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by Mike Essex on 28th March 2013
We recently held our first ever Twitter chat (called #koozchat) and learnt a ton of lessons along the way on what worked well and what didn’t. So as we start planning the 2nd chat I thought I’d put together my thoughts on the good and the bad to help others.
So let’s get started:
Before you start planning a chat you need to decide on the type of discussions you will have and a hashtag that reflects that. For example #ppcchat talks about PPC topics whilst #ecomchat talks about Ecommerce issues. So you could create a hashtag specific to a niche.
Alternatively you could create a hashtag that ties in with your brand as we did with #koozchat. This also allows us to change the theme each week, so whilst our first chat focused on PPC our next chat could be on SEO. So long as we cover a topic relevant to followers of Koozai the hashtag will still be relevant.
You should also search Twitter to see if the hashtag has been used previously, especially if used a lot, as you should try and create something unique, short and memorable. This will make it easier for people to remember it, and easier for them to see the chat when it starts.
Before we started our first Twitter chat we had spent a week telling people about it and promoting the exact date and time the event would be held. Some of the ways we helped spread awareness included:
Whilst not everyone who had said they could help was able to come along on the day, by taking such a wide reach we increased the chance of having a good audience listening and talking about the hashtag. It wouldn’t have been enough to simply start a conversation with the hashtag and hope people joined in.
There are two main goals behind running a Twitter chat:
1) To interact with your existing followers and get more @ mentions
2) Promote a good discussion and bring people together for a conversation
These two are not mutually exclusive however the way people communicate with the Twitter chat will affect which of the two are achieved.
For example, if you encourage people to tweet directly to the host account (e.g. @Koozai) then only those people who already follow both you and the person who tweeted will see the message – or those who track the hashtag if used:
This presents problems if you want to raise awareness of the Twitter chat beyond your existing pool of fans and restricts the conversation to only those you have told about it. On the plus side it means your main accounts has lots of @ mentions which increases the power of the account.
Alternatively you can encourage people to write their message with just the hashtag. This ensures that the conversation can be seen by those following the feed and also the followers of that person.
If their followers like the conversation then they may get involved and this then massively increases the potential reach of the chat. The downside is less people will be aware that you ran the chat and you may find people trying to hijack the chat by asking their own questions.
For our first Twitter chat I asked seven of the Koozai team to help answer the questions. This meant that no matter what happened I knew when we started that the questions would get answered and a debate would happen – even if it was only between our team.
Naturally I wanted to encourage a debate from the wider industry and thankfully this happened but I was very thankful to have the backup of the team. This was especially apparent at the start when I tweeted a question and there were hardly any tweets for the first few minutes. With the help of the Koozai team we were able to start the discussion and by the end of the chat there were far more non Koozai employees answering questions.
It seemed like at first people either a) didn’t want to take part but wanted to observe or b) were not aware of the chat and became aware of it as the chat went on. In both of these cases having our initial chat helped get people to take part and also spread awareness of the chat amount our networks.
We also asked some of our Twitter friends to join the discussion and that really helps mix up the opinions and get a debate started so others would join in.
Taking part in a Twitter chat is usually it’s own reward – you get to chat to new people and learn new things – but you can also encourage interaction from those who take part. Some of the ways we tried to encourage those who took part were:
These were all fairly small rewards so were easy to do and people responded well to them.
Although Twitter chats may seem quite low time intensive you will have to be prepared to block out the entire period of time of the chat as well as some time afterwards for answering extra questions and compiling responses.
You have to appear in charge of the chat for the entire time period. So decide how long the chat will last (we went for two hours) and tell people when it will end. This means you will know exactly how long you have to keep free – then block out that time in your calendar and if you can go to a separate room and turn off your phone and email, to minimise distractions.
Then decide on a series of questions so you can dictate the flow on the chat. We marked the questions very clearly so people knew what was to be discussed:
Although I had ten questions at first, in the end we only did seven as the chats were so good on some topics it would have been a shame to stop them. Likewise some questions didn’t generate a good response so we cut them short and moved on. Our goal was to minimise the dead air and ensure there was always a good discussion to be had.
When the Twitter Chat has ended don’t let it disappear in to a Twitter archive. Using Storify you can search for all mentions of the hashtag and then integrate that into a blog post on your website (like this one).
Not only does this keep a record for those who missed the chat but you can also organise the messages in to a logical order so it’s easy for people to read. Plus it’s extra content for your website that is really quick and easy to create.
At the end of the blog post we credited those who took part which was another way of rewarding them for their help.
One last benefit of this approach is you can use it to build up hype for the next chat and we found lots of people who missed the original chat asking when the next one would be based on reading the blog post.
We’ll be improving the way we do Twitter chats with each month but if you have any more suggestions based on our chats or others then please leave them below.
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Mike Essex specialises in digital marketing and everything search. A recent project of Mike’s was featured on BBC News, Radio 5Live and the Times here in the UK, whilst also featuring on USA Today and ABC News in the US. He will be writing throughout the month about digital marketing and much more...