11 ways to rule Twitter chats

Twitter users can routinely find discussions on a variety of topics. Participating can bring PR and marketing pros many networking opportunities.

For PR pros and marketers, Twitter chats can be a great way to find like-minded individuals, build expertise and learn more, all for free.

Whether you want to participate for the first time, have been asked to join as a special guest host or are thinking of creating your own Twitter chat, these 11 tips can help you be a social media rock star:

For participants

1. Find the right chats. To take part, you must find Twitter chats that are relevant to you. There are several resources that can help you do so.

ChatSalad is a tool that lists all Twitter chats on a particular day, organized by hour. Its Twitter account tweets out chat reminders five minutes prior to a chat, and users can also get chat times converted to their time zones or receive text reminders.

Gnosis Media has a comprehensive list of chats as well, and there’s also a Google spreadsheet with many chats on it, including the chats’ moderators, day and time and topics covered.

2. Jump in, even if you’re not an expert. You don’t have to know all the answers to participate in a chat.

Though many “lurk”—meaning they watch a chat’s stream instead of tweeting along— you’ll get more out of it when you actively participate.

Retweet powerful insights or ask questions. Make sure, however, that if you alter a tweet when you share it again, you use “MT” (for “modified tweet”) before the original tweeter’s words to make others aware there’s been a change.

3. Network, network, network. Twitter chats can be a powerful source for making new connections.

The same rules for networking in person generally apply on Twitter: Get to know the individuals you want to network with, offer things of value such as insights or comments about their tweets, and refrain from spamming them with links or offers.

4. Don’t forget live events. Many events will use a hashtag for attendees to share insights and network. Though this is different from a weekly Twitter chat, this can be another valuable resource for communications pros.

Make sure you know the event’s hashtag—some conferences might have more than one—and stay on point with your tweets. It’s inappropriate to spam the hashtag with promotions and offers.

For guest hosts

Though Twitter chats may be “open mic” (all participants are encouraged to answer questions during the hour), many chats invite a brand manager or other relevant topic expert as a guest host. These tips can help guests adjust to a fast-paced Q-and-A session.

1. Be prepared. The conversation during Twitter chats can go quickly, and sound planning can go a long way into making the hour not seem like complete chaos. Talk with the chat’s moderator beforehand to get questions, and use a service such as Tweetchat, Twubs or Hootsuite to follow several streams at once.

Some hosts prefer to write out their answers to the chat’s questions ahead of time. This can free you up for talking with and answering questions from participants.

2. Follow the chat’s format. Though a chat’s moderator will follow the guest host’s Twitter stream and make sure other participants can follow his or her answers, following a format can make things go more smoothly.

Most Twitter chats cover six to eight questions in an hour, asked in the following format:

Q1 @[guest’s handle] [question] #ChatHashtag

Guest hosts (and participants) should generally answer in the following format:

A1 [answer] #ChatHashtag

If you have an answer or insight that requires several tweets, continue using the format above that corresponds with the question’s number, or use the following format:

A1a [answer] #ChatHashtag

A1b [answer] #ChatHashtag

A1c [answer] #ChatHashtag

If you forget the format when chatting, don’t worry: As long as you use the chat’s hashtag, your answers will show up in the stream.

3. Take advantage of opportunities. Though guest hosts are invited to Twitter chats to share expertise—rather than just showcasing products and services—you can link to promotions and blog posts when appropriate.

Networking is just as important for guest hosts as it is for participants. Connect with other PR and marketing leaders and follow up for additional content marketing, Twitter chat and speaking opportunities.

For moderators

Perhaps you can’t find a Twitter chat that meets your needs, or you’d like to increase your influence as a PR, marketing or social media expert. Creating a Twitter chat can be a great way to do so, and these tips can help you do it successfully.

1. Find your niche. There are hundreds of Twitter chats on a variety of topics, so make sure you select a theme that isn’t already covered every week.

Use the chat lists listed earlier to select a day and time that won’t conflict with other chats with parallel topics. It’s nearly impossible to select a timeslot that won’t conflict with other chats, but scheduling it at the same time as a popular chat with many participants can give you an uphill battle in growing your community.

Decide upon your chat’s format at this time as well. Will it be open-mic discussions on a different topic each week, or will you invite guest hosts to participate?

You’ll also want to select a hashtag for your chat, but make sure it’s not too lengthy, so participants can use most of each tweet’s 140 characters.

2. Plan in advance and spread the word. Just as editorial calendars help immensely with social media scheduling for campaigns, using a similar calendar can help you plan and organize future topics and questions.

This is especially helpful if you’ll be welcoming guest hosts and promotional partners, as you’ll want to make sure tweets introducing experts or promoting products are set up in advance.

Make sure to add your chat’s information on the Google spreadsheet, ChatSalad and Twubs, and schedule tweets that promote the next chat in the week leading up to it. Some moderators might even tag regular participants or guest hosts when they announce the next chat, or they’ll tweet reminders to participants in the hour beforehand.

3. Extend the life of each chat with follow-up stories . With all the great insights shared in each Twitter chat, it seems like a waste to see those lessons put forth only within that hour.

Use Storify to gather tweets and put together a story of your chat. Even when your chat grows and Twitter users search the hashtag afterward, Storify can make sense of all the conversations happening at once and give readers pithy takeaways.

You can create additional content based on insights from the chat. For example, writing a blog post of lessons learned or creating visual social media posts with some of the best quotes are ways to extend the life of your chat while giving your followers valuable content.

4. Build a community for participants. Create a Facebook group or Google Plus community so chat participants can talk with one another outside the weekly chat sessions.

This is great for many communications industry chats, because participants can ask one another client or campaign questions that might come up during the week. It also offers another platform for networking, which is a big draw for any Twitter chat.

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