You once needed a fabulous venue, trendy drinks, and sparkling names to throw the biggest party in town, but nowadays, some of the most rockin’ parties are online. And all that’s required to throw a successful online shindig is a Twitter account and a little bit of planning.
Here’s what you need to know to host your own successful Twitter chat.
Have a Twitter account. OK, that part is probably obvious. The not-so-obvious part is that you need to make sure you’re hosting from the right account. In other words, if you use your Twitter account almost 99% of the time for work, make sure you don’t mind all your workmates knowing about your Twitter chat. And if you do mind, then you should probably get a second Twitter account with a note about it being for “personal tweets.” (Or not. Sometimes, personal tweets from your work Twitter account can help folks see you as a little warmer, a bit more “real.” It’s your call.)
Know your theme. All the best parties and events have a theme. Keep your passions and interests in mind—and know why you are getting everyone together for a Twitter chat. What’s the focus? Are you going to chat about the latest samurai flicks? Are you interested in what other steampunk fans are creating? Do you want to get together with people around the world who want to discuss Lemony Snicket’s books? Once you know your topic, you can check online to see if those types of Twitter chats exist—and what you can do to make yours stand out. (You can also decide to just join an existing one if you’d rather not start from scratch.)
Get a suitable hashtag. A hashtag was, in the olden days, called a pound mark: #. Now, it’s the nifty little sign that marks keywords and topics on Twitter, which makes it easier to follow the conversation. You can follow the conversation via Twitter search by typing the # and the name of the chat. You can also use Tweetchat, HootSuite, or TweetDeck. To use a hashtag, all you need to do is, well, use it. And let other people coming to your Twitter chat know to use it, too, so your tweets can be found in the ever-expanding Twitterverse. And be sure to make your hashtag catchy but short. (You don’t want to use up crucial characters just on a hashtag!) If your Twitter chat is just for a yearly event, consider including the year in the hashtag.
Pick the time well … and be aware of time zones. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re in front of your screen, but keep in mind that your time zone isn’t everyone’s time zone. You may be on Pacific time, but people on the East are three hours ahead of you. You don’t have to mention every time zone, but just mention yours. That makes it easy for people in different time zones throughout the world (not just your country) to work out what your stated time means for them.
And know that the time can always be changed if it ends up not being the best. For example, for #profschat (hosted by MarketingProfs’s own Megan Leap), the chat started out with its slot at 8 p.m. (Eastern time). The idea was that it let people who weren’t allowed on Twitter to join—but it didn’t quite work. So, MarketingProfs changed the time. “We chose Friday at noon because we thought it was a time that most folks would be free,” Megan says. “Most people probably don’t have Friday lunch meetings. And Friday chats would be a great way to wind down the week.”
Invite folks to your party. People can’t attend your Twitter chat if they don’t even know about it! Promote your Twitter chat by spreading the word. Chat it up on your blog, your Facebook Page, your website, and, natch, Twitter. If your Twitter chat is related to event, don’t forget to put the chat name, hashtag, time, and date on all signage, opening and closing slides of a presentation, ads, etc.
Choose a chat style. You can just choose one topic, ask specific questions, and people just answer that one for a specific amount of time. In some chats, the moderator does not allow for other questions until the end of the “official” questions. In other chats, there’s one topic, and the moderator lets everyone just have at it. In another style of chat, the moderator gently guides the conversation, helping it through awkward silences or focusing it if it strays from the topic.
Do your homework. If you’re just having a free-for-all chat, you might not need to do any planning. However, if you’re hosting a Twitter chat on a specific topic, you’ll want to be sure to have on hand: the information that you want to share (it’s even better if you have the tweets written already, so you don’t have to keep fiddling with the tweet to keep it to 140 characters) and questions to ask participants. Make sure your questions are numbered, so folks can answer specifically to that question. (And you might have to remind folks to answer with the number, so you know what question they are answering.)
Consider special guests. Maybe your Twitter chat is about U.S. history, and you’re getting together to discuss “The Conspirator” movie. Consider inviting a professor of history or a famous author like Doris Kearns Goodwin (hey, you never know) to join the Twitter chat to share their thoughts and answer questions. Just as in hosting any event, you need to make sure to introduce your speaker to the guests, share a little about her, and perhaps ask questions to get the chat rolling. And then, depending on your format, the speaker can just tweet about the topic during the scheduled time and answer questions during the talk, or you can save the questions to ask the speaker once the allotted time to their talk is over.
Know when to let it flow—and when to slow it down. “If it gets quiet and people stop having things to say, then I jump in and try to invigorate the conversation,” says Megan. “If they’re chatting and engaged, I let it flow.” Be a good host by making sure conversations are happening. Really listen to the conversation, and be prepared to share an observation or ask a question if it’s getting too quiet. Likewise, a good host knows when to keep mum and let the guests chat away. Depending on the style of your Twitter chat, you may allow for tangents, or you might want to jump in and return the focus to the topic. (There’s no right or wrong. It’s a style preference.)
Consider giving out prizes. Some chats are sponsored by businesses, so the Twitter host mentions the sponsor at the beginning and end of the chat. The sponsor often provides a gift for someone who has participated in the Twitter chat. Just collect names during the Twitter chat, and randomly choose a winner. Perhaps the guest speaker is an author who can offer a free copy of her book to a Twitter chat participant. Or you can skip this whole idea. Consider the knowledge shared to be the parting gift to participants.
Cue the credits when it’s over. Have an official end time for your chat. This way, people will be able to plan their time accordingly. If they know the Twitter chat is ending at 9 p.m. (Eastern time), they might move things around in their schedule, so they can participate. If the time is just open-ended, it might be trickier to moderate. So, officially end your Twitter chat (and don’t forget to thank the guest speaker). However, do allow for folks to chat afterwards, if they like. (And on Twitter, you can’t really stop them if they do.) For example, after the weekly Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) chat, hostess Elianne Ramos launches into an “after party” during which she shares links to Latin music and a more relaxed (often funny) vibe picks up after the focused talk. View the tweets after the designated time as proof that everyone had a good time. It’s the online equivalent of people still talking in the parking lot long after an event’s over.
Have a recap. Be sure to offer a transcript of your chat. People may be totally into the chat—but they have to drop out of it for whatever reason. Let Twitter guests know what was said, who was there, and what was shared by offering transcripts of the talk.
So, are you interested in starting up a Twitter chat? Do you frequent a few Twitter chats? Let us know about them by leaving a comment. And I hope to see you at this Friday’s #profschat at noon (Eastern time).
photo credit: Bakerella