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How To Run A Twitter Chat That Nurtures A Loyal Community

Marketing

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Twitter chats aren’t simply a marketing strategy — they’re a springboard to a loyal community.

Twitter chats aren’t simply a marketing strategy — they’re a springboard to a loyal community.

Brands and influencers run Twitter chats for various reasons and on various subjects, but the common thread running through them all is the desire to generate exposure, conversions, and thought leadership. However, you can’t accomplish this without an audience who is predisposed to want to share what you have to say.

Twitter chats are valuable platforms for building community, and an engaged community is a huge boon for your brand. If you are authentically friendly and interesting and know how to stand out, you can dramatically boost your brand awareness and generate qualified leads.

Like any big marketing strategy, however, you can’t expect to start a Twitter chat and gain conversions overnight. Here’s how to get it done.

1. Get Your Chat off the Ground

Be Prepared

As any community manager knows, you don’t build a loyal audience on the back of sales messages: you need to be authentic in wanting to start and foster a community. Aim to make your chat the go-to place to learn new best practices for a topic related to your brand, and make sure you’re willing to invest the time to do it.

Between preparing the weekly chat, sending invitations, and keeping up with your community members on a regular basis, this is no simple proposition.

Ensure both your overall chat premise and your topics are ones you have enough expertise in. You can do as much research as you want, but if you can’t speak confidently about a subject or it’s not closely related to your brand, that authenticity will fly right out the window.

Branding your chat is key as well. You want the name and associated hashtag of your chat to reflect the theme, and to choose a time that is convenient for your audience while also doing your best not to overlap other chats they would attend.

Be sure to take a close look at the Twitter chats you are hopefully already participating in, such as #OrcaChat, #HootChat, #TwitterSmarter, and #BizHeroes, to see what makes them so successful. People come to learn about timely topics, but that’s not the only reason: they also come to network and blow off steam. That’s not to say they aren’t answering questions and actually learning anything, but many participants know each other (mostly from other chats) and use the chats to catch up on the side. The hosts are the most social of all of them; they are passionate, and it shows.

While Twitter chats are a business strategy, they need to be approached with passion, like any creative project. Inevitably in the early days of running your chat, there will be some trial and error, but if you are tracking all your metrics and making course corrections based on analytics, you’ll be in the groove in no time.

Structure

To keep things light, limit your weekly chat to an icebreaker and five questions. The icebreaker can be as simple as asking where participants are from or inviting them to share their favorite GIF, which encourages conversation. By keeping the question count low and spacing them out over an hour, participants are able to answer questions effectively without feeling rushed; this also encourages the natural flow of conversation. Be sure to preschedule all the chat questions and answers so you are open to responding to the various people who participate in the chat.

TwitterSmarter Icebreaker

Madalyn Sklar uses an icebreaker to encourage conversation

You might find that topics that are too niche or technically complex can lead to a drop-off in participants. People feel that it takes too long to answer the questions or they have nothing to contribute.

Instead, make the topic broad and ensure that the questions get more granular as the chat progresses. This ensures that the conversation starts with simpler questions everyone can answer confidently, but by the final question they end up getting some meaty takeaways from experts in the chat.

Voice

Be yourself. While staying on brand is important (and make sure you do!), you still need to be in the chat as a person, not a corporation. If you force a voice that isn’t yours, you will come off as inauthentic and salesy. People won’t stick around to form a community.

Most important of all, while you can take inspiration from other Twitter chats, don’t straight up copy them. Figure out what works for you, and over time you’ll learn what your audience responds to.

Attracting Your First Community Members

What’s more personal than a heart-warming or funny GIF tailored to the occasion?

To get your community up and running, start by inviting people you already know well from other chats. Take the time to invite each of them with a unique message — no copying and pasting or using auto-DMs. Since they already like you, you’ll have an easier time getting them on board than someone who has no idea who you are.

You might find that when you start a Twitter chat that you have only a handful of people attending in the first few weeks. This is normal. Until you find your groove and your audience has really bought into what your chat can offer, the first few weeks will likely have inconsistent engagement.

Just keep being approachable, personable, and sociable. These qualities should be the focus of running any online community.

2. Promote, Retain Your Audience, Build Loyalty

‘Tis Better to Give Than to Receive

At Social Media Marketing World 2017, Josh Elledge talked extensively about how community-building success is in giving without expecting to receive anything in return. This quality will attract influential people to your circle and give you a huge pool of resources to draw from.

Giving takes time, but community always pays off in the long run.

Typically, the Twitter chat community is very gracious. If you participate in other chats and advertise them on your end, they’ll do the same for you in turn. Forming relationships with the hosts of already well-established chats is a great way to boost your own.

With these relationships in play and solid topics to engage your audience every week, your community should grow quickly. While this means you won’t be able to devote as much time later to personal invitations, you should still send out invitations every week to both regulars and those who have dropped off. One solution is to create tweets with an invitation image that you can send to multiple people at a time. This shows you care and want them there, and the ones who take the time to respond are the ones you can engage more closely with.

OrcaChat invitation pizza

HeyOrca uses a lot of cheesy puns as a part of their brand persona

Help Your Community and They’ll Help You

As your chat grows, the number of retained audience members should become much larger than the number of newcomers. That is your community. The best part of a community is that members will promote your chat to others without ever needing to be asked. Often it’s as simple as creating a tweet that is easy for them to retweet to others.

To show your users the usefulness of being a member of your community, it helps to act as a matchmaker. Learn about the business needs of your various members and actively connect them to other members who can offer them advice or services.

Also, continually take the pulse of how community members. It’s a good idea to send out regular surveys to find out how people feel about the chat, what value they receive, and what topics are on their minds. You can even send swag as a reward. More often than not when people receive their swag, they’ll tweet or post Instagram pictures of it and promote your chat even more!

If Your community Has In-Jokes, You’re Winning

You’ll have a lot of strong personalities joining the chat every week, and sometimes it feels like learning takes a backseat to schmoozing. Let it! In fact, every once in awhile you can devote a chat strictly to catching up or reflecting on personal goals.

Being part of a community means that eventually if you keep it light, you’ll find your chat has in-jokes just like any other clique.

These in-jokes add an element of exclusivity to the chat; your participants will feel like one of the cool kids. It’s a large part of what keeps people coming back for more. For example, Tuesday is both #OrcaChat day and Taco Tuesday, and there is no shortage of taco GIFs when HeyOrca runs its weekly chat.

OrcaChat Taco Tuesday GIF Twitter Chat

It’s not #OrcaChat without Taco Tuesday

Be yourself in Twitter chats, and don’t be afraid to be weird or use lots of GIFs if that’s who you are — it works.

3. Ride the Wave of Success with Influencers and Leads

Are You Ready for Your Close-Up?

Having an influencer on board as a host is an easy promotion: you know they’ll advertise your chat to the high heavens. As your chat scales up, more and more influencers of shapes and sizes will get attracted to your brand. This gives you a pool of potential guest hosts and content writers who express interest without you having to ask.

To determine the topic and questions for a guest-hosted chat, schedule 30- to 60-minute calls with the guest to discuss what their passions are in their field. Don’t just discuss what they want to talk about: work together to determine what kind of questions would really engage your audience. In terms of giving on your end, ensure that the questions address anything the host themselves would like different viewpoints on for their own knowledge bank.

#HootChat regularly features both brand and influencer guest hosts

Of course, if you get a guest host to help boost your chat, you should do a kind turn for them as well. You could be a host on their chat or contribute content for their social media or blog. As you build your reputation, this focus on giving is key and worth your time in bringing publicity back to the chat.

Those Golden Leads and Conversions

It takes time, but your chat will eventually start drawing in qualified leads. Some will find you within your community, but even just having the chat be visible to prospects is super useful. Prospects will often check out a brand’s social media channels. Most of them won’t actively participate in your chat but will observe it and be inspired to learn more about your brand. Being active in the online community cements your brand as a thought leader and influencer in its own right and helps convince leads to buy into your offering.

This is the best part of the whole process: being able to justify putting in all the time to get your chat off the ground and running smoothly by showcasing concrete, bottom-line value. All while having fun.

4. Looking Ahead

When your chat is a success, you’ll have to look into bringing on regular co-hosts to manage all the traffic and maintain the level of caring and empathy you worked so hard to build. As the chat scales, so too must you in order to maintain the expected level of exclusivity, education, and fun.

Never take the success of your chat for granted; be humbled by the people who come back every week and always ensure you and they are happy to be there. That’s the key to building an engaged online community that will help you sell your brand without even having to ask.

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