Tweetchats aren't exactly the first thing organizations employing social media think of, but it's getting more and more common to see them used as a communications tool. I'm not talking about the weekly tweetchats organized and attended by enthusiasts. These are the one-time tweetchats hosted by organizations to address an issue or promote capabilities.
Tweetchats, in case you're not familiar with them, are single-topic discussions conducted over Twitter with the use of a hashtag that defines the theme. Services like Twubs and Tweetchat.com make it easy to see only the tweets from the chat.
The first tweetchat I remember was conducted by Israeli consul for media and public affairs, David Saragna, during the Gaza conflict, with Saragna and members of his staff engaged in a Q&A with anyone who was interested. Since then, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has conducted tweetchats on cancer risk, cancer and heart health, and smoking cessation. The United States Geological Survey has conducted tweetchats, as has Health Justice CT, Cisco Systems, and Uden's Gluten Free Foods (with a chat on Celiac Awareness Day), to name just a few.
There are good reasons to consider a tweetchat as a means of engaging people in a conversation about a topic of interest to your organization. To begin with, it's free and ridiculously easy. Second, it's easy for people to participate from wherever they are. Third, it's a non-threatening way for some of your organization's thought leaders to engage with core publics.
Hosting a successful tweetchat requires some planning. Here are some key considerations:
Promote your tweetchat through multiple channels
If you limit your tweetchat promotion to those already following your Twitter account, it's not likely you'll attract much attention beyond that group. If the subject of your chat allows, plan it far enough in advance to promote it through traditional channels, ranging from press releases to notices on your destination website. One hospital I'm working with is hosting a tweetchat far enough in advance to put notification into the print magazine it distributes to the local community. Make sure you include the hashtag for the chat in all of your communications.
Choose the right topic
For the most part, the theme of your tweetchat needs to focus on a topic your community wants to hear about, not something you want to communicate to them.
Sometimes, those topics will intersect. The Israeli consul, for example, wanted to get its message out at the same time the audience wanted answers about Israel's actions in Gaza. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center had stories to tell about quitting smoking and other cancer-related topics with an audience loaded with questions for the hospital's experts.
When there is synchronicity between what you and the audience want to talk about, the stars have aligned and you'll have great interaction. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to what your constituents are talking about and plan a tweetchat to address the issues you extract from your monitoring efforts.
Choose the right spokespersons
This is the ideal opportunity to put your subject matter experts and thought leaders front and center. It doesn't matter if they're not great speakers or writers. For clarification, see the next point.
Develop a tweetchat web page
You'll use this page to provide details of upcoming chats, including speakers and the codes you'll use to identify them. (For example, if Chuck, Mary and Bill are the speakers, you might want to end each tweet with /C, /M or /B to identify who said what.) You can also use the page to direct people to archives of past chats and to list chat resources, such as Twubs and Tweetchat.com.
Assemble a tweetchat team
The tweetchat speakers shouldn't tackle the tweetchat alone. First of all, not all your thought leaders and subject matter experts are also experienced with Twitter. A communicator or other organization representative with Twitter experience can relay the questions, listen to the speaker articulate the answer, then convert to 140 characters (or less), getting the speaker to okay the tweet before sending it. If the topic warrants it, you can also include legal or regulatory staff, along with members of the speaker's team who may be able to offer some additional insights.
Meet and strategize ahead of time
All members of the tweetchat team should get together to develop a strategy for the chat. Items to cover include listing tough questions that may be lobbed at the speaker(s) and how to address them, what to do if the chat starts to lose momentum, and to reinforce the key points you want to make.
You'll also want to strategize the structure of the chat. Will the speaker make opening statements and then open it up to questions? Will the speaker throw out some comments, take questions, then move to the next topic? It's best to be prepared to work with a plan than to just show up and start firing off tweets.
Use one Twitter account
The appearance of multiple company accounts can be confusing to participants. Regardless of how many people are contributing their input, having it all come through one account can make it much easier for people to follow the thread. You can always introduce simple means of indicating who's talking, such as the codes noted above.
Answer all questions
If there are more questions than you had time to answer during the scheduled window for the chat, let people know the remaining questions will be answered on a blog or through some other channel. Don't leave them hanging.
Employ sound Twitter practices
USA Today's Social Media Lounge had a good post earlier this year offering tips for moderating a tweetchat. Among these: make your tweets retweet friendly by keeping them short enough to accommodate the addition of an RT by members of your audience and retweet and reply to what others are saying.
Archive your chats
Don't restrict the content produced during the chat to those who participated. Archive the chat on your organization's blog or another channel. Even a web page that contains the transcript will do. Exercise sound SEO principles with the archive so people looking for information on that particular topic can find your chat.