For those of you that work in social media, you’ll appreciate the recent “54 Warning Signs That You Work in Social Media” list that Jason Keath of Social Fresh put together. I know I did, especially #47 that says “Your significant other asks, “Are you still working, or just tweeting?”
I thought of this list recently as I was trying to describe the concept of a Twitter chat to a family member who witnessed my participation in a series of them in December. Each Thursday night, I was glued to my computer tweeting about cookies and holiday baking, on behalf of a client, to a community on Twitter. While my family members thought the idea of the chat was funny, they hopefully realized that Twitter chats represent an opportunity for brands to use a social network to engage with other people who are passionate about a certain topic area – ultimately giving a brand the opportunity to build relationships and awareness online with their followers, and even better, with potential new fans and customers, in a direct, casual manner.
Typically, chats are structured to provide clear direction and guidance around a certain topic of discussion but are flexible enough to allow one-off related conversations to grow between participants. Chats usually follow a question and answer format with either the brand or partner organization tweeting a question every few minutes while participants respond with their answers.
As your team prepares for or considers if chats are right for the brand, consider the following items:
#1 Get Familiar
Want to consider a chat for a brand but don’t personally know much about them? Jump in. The best way to learn is to join one. Like most things in social media, you can’t effectively bring a brand into the discussion if you aren’t there as an individual first – understanding the mechanics of the platform, learning the lingo and knowing when to weigh in and when to observe. Find a chat that you are personally interested in and join it – tweet a little, RT others, use the hashtag, or just sit back and watch – but really get the whole experience before you put forth a recommendation for your brand. If you search “twitter chats” on Google, you can find this Google document that is a good reference for chats on Twitter listed by topic area. A few good ones to start with:
- Girls Night Out – rotating topics on a variety of fun lifestyle themes, held Tuesday nights (#GNO)
- Travelers’ Night In – great travel based chat, held Thursday nights (#TNI)
- Community Manager Chat – for community managers, on Wednesday afternoons (#CMGRchat)
- JournChat – for PR professionals, bloggers and journalists, on Monday evenings (#journchat)
#2 Is Your Brand Well-Known Enough to Start Its Own Chat?
Many times we have to make the decision to either host a chat on our own vs. sponsoring an already established chat by another organization. Typically, we’ll consider if the brand has the social footprint to host and cultivate a chat on their own and if based on that footprint (and the footprints of influencers who could possibly participate as moderators) the brand will get the results they want and expect. For companies with smaller or growing followers, we’d probably recommend they partner with a brand/customer/affiliated partner/spokesperson that has a well established social following or sponsors a Twitter chat with an organization that has an already established community around regular Twitter chats – like many of those listed above.
#3 Nail Down the Details – Making Choices
Pick a Time of Day That is Best For Your Chat
Consider when you want to host the chat and what time/day slots make the most sense for your community. Many established chats happen in the evening, so participants can jump in and join the conversation after work hours but many organizations that host Twitter chats for brands also offer a daytime chat option too. Check with your chat partners to see what responses they get during the day vs. night and make a decision based on what would work best for your brand.
Pick a Theme for Your Chat
Create a theme for the chat and a focus you want participants to follow and discuss but don’t choose something so niche that anyone joining for the first time wouldn’t be able to follow because they don’t know the topic. For example, if you are a CPG brand and you want to promote your product around an upcoming holiday, consider a theme around traditions, recipes or cooking/baking that would be a natural fit for your brand to share and offer content to participants.
Create or Choose a #
Choose a hashtag that you can use to track the conversation. If you are partnering with an organization, they may already have a hashtag in place but usually you can have two tags – one to represent the brand and another to represent the topic or partner organization. When choosing a hashtag, consider the following items:
- Keep them as short as possible – you don’t want your hashtag to take up too many characters of your tweet
- Check to see if they are already being used, either via consumers or other brands – you don’t want a tag that can’t easily be tracked or identified as special to the chat
- Consider your overall program and if it makes sense to use one hashtag for the entire program vs. a specific one for just the chat
#4 Pre-Chat Prep
Create a List
A week or two before the chat gather all the details above and create a cheat sheet document for your team. This can be formatted as a simple outline or table with the following information:
- Chat theme, date, time
- Official hashtags
- List of commonly referenced bit.ly links that you may need to use
- The list of chat questions and expected timing for each question during the chat (usually every 5-10 minutes depending on the chat)
- List of sample answers for each question in case needed
- An FAQ section for your team in case any sensitive questions come up during the chat and they (or you) need direction on how to respond
- Contact information for team members and client participating – even setting up a conference dial-in ahead of time can be helpful for communicating between various parties during the actual event
The important thing to remember is to strike a balance between being as prepared as possible while remaining flexible. The majority of your tweets should be ad-hoc responses, answers and questions to other participants – but it’s OK to help guide your team in the types of responses they can expect the brand to make and/or use during the chat.
Gather a Team with Specific Chat Responsibilities
If possible, and depending on the size of the chat, have more than one person staffing the handle – each with specific responsibilities. One person can own either asking or retweeting the questions and fielding answers while another can tweet more brand focused content and engage more proactively with the community. We’ve had Twitter chats before where 4-5 team members were involved and needed. Make sure you sit down beforehand and make roles/responsibilities very clear so there is no confusion when it’s time to begin.
Use a Twitter Tool
Use an engagement tool like Tweetdeck to help you manage the Twitter chat stream. If you aren’t already using one, set up your tool a few days before and start practicing. Create search columns for the various chat hashtags so you can see all tweets coming through for your chat.
#5 Reporting & Measurement
This is a critical part of social business and Twitter chats are no different. Consider the following metrics beforehand and make sure you set benchmarks ahead of time to measure progress from before/after a chat:
- # of Twitter chat participants
- # of tweets with your hashtag
- # of mentions and RT’s of your content
- # of impressions from tweets during this time with your hashtag
- Follower growth from day before till day after chat
- List increases as a result of the chat, new relationships formed
- Clicks on links shared during the chat (can use bit.ly to track by creating custom URLs for chat)
- Impact of chat on your overall share of conversation (SOC) and any coverage received as a result of your chat
- New relationships built as a result of the chat with online influencers
- If doing a coupon promotion, clicks and downloads of coupon as a result of chat
When reporting results of your Twitter chat to the brand, also consider how you will maintain the momentum from the chat, either via continued engagement, targeted outreach or a series of additional chats in following months. Also consider how you can leverage content from the chat in other mediums, including creating conversation word clouds to use in internal market research reports, or interesting fan comments and funny quotes to share on Facebook and Twitter the next day.
Additional tips to consider:
- Just because chat hours are over doesn’t mean the conversation has to end – assuming you have the resources to staff, keep it going as long as possible
- Consider the back-up plan should Twitter go down…it happens
- Use the chat hashtag before and after the chat to get your followers familiar and engaged on the topic
- Cross-promote the Twitter chat on other social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn if appropriate, encouraging your community to join you there
- Gather feedback – be open to suggestions from your community on topics they’d like to hear next time or what sort of content/answers they are looking for
- Consider adding a giveaway element to the chat – it can be a good tactic for increasing interest and participation, not to mention sharing the brand love with your community, just make sure it doesn’t override the value of the actual discussion happening
- Keep a running list of chat participants (either via Twitter’s list feature or in Excel) so you can track who participated and continue engaging with them after the chat ends
- Visit WCG’s SlideShare channel to review fellow colleague, Meghan Butler’s, deck on even more Twitter chat best practices and tips to promote your chat
And most importantly, be an active participant and resource for your community. Twitter chats are not a marketing platform for you to push out branded messages. They are most successful when brands use them to listen and engage with a community rather than speak at them.
Have more tips to share? Drop a comment below and let’s chat on Twitter! Hashtag #chattips.