At times witty, intelligent and ahead of the curve. At others, infuriating, aggressive and stubborn. Always opinionated. Twitter can be many things, but it’s particularly effective at one: starting conversations.
Despite this, many brands continue to use the social network to shout about how brilliant they are, while doing little to encourage other users to get involved.
If you’re looking to fix your Twitter strategy, using it to host chats - in other words, a public conversation centered on a unique hashtag - can be a highly effective tactic. Here’s how to do it (and why you should bother).
What are the benefits of hosting Twitter chats?
As we’ve already discussed, chats play right into Twitter’s key strengths. For better or worse, people on Twitter love a debate, so why not take advantage if you’re planning to revamp your social strategy?
Research suggests that hosting chats can give a substantial shot in the arm to your reach and engagement. Agorapulse carried out an in-depth study of several existing chats and reported the following impressive results:
- Average posts per chat - 1,450
- Average users involved in each chat - 289
- Average reach of chat - 1,456,928
- Average impressions per chat - 13,993,986
These figures were garnered from chats that already have a bought-in audience, so you clearly shouldn’t expect to see those sorts of numbers immediately. But even if you enjoy a fraction of this success, it’ll be worth the effort.
5 steps to hosting successful Twitter chats
Hosting a Twitter chat that works for your brand and helps to achieve your marketing goals requires a little upfront planning. Here are the steps you should take.
1. Define a purpose to your Twitter chat
As with any marketing tactic, don’t consider hosting a Twitter chat until you understand why you’re doing it and how it’ll help you achieve your aims.
Chats can be a fantastic tool for building brand awareness, engaging your audience and positioning yourself as an expert within your given field. But if your objective is to drive average order value from your existing customers, a Twitter chat probably isn’t the answer.
In establishing whether this is the right solution for you, set objectives based on “SMART” methodology. In other words, make sure they’re:
This will naturally have a huge impact on the type of chat you run.
2. Create a dedicated hashtag
The hashtag is the cornerstone of any Twitter chat. Yours needs to be unique, memorable and relevant to the conversation, while taking up as few characters as possible.
Need a little inspiration? Here are a few examples of established Twitter chat hashtags from a range of sectors and account types:
- #HBR - the Harvard Business Review’s dedicated chat hashtag. Short, sweet and incorporates the publication’s branding.
- #VCBuzz - again, content marketing-focused social platform Viral Content Bee’s hashtag features the company’s branding and also manages to be fun, despite taking up just seven characters.
- #Hootchat - yet more proof that simple is best, Hootsuite’s Twitter chat hashtag references the brand’s name and is easily memorable.
3. Choose a relevant topic (that your audience want to talk about)
Much as you might want to start a conversation about the history of Albania’s rail network or your favorite type of cheese, it’s probably best to pick a subject that’s directly relevant to your brand.
Whether you choose to be funny or serious, extremely broad or super-niche, your chat should be of interest and value to your target audience. Never lose sight of the fact that this is ultimately a marketing tactic, not simply an opportunity to discuss the first thing that comes into your head.
4. Pick a time and date - and stick to it
Chances are, it’ll take you a while to build up a sizeable audience (unless you’re already a well-established brand with a large, bought-in following.) But you’ll find it much easier to attract a community of regular contributors if you pick a convenient date and time for your Twitter chats.
In choosing when to stage your regular chat, give some thought to what your audience are likely to be doing at that particular point in the week.
Let’s say you’re a sports brand. It might make sense to hold your chat during the buildup to Monday Night Football.
If you sell software for digital marketers, you’ll probably want to catch them during office hours - but not at a time when they’re too busy to respond. Friday afternoons, when the working week is winding down, could be the perfect window.
5. Keep the conversation on track
As anyone who’s spent more than five minutes on Twitter will know, conversations have a habit of spiraling out of control unless strict parameters are put in place. The more contributors you have, the harder it’ll be to keep things on track.
The most popular chats tend to organize questions and answers by number, as follows:
- Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. are used to denote different questions
- A1, A2, A3 etc. are used to denote answers to those specific questions
Also, be sure to assign a moderator who knows plenty about the subject and understands your brand inside out. They’ll be responsible for setting questions and guiding the debate, while stopping the discussion from veering off at irrelevant tangents or descending into a childish and unhelpful argument.