You've heard the words… Tweet Chats, #TweetChats, Hashtags, or even hashbrowns as one of my clients first called them. You see the early notification tweets: “Peeps – I am going to be sending more tweets than usual the next hour, headed into a tweet chat.”
For those who aren't engaged in the tweet chat or don't understand them, a tweet chat may seem like a bunch of noise. You are half right and half almost right. Yes, there may be some associated “noisy tweeting.” However, tweet chats can offer great benefit for you and your business to build new relationships, increase blog readership, build community and even get new followers or Facebook fans!
So what is a tweet chat? Why should I care? How do I use a hashtag?
I hope this blog post will answer some of your questions. I hope that it will inspire you to engage in a tweet chat as well as possibly even consider starting one for your industry or niche. It is the first in a series I am writing to help folks get their arms around what a Tweet Chat is and how you can best leverage for both personally and professional benefit.
What is a Hashtag? A hashtag is a way for us to communicate on Twitter about a specific topic or event. A hashtag will look like any of these examples: #hashtag #tweetchat #GetRealChat #SMManners #BlogChat #LinkedInChat #sm #usguys #EAv. We use hashtags to search for topics as well as to engage and manage tweet chats. We put a “#” at the front of the word. The word with the “#” is included at the end of or in the tweet to enable it to be searched for on Twitter and filtered and displayed during a tweet chat.
What is a Tweet Chat? A tweet chat is more than an organized chaos tweet session. Tweet chats are simply a way to get tweeps (people who tweet) together at a determined time to talk about a pre-determined subject via Twitter.
Why join, be a guest on or moderate a Tweet Chat? Tweet chats offer many benefits including building community, making new friends, learning from others, connecting with like minds, discussing interesting topics or simply just stepping away from the daily grind. Chances are you'll get more followers and visits to your blog if you are part of the active conversation.
How can I find a Tweet Chat that might interest me? Best resource I have seen is here on this Google doc which lists most of the existing tweet chats with specific times, topics, and moderators. The 12Most blog also recently wrote a post on the 12 Most Stimulating Tweet Chats. We are proud #GetRealChat made the list! We are currently developing a new site here to support tweet chats and other tweeting activity in general.
What tools do I use to filter the tweets using the hashtag for the tweet chat? Although there are many, my favorites are Tweet Chat and TwebEvent. You can also use Tweetdeck or HootSuite to filter by column. However, the key benefits of tweet chat and TwebEvent is that they automatically add the hashtag to the end of your tweets after you successfully sign in using your Twitter account.
Check out this video for a quick walk-thru of the TweetChat user interface.
How does a tweet chat work?
1. Pre-determined time. Tweet chats have a set day and time. They may be weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly. They usually are an hour in length although some run 1.5 or 2 hours occasionally.
2. Moderator. They have a moderator that sets the agenda, guides the discussion, asks questions and keep the conversation going.
3. Community Leaders. Usually the community leaders come to fruition organically by welcoming and helping others in the chat. For example, on our #GetRealChat @JanetCallaway & @SteveCassady joined just a few short months ago as 100% newbies to Twitter. They are now active and leading members of our community welcoming newbies and helping build community with the regulars.
4. Content. Oh yes, our favorite word. No tweet chat will last long without content. We need something relevant and valuable to talk about or else people probably won't stick around long.
5. Format. They usually have varying formats from week to week. Examples include Single Topic-Questions, Multi-Topic Questions, Topic-Free Flow, Free Flow, Guest-Q&A with free flow Q&A at end, or simple open Q&A.
6. Guests. Most tweet chats invite special guests to attend often. These are usually entrepreneurs kicking off new products or businesses, leaders in existing organizations or thought leaders specializing in a certain topic. They are invited on the tweet chat as a guest to engage with and educate or inspire the community on a certain topic.
7. Conversation. A key requirement of a tweet chat is conversation. If you are new to Twitter and not understanding how social media is one big “conversation”, a tweet chat might be a great place for you to start. There is a lot of tweeting activity going on during tweet chats. It may be overwhelming the first time. Don't worry, it will get better as you continue to engage and attend.
Tips for Successful Tweet Chatting:
As a Participant:
1. Don't be afraid to lurk.
2. Join as soon as you feel comfortable. Don't lurk too long. I have had many newbies tell me they wish they would have joined sooner. The tweet chat communities are usually very welcoming. We love to help newbies so at least say hi! :)
3. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you are confused or simply don't understand the question, speak up and ask!
4. Don't be afraid to connect with the tweet chat moderator before or after the chat if you have questions. If you feel uncomfortable during the chat then connect with the moderator or other leaders before or after the chat. If they have a Facebook group or other community join in and ask your questions. You'll be surprised how approachable they are.
5. Respect the community. Don't dive in at the last minute and get frustrated that you don't understand the topic. Respect the topic. If they're talking about social media, don't spend your hour on the tweet chat complaining about social media and why people should go offline. You probably won't make a lot of friends with this method.
6. Take time to do the double click after the chat. You can reap the greatest benefit of participation in tweet chats with the conversations you have between the scheduled tweet chats. I've seen amazing communities already being built in just a few short months by people who take the time to invest in other people.
7. Learn the tools before the tweet chat starts. Here is a short video I did for newbies on how to use the www.tweetchat.com tool. Have a plan for how you are going to filter the specific hashtag. I like “Tweet Chat” as it enables you to easily filter, read and engage in the conversation. It presents only the tweets matching the desired hashtag.
8. Add the hashtag associated with the tweet chat to the end of each tweet. If you use a tool like Tweet Chat it will do this for you automatically.
9. Tweet chats are public. Even though you may be using a tool such as “Tweet Chat” to filter the tweets, remember all of your tweets are public. They are still all showing on your Twitter timeline.
As a Moderator or Community Leader:
1. Select a topic. Select a topic you know you can add value. Don't just create a tweet chat with no real topic or purpose. You may get some chatters to start but will find it difficult to maintain over time with any real interest.
2. Select a time. Query your online and offline network to see what time works best for them. Check to be certain it doesn't conflict with an already popular tweet chat at the same time. This may only matter if you are wanting to engage the same people as the other tweet chat scheduled at the same time. When selecting a time for #GetRealChat I purposely selected 9pm et which is right after the #LinkedInChat at 8pm et with @LinkedInExpert and right before the #SMManners chat at 10pm et with @DabneyPorte. Our communities move between chats and have self named themselves the “Tuesday Trilogy”! I love it. It has been a lot of fun as all three of us moderators have coordinated topics, guests and general direction.
3. Choose a format. As mentioned in the “How does a tweet chat work” section above, there are numerous kinds of formats. I like to vary the format across different weeks. Test different formats and see what your community best responds to and likes.
4. Promote the Tweet Chat. Leverage your existing communities and communication mediums to inform people of the upcoming tweet chats. This may include but is not limited to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and even email communications if you have a list you have been nurturing.
5. Have an agenda. Having some type of structure will help you keep participants engaged. Set some objectives for each chat. What to you want to accomplish? What do you want them to learn? What do you want them talk about?
6. Don't wing it each week. Develop a plan that spans multiple weeks. Focus on content that will help educate, inspire and connect your community. Think about what guests you can invite, what topics would they like to discuss?
7. Know your participants. The more you can know about your community members the better you can keep them around. Engage with them before, during and after the chats. Don't just fly in at chat time and expect everyone to be there if you haven't promoted the chat, talked with them outside of the chat or given them a reason to show up.
8. Ensure someone is available each week to welcome new people. As your chat gets more active it will become difficult for you to welcome newbies and regular attendees yourself. I was blessed with the #GetRealChat in that community leaders rose to the top organically. There are many but @JanetCallaway , @SteveCassady & @PegFitzpatrick have really stepped up in regard to helping out. @SteveOlenski also helped me kickoff the #GetRealChat and has hosted several sessions.
9. Be flexible. Flexibility is the name of the game. Since you are dealing with people in chats, you know that people's moods will change. You may have an awesome topic planned and simply find that nobody wants to talk about it. Might be a good night to either select a back-up topic or maybe even have a free for all or open mic night!
10. Have a plan to manage side trackers. This includes people that do this intentionally or un-intentionally. You will get late stragglers to the chat that see the hashtag and conversation and decide to join in. This is where your community leaders come in very handy! They can welcome the newbie and let them know of the format and how they can best engage. For the people doing “side-tracking” on purpose, they are usually trying to get attention. You can choose to ignore them or not. If they are disrupting the flow of conversation, taking it in a very negative direction or just annoying in general have no fear in letting them know. You owe it to your community to make it a positive experience.
11. Have a back-up moderator (or two!) You never know when you will hit traffic, have a family emergency or simply a schedule conflict. Keeping the schedule is key to keeping the community alive and kickin'!
12. Welcome the newbies. Take time for the newbies. Help them feel welcome. Answer their questions. Point them to resources to learn how to use the tweet chat tools you have chosen. Guaranteed many of the “newbies” will some day be your biggest evangelists if you treat them right!
13. Build community outside of the tweet chat. What happens before and after the tweet chat matters a lot! Don't depend on only the tweet chat to build community. Engage in conversation via Twitter and the other social platforms. Start a Facebook group, LinkedIn group or any other format desired to build community!
14. Invite guests. Don't be afraid to invite thought leaders and other top industry professionals as guests. Once you build an audience, most businesses will take you up on engaging with your awesome community to share what they know and how they can help them. Our guests the past few weeks have included @Klout, @ArgyleSocial, @Triberr and video expert @PamBrossman. Upcoming we have @WebTrends as well as @Involver and many more!
15. Measure and track results. The impressions, number of people reached and overall volume of activity during a tweet chat can be quite impressive. The #GetRealChat has been running on average 7.5 million impressions in an hour. There are numerous tools you can leverage for reporting and tracking some of which are in beta. Follow-up blog posts in this series will cover tools and technology in depth so stay tuned. Some of the most popular tools include HashTracking, TweetCloud, Tweet Reports and more.
As a Guest:
1. Lurk first. If possible lurk or lightly engage on one of the tweet chats the week prior to the one you'll be participating. This will give you an idea of the flow, speed, tone and conversation.
2. Set goals and communicate them to the moderator. I usually ask our guests what are the top 3 things that would make the tweet chat a success for them. One common goal they all usually have is “make new friends.” This is usually a guarantee with tweet chats as long as your content is somewhat interesting.
3. Ask questions ahead of time. Ask about the participants, tone of conversation, speed of conversation, language. Also ask how long the community has been together. Ask who will be taking the lead in the tweet chat. Some tweet chats have community leaders in addition to the moderator. It's good to know who these people are ahead of time if possible.
4. Ask for a list of questions the moderator will be asking you. Don't be afraid to be very specific in what the moderator wants you to cover. The more you and the moderator can be connected with goals, objectives and agenda the better results you will have.
5. Provide moderator with links to your goods! I love to give my guests lots of link and retweet love. Be sure to share what specific links and call to action you want them to take.
6. Be creative! Leverage your time on the chat to kick-off a beta program, launch a challenge, or any activity that aligns with your business objectives. Remember these are people who like to talk via Twitter for at least an hour. Most are not shy and also won't be shy when it comes to engaging with you and your brand if you so inspire the to do such!
7. Prepare your answers ahead of time. This doesn't mean you have to prepare the answers in 140 character formats specifically. However, give some thought to your answers. It is basically an hour that is being offered to you to “shine.” Use it wisely. It is a live conversation so you don't want your answers to be scripted per se. However, having an idea of how you want to answer the questions will help you answer more quickly and keep the conversation engaging.
8. Confirm the format of the chat. Ask the moderator how he/she would like to handle side bar questions. How many do they prefer you ask? Do they prefer you try to wait until the end during Q&A or will it be more of a free-flowing format?
9. Have a chat / tweet buddy with you. Have a partner or colleague with you if this is your first tweet chat and you are new to Twitter. If you are somewhat new to Twitter, tweet chats can be overwhelming. The tweets can go really fast and it's easy to miss a question. It's really no big deal if you do as they'll be sure to ask again. However, unless you fell 100% comfortable I encourage you to have a tweet chat buddy with you so you can maximize the time investment before, during and after the tweet chat.
10. Leverage the pre and post communication. Remember, tweet chats are usually an existing, thriving community. Leverage the tweet chats as a way to connect with new community. If the moderator invites you to engage with the community on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other format don't miss the opportunity.
This is the first in a series of posts I will be writing to help peeps get their arms around what Tweet Chats are, how they work and how you can best leverage them to build and nurture powerful social relationships. Please let me know of any specific topics that interest you and I'll do my best to include in a future post.