It’s been almost 10 months since I started hosting a monthly Twitter chat.
At first the prospect of leading a group discussion in real time on the popular social network made me more nervous than talking in front of a room full of people: Would anybody show up? Would I run out of questions? Would I be able to keep track of everybody and everything?
All went well, and apart for a few technical glitches here and there, continues to go well many months later. So well, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.
If you’re thinking of hosting a real-time chat, keep the following in mind:
1. Pick the right hashtag. Research hashtags so you don’t use one that’s already taken. If the chat is related to an annual event, include the year. Keep it short so it takes up as few of those precious 140 characters as possible. WordCount Last Wednesday is a mouthful, so I use #wclw instead.
2. Promote the chat in advance. Let people know about the chat by talking it up in posts on your blog – like this one – Facebook page or Google group, and on Twitter of course. An upcoming chat doesn’t need to be the subject of your every tweet, but it helps build interest to tweet about a chat up to a week before it happens, with more tweets in the days, hours and minutes immediately leading up to it. That said, you never know who’ll show up. My experience has been that a small core group of my blog followers participates every time, some people come because of pre-chat promos and some people pop in on an impromptu basis after reading tweets during the chat.
3. Time of day is important. Starting out, I set the time of the #wclw chat at 8:30 a.m. Pacific. I thought it’d work well for East Coast writers because it was right before lunch and for West Coast writers because it was at the beginning of the day. Things didn’t work out that way. The time was too early for many West Coasters. A few months ago I switched to 10 a.m. PST and have seen more people participate as a result. Late afternoon and early evening times are popular chat times too, i.e., 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. Eastern (though they don’t work for working parents like me).
4. Pick a theme. Think about subjects people who read your blog, check out your Facebook fan page or buy services from your business are interested in and come up with chat topics that relate. My first chats were virtual “wrap parties” for writers and bloggers who’d made it through the annual WordCount blogathon to talk about what they learned. Since then, I’ve hosted chats on WordPress, Facebook, e-newsletters, ebooks, productivity and other subjects that self-employed writers care about.
5. Guest speakers are big draws, but not necessary. For #wclw chats, I’ve vascillated between having guests and hosting by myself. Certain times of the year are better for going it alone; for example, this April, I’ll host a WordCount Last Wednesday chat to answer questions for writers and bloggers who want to participate in this year’s blogathon, and in May I’ll host the blogathon wrap party. December is a great time to hold a chat with some year-end theme, January for goal setting and March for tax issues. If you mix it up between using guest speakers and doing self-hosted chats you also put less pressure on yourself to find and prep a guest speaker every time.
6. Prepare questions in advance. Whether or not you plan to have a guest speaker, take some time beforehand to decide which aspects of your theme you want to cover in the chat. If you have a guest, schedule a short phone call to discuss what they’ll talk about, and come up with questions that you can ask them. You or your guest can pre-write a few answers to questions in advance – remember that 140 character limit – to buy yourself a little extra time should the chat really get going.
7. Be flexible. Another benefit of advance planning is it allows you to feel more comfortable going with the flow if a chat takes off. You may have a handful of prepared questions on subject X but if everyone’s talking about subject Y go with it – you can get back to it later, or just save it for another chat.
8. Leave plenty of time for questions. Chatters always come up with great questions I never would have thought of, so in an hour-long chat, I try to leave 15 to 20 minutes for questions from the audience.
9. Post a recap. If you have a blog, post a chat recap within a couple days for people who couldn’t make the event. I’ve found that even people who participated like recaps that include highlights of what was covered, especially links to websites, apps, books or other resources that were mentioned during the chat, like this chat recap post I did on SEO basics for writers. I use a Twitter archiving service called TwapperKeeper.com to archive chats because it lets me sort tweets in chronological order, which makes them easier to use as notes when I’m writing recaps.
10. Ask for help. A chat is a community activity, so it’s good to give people what they want. Ask your blog readers, Twitter followers or real-world network what they’d like to find out about in a chat and what guests they’d like to hear from. I make it a rule to run a solicitation at the end of blog posts announcing my monthly chats and also the recaps I run after the fact asking for writing-industry types who might be interested in being guests, and for ideas for future chats.
Haven’t ever participated in a Twitter chat? Check out what it’s like by joining the next #wclw chat on Wednesday, March 30, at 10 a.m. PST, when my guest will be life coach Marla Beck, who will discuss work/life balance for writers.
What are your secrets to holding successful Twitter chats?