June 7, 2012

Twitter Chats: The Power of a #Hashtag

Welcome to the next level of Twitter communication, where you and other interested professionals and non-professionals alike can talk about anything to anyone, from any location in the world, at any time. I’m talking about Twitter chats, a platform for open discussion using a hashtag as the key to entry.

(Screenshot of the #socialchat Twitter chat using Tweetdeck. #Socialchat happens every Monday at 9pm EST, and covers topics surround social media marketing)

Twitter Chat

What is a Twitter chat?

Screen shot 2012-05-29 at 2.15.21 PM

Twitter chat is a chance for you to communicate with any of the 140+ million other Tweeters out there about anything under the sun. Someone (anyone!) sets a time, a topic and a hashtag for all users to incorporate in their 140 characters. The set hashtag and phrase is what gets a user into the chat (e.g., #Renegaderocks, the tag for a chat about Renegade enthusiasts). One of the many benefits of a Twitter chat is that because of the character limit, participants are forced to make their messages short, sweet, and to-the-point. No novel-length opinions allowed!

What are they used for?

Twitter chats can be about literally anything, and start in several different ways. One common form is a scheduled chat. For example, Mashable has provided 15 essential Twitter chats for Social Media Marketers that happen weekly. Additionally, Twitter chats often form at live panels, where a moderator will announce the appropriate hashtag, and attendees can tweet opinions about the selected topic, or pose questions for the panelists. Some of the most popular Twitter chats erupt from TV shows like The Voice, an example that we blogged about just last month. Before, during and after each show, thousands of people (including Christina Aguilera, a judge on The Voice) incorporated #TheVoice into their tweets, creating a trending topic that eventually became a 24-hour chat.

What can it do for you?

Twitter chats can be useful for both consumers and brands. Participating in chats can aid consumers in forming opinions, voicing thoughts and finding out what others have to say. Brands can also benefit in several ways. First and foremost, these chats provide free and honest feedback from the public. Just a few years ago, companies were paying for a voice from their consumers with surveys and oftentimes their results were biased for several reasons like lack of blinding and measuring the wrong target audience. The public nature of a Twitter chat also builds a brand’s social media presence. With strategically worded hashtags your brand can gain visibility from hundreds, thousands and even millions of Tweeters. Finally, by analyzing the demographics and psychographics of Twitter chat participants, brands can easily get a better understanding of their existing and target communities. Take into consideration brands like Toyota, a company that practices good online presence by hosting several Twitter chats, ranging from discussion with their designers to advocating their philanthropy. By casually interacting with the public about the company, Toyota was able to make themselves open and accessible to Toyota lovers and potential customers alike.

Tips for a successful chat:

Twitter chats can be constructive and beneficial, but there are several ways that the chats can go south. Take these next few tips into consideration to make sure your first chat goes smoothly:

Use Tweetdeck, Hootsuite or some other type of social media management program with a live stream to track the hashtag. The original Twitter UI is fine, but not ideal for chats, especially huge ones where tweets stream in faster than you can click the Refresh button!
Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with the conversation. Again, some chats have tweets coming in every other second, so just keep your eyes peeled for what’s relevant or interesting, and feel free to re-tweet the best ones. Retweeting is a way to moderate the chat and may spark more conversation about that particular topic.
Recognize the community: People of all ages and personalities are getting active on social media, and they communicate in different ways. Depending on the audience of the chat (e.g., a chat about Justin Bieber vs. a chat about business culture), you may have to adapt your voice for that particular chat.

Now that you’re more informed about Twitter chats and all of its glory, I leave you with the ultimate Twitter Chat Google Doc. Peruse the 600+ topics (any chat about food is a personal favorite) and start engaging with people who share your unique interests.

Let us know about your Twitter chat experiences! We’d love to hear the rants and raves of your time in the Twittersphere.

– Jaime Cheng, @Rochambeaux