Live Twitter chats are a great way to engage with your audience and to build deeper relationships on social media. This week I caught up with Lesley Price, CEO of the charity Learn Appeal, who helps run a popular Twitter chat: #chat2lrn. She shared some great practical tips for managing Twitter chats and the tools they use.
A Twitter chat is a conversation around a specific hashtag. The hashtag is used by all participants and effectively tags each comment so you can follow and participate in the conversation.
There are many benefits to running and participating in a Twitter chat, such as:
creating a community
getting instant feedback
It is easy for people to participate and, as they are public, they can promote your brand and help gain new followers.
You can also build authority both by hosting and appearing as a guest. Twitter chats are also proving popular for providing support to customers. There are many good examples, such as Hubspot's weekly Twitter chat #SciChat and #Chat2lrn run by Lesley Price and others.
Top Tips For Hosting and Managing a Twitter Chat
Like most things in life preparation is critical to success. I was impressed by how much thought and hard work goes into making #chat2lrn successful. Lesley's advice is as follows.
Choose a short, unique hashtag. The hashtag will appear in every tweet so keep it as short as you can.
Timing is critical as participants in Twitter chats may come from around the world, so choose your time to reach as many of your audience as you can. Global timings get difficult in the Spring and Fall when clocks start changing at different times. Lesley says you have to anchor your event somewhere, they stick with a fixed UK time.
Use an avatar. Lesley's advice is to set up your own Twitter account with an avatar for your chat. This makes it clear when you are managing and running the chat. The avatar for example tweets out the questions.
Create a team. In Lesley's experience Twitter chats work better organized and managed by a team.
Be consistent. Most successful twitter chats are regular events. They are also a big commitment, so run one every two weeks if you can't commit to one a week but be consistent.
Prepare a calendar with dates, names and topics. The team then know well in advance when they are responsible for leading on a chat and it also allows you to keep track of topics you have discussed and are planning to cover. This will ensure that you are not rushing around at the last minute scrambling to find a leader, a topic and also that you have a good range of topics.
It is important to prepare participants for an event and to promote it actively. Lesley's advice is as follows:
To create a good discussion and a well informed event the #chat2lrn team create a blog post on the subject to be discussed. Typically the blog post is written either by someone in the team or by the guest expert for that week's chat. "This allows the community to read about the key issues that will be explored during the chat." See their site here http://chat2lrn.wordpress.com/.
The team meet virtually prior to the event and come up with approximately 8 agreed questions that will be used during the one hour session. The questions should be designed to encourage discussion and have a natural flow, so try to avoid questions that have a simple yes/no answer.
Promote the event including regular tweets using the hashtag, for example this week's #chat2lrn is about gamification, join us on x day at x time. The #chat2lrn team typically send out different message types before an event.
Running the Chat
The #chat2lrn team agree different roles during the session. One person takes responsibility for leading the chat. This role involves writing the post for the topic or inviting a guest post. They are also responsible for making sure the discussion flows.
Another member of the team manages the avatar account and administers the session. They do the welcomes, post the questions and keep an eye on the clock. "They move things along as guests or the topic leader can get very involved in discussions and forget the time." The team take turns in running the avatar account.
The #chat2lrn team run a skype back channel during the session using just text messages to share thoughts and help ensure things are running smoothly. The guest is also invited to be part of the back channel as it helps keep them involved and makes them feel part of the team for that chat.
The first question Q0 is normally an introduction and they ask people to make sure that they put the relevant question number in front of their responses as chats can get busy and out of synch.
"The role of the team is to act as facilitators rather than moderators" say Lesley "You do occasionally get people who try to hijack a session to sell something. In my experience it is sufficient to just tell them firmly this is not the place to sell. The community are also good at policing this type of activity."
At the end of the chat get people to reflect, ask them for their biggest takeaways.
Tools to Use
Lesley's favourite tool is Tchat.io. You just sign in with your Twitter account and enter the hashtag. You then enter what is effectively a room or stream that just shows tweets with the hashtag included. Tchat allows you to reply, retweet and favourite and puts in the hashtag automatically to all of your tweets.
Some people in the team also use Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to monitor wider discussions, as sometimes participants forget to include the hashtag and you will miss it if you are only tracking hashtagged tweets.
Running Twitter chats requires a lot of concentration. Lesley's advice is to make sure you are in a quiet room, with no interruptions.
After the Event
It is useful to continue the discussion after the events. To support and help people the team use Storify to produce a curated list of the the tweets from the event. Here is a good recent example http://learnpatch.com/2014/09/curated-tweets-from-chatlrn-twitter-chat-on-gamification/
Twitter chats can be a valuable part of your social media engagement strategy. However, great chats do not just happen, they require preparation, organization and management. The #chat2lrn approach is a great example we can all learn from.