs work).
Pick a Moderator
As the person responsible for asking the pre-set questions, responding to side conversations, and keeping the chat moving and on schedule, brands should choose a moderator who will adhere to their guidelines while also providing unbiased insights. Many technology companies, for example, select industry editors who understand the content but won't show preference toward the host's offerings. Having an independent third party moderate the event ensures the chat doesn't take a promotional turn and turn off participants. Finally, moderators should be thanked with shout-outs for the companies they represent.
Set a Schedule
Every minute of a Twitter chat should be planned. Not everything goes according to plan, of course, but the moderator, key influencers and the host's staff (everyone in the company who has knowledge to share about the topic, from entry-level marketers to the CEO) should understand the schedule. The moderator, especially, will need to know when to move on to the next question, which is often after the host's main representative (like the CEO, CMO, etc.) has answered. The schedule may look like this:
Not everyone - even active Twitter users - are familiar with how Twitter chats work. It's important that key participants are provided a document containing the prepared questions, the set schedule and the format. For instance, brands need to select a hashtag for the event so anyone can join, responses can be tracked and so everyone is on the same page.
SEMrush, for example, frequently conducts Twitter chats and uses the same hashtag (#semrushchat) each time and advises their participants of it often.
SEMrush's audience of Web professionals have come to expect these chats as it's part of their overall content landscape. In addition to a hashtag (that should be used in every message about the event: before, during and after), brands will need to choose which platform to advise participants to use. TweetDeck, for instance, allows users to still follow their Twitter feeds, but also add a column for just the event (by hashtag).
While TweetDeck is a popular platform, another one to consider is TweetChat, which provides users a lot of control over the flow of messages coming in (chats happen so quickly that the ability to hit "pause" can be very valuable). TweetDeck also essentially mutes the rest of Twitter, so the participant can focus on the Twitter chat's questions and answers.
Twitter chats are the perfect example of "it's not worth doing if it can't be measured." Knowing this, hosts often use tools like Tweet Binder to gather insights on how well the event did in terms of reach and engagement. A brand can choose to share these insights with a wider audience (see image) or with key participants as they'll want to be encouraged to participate again.
One of the most compelling aspects of Twitter is its real-time nature, but for brands this means their content will quickly be pushed down by newer tweets. An enterprise would be very (very) wise to repurpose the content from the Twitter chat into blogs (like this one), infographics, emails, graphics and other material that can be published on the site or shared again on social media for those who didn't join the original conversation on Twitter.
Whether it's once a year in preparation for an annual event or once a week, brands should commit to hosting Twitter chats on a regular basis so participants know when to expect them. Plus, the more Twitter chats an enterprise hosts, the more streamlined and effective they will become.