13 Aug 2013

8 Lessons for Hosting a Better Twitter Chat

Twitter chats have almost become mainstream. Celebrities take to Twitter to announce a new movie or album, TV shows host behind-the-scenes chats with the creators, and news outlets regularly ask viewers and readers to chime in with their opinions in hour-long chats, 140 characters at a time.
Despite their surge in popularity, there is still some confusion about how to run a great Twitter chat. Many are still difficult to find, unless you’re part of the “inner circle,” and the fast-paced stream of tweets can be near impossible to follow if you’re new to chats, or if you stumble into one a little late. Hopefully these eight tips, pulled from three examples of successful chats, will help clarify things!

1) Select a trending topic

This month marked the Discovery Channel’s 26th-annual Shark Week, and as part of the celebrations the National Aquarium sent a team of marine biologists into the depths of their newly unveiled shark tank to host a live, underwater Twitter chat with 20 black reeftip sharks. The chat received over 500,000 impressions - quite a feat for a late Sunday night! - and was a great way to kick off Shark Week with excitement.
The chat captured the attention of an audience that’s wider than the typical audience the Aquarium would see both because of the novelty of the event and because it capitalized on a trending topic.

2) Encourage discovery

Some of the most popular chats are popular because they happen regularly, and they use the same hashtag every time. Take a look at #BlogChat for instance. This is one of the oldest and most popular chats on Twitter: the first #blogchat was in March 2009, and today it generates an average 20-30 million impressions during Sunday night chats at 8p.m. Central, every single week.  Its founder, Mack Collier has been careful to use the same hashtag each time so that the current audience as well as new participants can discover the chat easily. 
Reusing a great chat hashtag and consistent time will ensure that your audience knows how to tune in every week, without having to search around your website or Twitter feed for the new hashtag. And it also helps you “own” that hashtag – fewer non-chat users will be likely to jump on it if they see that your chat dominates the conversation.

3) Use your experts

ABC Health hosted a Twitter chat earlier this month entitled “The New Rules of Cancer.” The chat was moderated by ABC News’ chief health and medical correspondent, and was attended by top health and cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society.
Brands and organizations have a slew of experts whose online and offline networks would flock to speak with them during Twitter chats. Employees, partners, celebrity spokespeople… these types of high-profile or knowledgeable people can be great assets for drawing in a large audience.

4) Crowdsource promotion

One of the reason why #BlogChat is so successful is because it has such an engaged audience – even after the chat has ended. Participants are encouraged to share links to their own blogs before and after the chat, which helps them network with one another and promote the chat via both blogs and Twitter during downtime.
Empowering experts and the community to help promote your chat through their social channels will allow for the organic growth of your chat.

5) Use multimedia

The National Aquarium chose not to host a regular Twitter chat, but instead combined it with a Google+ hangout that was embedded into the Nestivity Tweetcast (Disclaimer – I write for the Nestivity blog). The Hangout featured divers swimming, live, in the tank with the Aquarium’s blacktip sharks, while participants sent in their questions via Twitter.
We all know photos, videos and other multimedia perform well on social media, so why not incorporate them into your next Twitter chat to spice things up a bit? And as a bonus, you’ll capture a wider audience since your content will be posted on more than one network (both Twitter and Google+ in the example above).

6) Choose a new sub-topic for every chat 

Do you think #BlogChat would have survived weekly get-togethers for years if its participants just talked about “blogging” every week? I doubt it! Things would get pretty stale pretty quick, and participants would start to drop off like flies.
One of the reasons for #BlogChat’s success is that its founder and organizers choose a new sub-topic every week. Last week’s sub-topic was “Keeping your sh*t straight on your blog,” the week before that a guest host was brought in, and throughout the month of June the chat covered topics like plugins and cultivating fans. 

7) Be responsive

As a host, it’s important that you or your brand participate actively in your chat – and this means responding to questions, comments, concerns from your participants.
The National Aquarium responded to each and every question that its audience sent in, from questions about the sharks’ diet (A mix of fish and squid. Each gets a specific percentage of their weight) to an indelicate question about their resident sea turtle Calypso’s weight (a whopping 520 pounds). 

8) Follow up

Following their chat about the new rules of cancer, ABC New published a blog post highlighting some of the most interesting exchanges and facts to emerge from the chat. This blog post included a live stream of the tweets sent during the chat, curated by ScribbleLive.
The best chats don’t just end when the hour’s up – the host makes an effort to follow up, whether it is through software like ScribbleLive, a blog post, archiving using Storify, or simply following up with participants via Twitter itself. 

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