Twitter chats are a great way to gain exposure, grow your following and engage with your audience. Whether you’re participating in an existing chat or hosting your own, there’s plenty to gain.
Jumping into a Twitter chat can be a little intimidating and challenging at first. How do you find people to participate? As a participant, how do you make sure you stand out? Most of all, how do you know if the chat was successful? We’re going to answer all those questions and more.
Why Twitter Chats?
One of the biggest challenges for businesses on Twitter is building an active following. If you don’t already have an established brand, getting those initial followers organically can seem impossible. It’s even more intimidating when you see your competitors with thousands of followers while you’re struggling to get your first 100.
Twitter chats give you a great opportunity to accelerate the process of growing your audience. Best of all, you’re in front of people that are on Twitter to engage, not just to spectate. The end result is followers that are more likely to Retweet, like and reply to your Tweets.
As a host, you’re able to establish your brand as an authority in your industry and build a sense of community.
As a participant, Twitter chats are a way to network and connect with other users without having to do the dreaded cold outreach.
In order to help you gain traction with your next Twitter chat, here are some tips to help you crush it as a host or participant. We’ve also included insights from Sprout Social’s community outreach manager Sarah Nagel who hosts our awesome #SproutChat each week!
Hosting a Twitter Chat
Hosting a Twitter chat involves a lot more than just coming up with a hashtag and asking questions. There’s a lot of planning that goes on behind the scenes in order to pull off a successful chat. Follow these tips to get started.
Choosing a topic for your Twitter chat is key. Having topics that are timely and interesting enough to pull people into engaging will increase your chances of success.
Hosting a chat on a topic that nobody’s interested in talking about leads to a dead conversation.
A good way to come up with potential topics for your chat is to look through your recent blog posts. If you give tips or cover industry news on your blog, those topics can translate well into a Twitter chat.
You should also follow trends within your industry. When there’s a controversial topic that pops up, people are going to be very open and willing to talk about it. Take advantage by hosting a chat about it.
Try to plan your chat topics out a few weeks in advance. That’ll give you enough time to be prepared, but also have the freedom to pivot in case a new topic worth covering comes up.
What Should You Ask?
Once you’ve decided on a topic, the next step is to come up with a list of questions. The questions you ask will make or break your Twitter chat.
Remember this is a conversation, not a survey. You need to ask open-ended questions that give your participants the opportunity to expound on their answers.
Q4: How can you tell if your personal branding efforts are effective? #Sproutchat
— Sprout Social (@SproutSocial) July 6, 2016
You don’t want to ask questions that are too similar to each other or the conversation and answers can become redundant. Make sure you have enough variety in the questions you’re asking to keep the conversation interesting.
Nagel recommends anticipating how participants will respond to your questions, and using that to help build the flow of your questions.
Due to Twitter’s 140 character limit, you need to keep your questions short and succinct. It sounds limiting, but it actually works to your advantage. Shorter Tweets can help you get to the point quicker instead of dragging out questions.
In addition to the quality of questions you ask, also think about the quantity. Asking too many questions probably won’t leave enough time for quality answers or engagement. At the same time, only asking two or three questions can make your chat short and uneventful.
Find a healthy balance for your audience. For example each #SproutChat has six questions, with about 10 minutes in between each one. That gives participants enough time to answer without feeling rushed to get to the next one.
How to Promote Your Twitter Chat
A Twitter chat isn’t as exciting if only two people show up. The more active users you can get, the more beneficial it is for the host and the participants. So how do you get people to join in on the conversation?
One of Nagel’s top tips is to spend time participating in other chats. That’ll give you the opportunity to network and make connections with people that already see the value in Twitter chats. Once you’re ready to launch your own Twitter chat, reach out to your new connections and invite them to participate.
Another suggestion is to leverage your existing assets. For instance, if you have an email list, Facebook group or a large following on other social networks, use them to promote your chat!
The #SproutChat Facebook group has been a great resource for spreading the word about upcoming chats and keeping our community engaged. As your community starts to grow and you get regular participants, promoting will become a little easier.
Inviting special guests with an established following is another great way to promote your chats, especially if it’s new. The guest will promote it to their followers which widens your audience.
— Maggie (McD) Malek (@MagsMac) May 2, 2016
Here’s another creative tip for getting more participants. Before your chat, Tweet people who have participated in past chats to remind them of the upcoming one. You can use Sprout Social to schedule the Tweets ahead of time so you’re not rushing to send out a bunch of Tweets the day before your chat.
Lastly, create custom images for each chat. Include the date and time in the graphic, as well as any special guests if you have them. These are great to share on Twitter.
— Sprout Social (@SproutSocial) July 6, 2016
Best Time of Day to Host Twitter Chats
This is going to differ with each person/business. Here are some variables to consider when deciding when to host your Twitter chat:
- What’s convenient for your participants?
- Where are your participants located?
- Are there other chats going on around the same time?
Obviously you can’t cater to everyone, but try to settle on a time that’s convenient for most people. For instance, if you’re hosting a chat for restauranteurs, you probably shouldn’t do it Saturday evening because it’s not going to be convenient for them.
For global brands, you’ll need to plan around different time zones. It may be in the afternoon where you’re located, but in another country it could be nighttime. In these cases, you can try to host the chat during the time that’s best for your top location, or have multiple chats to cater to the different regions you serve.
Lastly, research the times for other Twitter chats. Look at chats that your audience is likely to join, and schedule around them. That way you’re not forcing people to choose between your chat and another.
Tools to Help
It’s nearly impossible to host a chat within the native Twitter app, so you’ll need a tool specifically for Twitter chats. There are several options available. It’s all about finding the one that best fits your needs.
Here are a few options to consider:
Nurph looks and functions similar to old-school online message systems. Tweets are displayed in real time, so it makes following conversations simple and easy.
Another option is tchat.io. Simply connect your Twitter profile, plug in a hashtag and start tracking the conversations.
Sprout’s Smart Inbox can be used to manage your Twitter chats. Add your chat’s hashtag as a brand keyword to filter out messages unrelated to your Twitter chat.
You may find it helpful to use a combination of these tools. For instance, Nurph’s simple layout makes it great for managing the chat, but it lacks some of the reporting and CRM features of Sprout.
Managing the Chat
Hosting a Twitter chat is a lot like hosting a party. It’s up to you to control the flow of things, connect people and create an enjoyable atmosphere for all the participants. The more active and engaging you are, the more fun and successful the chat will be for your the participants.
In addition to asking questions, here are some other things Nagel suggests for hosts to do during your Twitter chat:
- Reply: When there’s a good answer to your question, don’t let that be the end. Dig deeper with follow up questions to get more insight and info from participants. This is even more important if you have special guests in your chat.
— Sarah Nagel (@sprout_sarah) June 29, 2016
- Like & Retweet: You won’t be able to reply to everyone, so a good way to acknowledge more people is to simply like or Retweet posts. This is a quicker way to engage with your audience.
- Track: In addition to replying, make sure you save the best answers during the Twitter chat. Copy the URLs of the top Tweets as they happen, and paste them into a document. We’ll explain what to do with these in the next section.
- Connect: As we mentioned earlier, part of being a good host is making introductions and connecting people with each other. During the chat, spot opportunities to connect and introduce people to each other.
As your chats grow and you get more participants, it’s a good idea to get more people from your team involved with managing it all. This will help you cover more ground and prevent participants from feeling ignored.
What to Do After the Chat
The chat is complete and all the questions have been answered. Now it’s time to move on right? Not quite.
Following your Twitter chat, there are some steps you can take to keep in touch with your participants and build your community. Nagel recommends having an online community in addition to Twitter for participants to go after the chat.
For example, the #SproutChat Facebook group gives people a place to go to stay in the loop about the next one and communicate with anyone they connected with.
— Sprout Social (@SproutSocial) January 26, 2016
Lastly, we recap the Twitter chats each week on our blog. Remember the Tweets you saved? This is when they come in handy. Curate the best Tweets from the chat and embed them into a blog post. Here is a great example from one of our #SproutChats on how to scale marketing efforts.
— Sarah Nagel (@sprout_sarah) July 1, 2016
Also, during the chat you may come across leads, networking opportunities or other people you want to keep in touch with. You can use Sprout Social to include notes in these users’ profile, or tag Tweets that require additional attention.
Another important step after your Twitter chat is to measure the results. The metrics you track may vary, but here are some stats Nagel suggested to look into:
- Number of Tweets: Tracking how many Tweets are being sent about your chat is a good indicator of growth. If the number is increasing, it’s a good sign that you’re heading in the right direction and more people are starting to engage.
- Number of participants: Similar to the number of Tweets, monitoring how many people are in your chats is also a good way to track how popular your chats are becoming.
- Traffic: If your chats are related to a specific blog post, measure the referral traffic to that post for that day. Hopefully you’ll see a nice boost in visitors.
- Community growth: If you have a Facebook group or other community for your Twitter chat, you can track the number of new members after each chat.
Decide on the metrics that are most important to you and track them over time. You can also use tools like HashTracking.com to get helpful data on engagement and participation.
Participating in Twitter Chats
As a Twitter chat participant or special guest, you’ll get back what you put in. If you’re active and engage with others, you can form relationships, build credibility and grow your brand. If you just chip into a couple of questions and don’t reply to anyone else, you’ll come out empty handed.
How to Find Twitter Chats
The very first thing you need to do is find active Twitter chats. There are chats for nearly any topic you can think of, but some are more developed than others.
If you’re active on Twitter, there’s a good chance the influencers you follow participate in some industry chats. Look through their Tweets and see what chats they’re a part of. You can always ask for suggestions as well.
Another option is to look through calendars of upcoming Twitter chats. Here a couple good options:
- Twubs: This timeline of Twitter chats is nice because each chat is manually submitted. That minimizes the amount of non-active chats on the list.
- Tweet Reports: The benefit of this calendar is it organizes the chats by industry and gives more insight into what each is about.
Preparing for the Chat
Instead of going in blindly, take some time to prepare for the Twitter chat. You’ll typically know the topic in advance, so that gives you a chance to start crafting some visuals that you can use for your Tweets.
Use a site like Canva to create a base for your graphics. Have a space for text or a quote to go, and you can quickly fill it in during the chat. The visuals will stand out on Twitter and set you apart during the chat.
You can also get to know some of the people that’ll be joining in on the chat. Finding them is easy. Do a search for the chat’s hashtag. Some of the people that will be involved in the chat will Tweet about it ahead of time.
You’ll also be able to see Tweets from past chats, which can give you an idea of some of the people that will be participating in the next one.
Put all of these users into a Twitter list. On the days leading up to the chat, start engaging with them by liking, Retweeting or replying to their Tweets. You can even send them a Tweet letting them know you’ll be in the next chat.
That extra step will create some familiarity with the other participants ahead of time, so they”ll be more likely to engage with you during the event.
Engaging & Participating
It’s showtime. During the day of the chat, you need to be active. One mistake a lot of participants make is only answering the questions from the host. But the best part about Twitter chats is they’re open for communication. Replying to other answers and engaging with other participants is highly encouraged.
Use one of the tools mentioned earlier to help you monitor and engage in the chats.
When you see incoming Tweets that you want to join in on, reply as soon as possible because Twitter chats can move very quickly.
After the chat is over, you’re not done. In order to keep the conversation going or solidify new relationships, follow up with the other participants.
Tweet the people you connected with. Something as simple as “Great connecting with you during #chathashtag. Let’s keep in touch!” Or you could even follow up with a question to keep the conversation flowing.
After a Twitter chat, it’s easy for everyone to just go their separate ways and never connect again until the next one. Following up breaks that habit and encourages you to build valuable relationships outside of the chat.
— Jessie Simms (@JSimmsSocial) July 6, 2016
Measuring the Results
How do you know if participating in a Twitter chat benefited your business? One of the easiest metrics to track is your follower count. If you made a big impact within the chat, you’ll probably notice a spike in new followers afterward.
Another good sign is an increase in engagement. If you were able to connect with a lot of new people after the chat, some of them will start to engage with your Tweets afterward. As a result, you’ll end up getting more likes and Retweets than usual.
Pay attention to your engagement on the day of the chat, as well as the next few days. Hopefully you’ll see a positive trend.
You can also look at mentions of your chat’s hashtag over time. Ideally you should see peaks on the day of your chat.
The graph above is from Sprout’s Twitter Listening Report, which you can check out here.
Become a Regular
A lot of Twitter chats aren’t just one-time events, they occur on a regular basis. For example, we host #SproutChat once a week. A great way to build rapport with other attendees and make your mark is to become a regular participant, especially if it’s an active chat.
Set a reminder in your calendar for the time and date of the chat so you don’t miss out.
More Tips For Success
If you really want to get the most out of your next Twitter chat, here are some tips from Nagel for participants:
- Make lists: After the chat is over, make a Twitter list of the people you connected with. This will make it a lot easier to follow up.
- Take notes: Use Sprout to add notes for the people you meet.
- Etiquette: As you can imagine, Twitter chats can become pretty noisy. In order to stay organized, make sure you indicate which question you’re answering. The host will format the questions like Q1, Q2 etc. Your answers should start with A1, A2 and so on.
- Don’t be afraid to Tweet: The more valuable Tweets you can provide, the better. If your answers are more than 140 characters, you can break them into multiple Tweets using “A1.1” to indicate there’s more than one Tweet tied to your answer.
- Commit: Trying to participate in a Twitter chat while multitasking is very difficult. Block off time on your schedule to devote strictly to your chats without any interruptions.
There are plenty of reasons to use Twitter chats. They’re great for building your brand, growing your following and networking with people in your industry. If your Twitter management strategy has been lagging, or you just want to expound on what you’re currently doing, give Twitter chats a try.
The tips above will help you be more successful whether you’re hosting or participating. If you want to see a Twitter chat in action, join us for our next #SproutChat every Wednesday at 2pm CDT!