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By Dave Sumter
Updated 17 Mar 2016
Twitter Chats and Events
Twitter's ability to allow users to share updates quickly and frequently has opened up a huge range of microblogging opportunities in all kinds of fields.
In addition to sharing content on a regular basis, twitter also allows for users to chat with each other about certain topics.
Using your account to host twitter chats or to live-tweet events will provide you with a great opportunity to build engagement, and grow your audience.
But hosting a live event might not be as simple as it sounds, so let's look at the ins and outs of doing this.
A twitter chat is a scheduled group meeting that takes place entirely on twitter.
At a pre-determined time and date, you commit to your followers and other interested parties that you will be ready at the keyboard to engage with them about a topic.
If you possess the necessary pull, you'll be rewarded with a definable period of time where your followers will be actively engaged, present on twitter and tuned in to what you have to say.
You can use this opportunity to make a great deal of progress in proving your relevance.
Here's how to plan and execute a great chat.
Step 1: Choose a time
Selecting an appropriate time and day of the week for your twitter chat is critical.
Users are more likely to be able to engage with you at a predetermined time if it works with their schedule.
Plan chats for after the average work day if twitter is secondary to your industry, or during the work day if your followers use twitter during the day.
The ideal day and time will depend on the habits and lifestyles of your unique followers.
Step 2: Decide the topic & format
Now is the time for you to decide what your chat will be about.
General discussions might seem fun, but that type of chat is not distinct enough from general tweeting to warrant its own event.
Select a topic with enough depth and potential viewpoints that there will be a lively discussion, but avoid areas that may become overly controversial -
a little bit of heat is good, but too much could backfire on you.
Chats can be used to facilitate all kinds of discussions, but some work especially well on twitter:
Q & A: This is the go-to chat format if you want to grow engagement with your followers. You or your followers post the questions and/or the answers.
Interviews: This format is great for you and the interviewee, as you both get exposure with each other's followers.
Panels: Assemble a panel of experts and let them provide the answers.
Debates: Get two people to take opposing sides of a debate. Keep it friendly.
Creatives: Post questions or ideas and ask your followers to post media responses.
Remember that the point of a chat is to be fun and engaging.
You'll want to strike a careful balance in your topic that illicits interesting and varying responses (rather than a topic that everyone will instantly agree upon) without leading to aggression or confrontation.
Step 3: List sub-topics
A common strategy these days is to list questions before the event (although your chat does not have to follow a Q&A format).
If it will be non-question based then consider listing some of the sub-topics.
Pre-publishing this info can help draw in participants that may not be drawn in by the main topic alone.
It also gives everyone some time to think about the questions before hand.
The number of sub-topics is really dependant on the time you have, which is usually a maximum of 45 - 60 mins.
That generally dictates anything between 5 to 10 questions.
If you have a lot of participants then it will take time for people to answer each question,
and good chats will usually have each answer sparking further sub-replies (or banter).
Step 4: Choose a hashtag
Selecting a great hashtag is critical for the success of your chat.
This is how the participants in your chat will attach their responses, and will help you sift through replies without missing any.
Plus, after the chat is over they make for an extremely powerful method of tracking the level of engagement you achieved during your chat.
When selecting a hashtag there are several important factors to take into account.
First, make sure to choose a hashtag that's not already in heavy rotation around the twitter-sphere.
This will only confuse your participants and make it difficult for you to differentiate who is participating in the chat.
If a hashtag has been used in the past but not for some time, don't worry - as long as you are the only one using a hashtag at a given time, you'll be fine.
Just be sure to stay away from hashtags that might apply to other topics or that are likely to appear in casual, unrelated tweets.
Now ensure that the hashtag is directly relevant to your chat.
This might seem like it goes without saying, but making sure that the hashtag is industry or niche-specific goes a long way toward spreading your tweets and the tweets of your participants to the audiences you most want to attract.
Finally, make the effort to keep your hashtag simple.
While a unique hashtag is critical, the uniqueness should come from your creativity and not from a hashtag that's 50 characters long.
Your followers and participants should have the ability to read the hashtag once and remember it later when the conversation takes place.
Step 5: Invite special guests
While participating in a targeted chat about a given topic at a predetermined time can be fun an engaging, you might want to find additional motivators to get people engaged.
One effective way to do this is by inviting special guests to participate and field questions from your followers.
Aim for someone that will be of particular interest to your followers, an expert in their field of interest or a personality that's well known in their sphere.
Aim high, toward someone with a greater following than your own, but within reason.
Remember that this type of guest appearance in your digital event is good for their engagement too - you'll both be receiving attention from new potential followers.
Set up your chat like a Q&A with a special guest that will provide special access behind the scenes of a certain field.
Step 6: Tweet about it
This is where you wrap all the details from the previous steps into a good tweet.
Here is a quick checklist of things to include:
Image: An eye-catching graphic with guest photos.
Hashtag: The chat hashtag you will be using should be placed in the tweet text, and if it's a regular event then 'brand' it in the image too.
Topic: The headline topic should be clearly displayed on the image, and should be searchable in the text.
Guests: Guest photo's should be included and their usernames should be in the tweet text.
Date & Time: Remember to put the date, time AND time zone in the tweet.
Format: Announce whether it will be an interview, a Q&A, polled questions, etc.
Keywords: Consider adding some searchable keywords if your title doesn't include them, but don't go overboard.
Unlike twitter contests, you can generally put most of the chat details into the image, but be sure to put clickable elements such as special guest usernames and the hashtag into the tweet text.
Tweet at least a week before the chat, and find novel ways to create some buzz around the chat each day leading up to it.
You could share some info about why the topic was chosen, or drip-feed some interesting data about special guests.
You can also ask influencers to promote it, or even run a twitter ads campaign for it.
Step 8: Run the chat
Running the chat is the fun part of this whole process, and can be incredibly rewarding when people show up and participate.
Your job is to keep it running smoothly, make everyone feel welcome, and drive exposure where it needs to go.
The way you do this is up to you, but here is an example of how Madalyn Sklar runs her successful #TwitterSmarter chats.
Build-up: Before the event starts give people a heads-up. You can start these hours before, and tweet the last one 10-15 mins before you begin.
Friendly Warning: As a courtesy, let your followers know that your feed will be busy for the next hour or so, and invite them to join.
Announce it: Let everyone know the chat has started and welcome any special guests.
Introductions: Ask the participants to introduce themselves and list any rules you may have. Try and greet as many of your participants as you can.
Icebreakers & Buzz: Throw in some icebreakers, ask people to retweet the chat, and warm things up before the real questions begin.
Questions: Post your questions (usually 5-10 mins apart) and engage with the respondants.
Close: Thank everyone for participating and close off the chat.
Recap: Publish a summary post (try do it within a day or two)
If you join a good chat you'll notice that there is a lot more going on than just the above tweets, but it's a good general structure to follow.
Madalyn Sklar makes good use of consistent images to thread her chats together.
Step 9: Wrap it all up
The chat is of course available for all to see on twitter afterwards, but you have an ideal opportunity to summarize it into a great piece of content now.
The summary could be a simple collection of questions and answers, or you could do a detailed analysis out insights and ideas.
Participating In Chats
If you don't have time to set up your own chat then participating in existing chats is a great way to network and increase your exposure too.
The easiest way to do this is to use twitter's live search feature during the chat.
Just type in the chat hashtag into the menu search box and click on the 'live' tab.
If the chat is using question/answer numbers then you can pop that into the search field as well.
Clicking on the hashtag link in any tweet will take you automatically to the search page.
You will now see questions and answers as they are posted. Jump in and provide your own answers - you don't need permission!
Remember to add some replies to the answers provided by others too. The real value of you participating here is to network with others, not necessarily the just to do the Q&A.
While twitter chats occur entirely online, twitter also provides a powerful way to discuss real-world events.
Providing commentary on live events in real-time is known as live-tweeting events.
It's a powerful, engaging and fun way to get followers involved with your thoughts by leveraging interest in an exciting event.
Twitter users have been known to live-tweet a wide variety of events, from industry related conventions and product launches to movies, awards shows and television events.
Strive to live-tweet events that will appeal to the interest of your core followers and your target audience.
Remember most of all that a live-tweet of an event should be an event in and of itself.
Announce your intentions to live-tweet well before the start of the event, even a few days before, and promote it a few more times after that.
When the event arrives, use a consistent hashtag that ties back to the event and that's likely to be searched by other viewers of the event outside of your sphere.
During your live-tweet, engage with followers who @reply to your tweets as well as other users who are tweeting about the event, even if they don't follow you.
This is a great way to spread your engagement to other users and widen your reach.
When it comes to the frequency of your posts during a live-tweet, the best practice really depends upon the nature of the event.
An entertainment event like an awards program or television special doesn't require constant narration— focus on the most interesting or noteworthy moments.
If live-tweeting a product launch or news event, more frequent tweets are appropriate as your followers will want to be appraised of what's going on without the fear of missing out.
Include quotes, important or particularly impressive details and price points (for product launches.)
Do not underestimate the power of twitter events to supercharge the interest and engagement of your followers and to increase your reach to users and groups whom your feed will appeal to.
While you shouldn't shift to an approach of constantly creating chats and live-tweeting every event that crosses your path, these special methods can become a powerful tool in your arsenal.