If you’re an active Twitter user, you’ve likely come across — or maybe even participated in — a Twitter chat.
These public, hashtagged conversations are usually hosted by a brand or industry expert, and invite followers and strangers alike to participate in a Q&A session around a specific topic. They are planned for a specific date and time, and are announced in advance to drum up interest. There’s chats about just about everything, from pop culture to media to finance (TweetReports.com maintains a thorough list of active weekly Twitter chats here, if you’re looking for one to join).
There are plenty of reasons to host and/or participate in a Twitter chat. For brands, it establishes them as an authority in their field. By asking fellow experts with large followings to co-host or join in, a company can encourage those individuals to reply or retweet relevant responses with its branded hashtag and expose it to a much wider audience. For individual participants with knowledge of or interest in the topic, a chat can connect them with other like-minded Twitter users. Finally, Twitter chats promote real-time interaction and conversation (and isn’t that the whole point of “social” media?).
I’ve participated in a handful of Twitter chats during my career, and it can be tricky to navigate what can sometimes be a confusing and chaotic stream of conversation. If you or your company are thinking about joining a chat, here are a few tips for making yourself stand out as an engaged, helpful participant.
1. Introduce yourself when you join.
The main host will usually ask the co-hosts and participants to introduce themselves at the beginning of the chat. This helps users to follow along and understand where a person is coming from when they ask or respond to a question. Take this opportunity to share your interest in the conversation, and give a little shout-out to your brand.
2. Always add the hashtag and answer number.
The whole point of a Twitter chat is to keep the conversation organized with the chat’s hashtag. If you forget to include it, your tweet will likely get lost and not make it to the appropriate audience. I love using TweetChat.com, which essentially turns a specific hashtag into a standalone chatroom. While you can follow an individual hashtag on Twitter’s website or third party programs like TweetDeck and HootSuite, TweetChat automatically includes the hashtag on the end of every tweet you send from the platform, and accounts for that when it displays your remaining characters.
Most Twitter chats are formatted Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. as the host asks the questions. To ensure your responses are properly tracked and seen, you should mark your tweets with the corresponding answer number when a question is asked (i.e., start your tweet with A1 when responding to Q1).
3. Add something unique to the conversation.
If you see a great question that you have a great answer for, it can be tempting to just spit it out immediately. But depending on the number of participants and the speed of their responses, you might just be adding to the noise with your answer.
Before you tweet, see what else has been said in response to that question. If someone else touched on something you wanted to say, reference that person and add your own contribution, for instance, “I agree with @SoAndSo, and also think that (…).” Make use of retweets and quote tweets if someone else’s response reflects your thoughts well enough.
4. Use self-promotional links sparingly.
It’s fine to include a link to your own website or article that perfectly answers one of the questions. It can shed more light on a subject than you can do in 280 characters, and as an added bonus, it will drive some traffic to your site. But if every tweet you contribute is another content link, people will start tuning you out for spamming the chat. Try to limit your use of links and instead try to formulate genuinely useful responses.
5. Thank the host(s) at the end.
At the end of the scheduled chat time, the host will usually send out a wrap-up tweet to close out the conversation. This is a signal for all participants to send in their final thoughts. When the host says it’s time to go, share a “thank you” tweet, tagging any relevant users you engaged with during the conversation. With any luck, you’ll have gained some knowledge and maybe a few new followers.
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
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