Twitter moves fast. It’s the nature of the platform. Open it up three minutes from now and you’ll see an entirely different stream of content than three minutes ago. For brands, that poses a challenge. How do you get anyone’s attention when even your followers can miss your posts in the blink of an eye?
One of the best ways for a brand to gain more traction on Twitter—and build community at the same time—is with Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is a conversation based around a predefined hashtag that happens on a regular basis. The hashtag functions as a gathering place. By following it for the length of the chat, participants focus in on one specific conversation happening on the platform.
6 Reasons to Start a Twitter Chat
Creating a Twitter chat can be a way to create an active community that’s centered around your Twitter account. Of the channels available for building online community, it offers some unique benefits.
1. A lot of people are active on Twitter.
2. It’s a good way to increase followers for your Twitter account.
If one of your main goals is to get more followers on Twitter and increase engagement with your account, Twitter chats are a good strategy. People who join the chat are likely to follow the account that leads it, and then interact with you both during the chats and in between.
3. You don’t have to start from scratch finding attendees.
If you already have some Twitter followers in your chat’s target audience, you won’t face the daunting task of building a community entirely from scratch. You can start with the people you already know and encourage them to help spread the word.
4. They’re open to anyone and grow organically.
Anyone interested in your topic can drop in on your Twitter chat. And every new person that participates shares your hashtag with their followers as part of the process, which helps spread the word further and attract new participants.
5. Conversations happen in real time.
There’s no lag. Everyone meets on the same platform at the same time, so they can respond to each other’s comments in real time. That makes it an active conversation with instantaneous back and forth.
6. They help your participants build community.
The people who become a part of your Twitter chat community won’t just follow you—they’ll start to follow each other. By helping them connect to other people in the industry, you’re facilitating relationships that are valuable to everyone involved.
4 Drawbacks to Using Twitter Chats to Build Community
Twitter chats are a great option for certain purposes but have some limitations.
1. Not everyone’s on Twitter.
While their user base is large, Twitter still lags behind other channels like Facebook and Instagram. If your goal in building an online community is volume, other channels may serve you better.
2. Your community only meets at a set time.
If your target audience is global, having a specific meeting time means excluding people in some time zones. And meeting at a set time every week means some of your would-be participants inevitably miss some chats for other obligations.
3. There’s no privacy option.
Being publicly available for anyone to join is good for growth but comes with the risk of attracting trolls or bots—both things Twitter famously has issues with. And your participants may feel less comfortable talking openly on some issues, if they know everything they say can be seen by anyone.
4. Old conversations are hard to revisit.
Twitter doesn’t offer features for archiving or organizing past interactions. Once a chat is done, it gets buried quickly, and Twitter doesn’t make it easy to dig up old conversations.
You can alleviate this concern by publishing recaps. Content marketing consultant Erika Heald does this for #contentchat, embedding top tweets in recaps on her website each week so they’re easy to revisit after the fact.
How to Run a Twitter Chat
If you’re ready to build a community on Twitter with a chat, these steps will get you started.
1. Confirm there’s a need.
First, make sure enough of your audience is on Twitter for it to make sense. Research the site’s demographics and use social tools like Buzzsumo to gauge how often people on Twitter are talking about relevant topics. Then check what other Twitter chats already exist in your industry or topic area. Would you be providing something unique?
2. Choose the best time.
You want to schedule your chat at a time when people in your audience are available and active on the platform. Followerwonk can help with this. Simply provide your Twitter handle, choose “analyze users they follow” from the dropdown, and they’ll provide a handy graph of your followers’ most active hours of the day.
3. Pick your hashtag.
Your hashtag should be easy to remember and straightforward so your target audience will immediately understand what your Twitter chat is about. If you want to tie it in closely with your brand, include your brand name in the chat, like SEMrush does with #semrushchat.
4. Start promoting in advance.
You don’t want to be stuck talking to yourself for your first chat. Start promoting it to your followers weeks in advance, and talk about it on platforms other than Twitter to get the word in front of more people.
Michelle Garrett, founder of #freelancechat, recommends having “a few folks who are committed to joining you in the beginning. It may just be a handful.” That’ll ensure you have enough people for a proper conversation, and start getting the word out. Identify some specific colleagues you expect to be interested and contact them directly about joining.
5. Plan out your first topics.
Twitter chats generally focus on a specific topic each week. Sketch out your plan for the first few months in advance so you’re prepared. Once things get going, your audience will help generate topic ideas based on both questions that come up during the chat and through direct feedback.
6. Invite expert guests.
Bringing in expert guests for your chats is a way to provide value and grow your reach at the same time. When an expert promotes their appearance on your chat, their audience learns about it, which helps grow your community. And your regular participants get the insights of someone new.
7. Create questions and visuals for each chat.
Bring a list of questions to each chat to create structure and get the conversation going. Create a basic image in advance for each question so it catches participants’ eyes and doesn’t get overlooked in a fast-moving feed.
8. Be an active participant.
Don’t just share the questions you wrote; also provide answers and respond to the tweets shared by others. Retweet tweets you like, respond any time you have something to add, and be generous with your likes.
Community on Twitter is Possible
Interactions on Twitter can feel fleeting but Twitter chats make it possible to create a more consistent community. When a Twitter chat is successful, the same people return to interact with each other week by week. With time, they form meaningful connections with each other and with your brand.
This is the third article in a series of online communities. Be sure to check out To Slack or Not to Slack: Using Slack for Community Building and The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Using Facebook Groups for Community Building.