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Put simply, if you’re brand has a decent Twitter following and you’re not hosting a regular chat, you’re missing out on a easy and effective form of content marketing.  While getting your chat kicked off is no small feat, these 10 tips and tricks should get help get off to a running start.

Hold Your Horses: Pre-Chat Essentials

1. Base your chat around an existing community

Whether you’re a huge company or one little blogger: If you’re online, you are part of a community. Let your chat be an online home for that network; a place for a conversation that’s already happening offline in some form or another.

2. Share the load

Whether your chat is weekly or biweekly, it’s going to be difficult to produce a consistent, high-quality chat on your own.  You’re going to need a team.  For some chats, that means two or three people share all the responsibility.

Other chats have a ‘curator’ who organizes the schedule and chat promotion, attends as many chats as possible, and facilitates on occasion.  These chats are often hosted by a rotating group of facilitators, similar to the ‘guest blogging’ model that a lot of large blogs use. No matter what method you choose, make sure that chat is a team-effort.

3. Focused chats get better reception

While it’s OK for your chat to have a wide reach in general (such as#SMChat & EdChat,) your individual ‘sessions’ will attract more of of an audience if they each one tackles a specific topic or problem.  Think in the direction of phrases like “Brainstorming Methods for Blog Topics” or “How to Convert YouTube Viewers into Customers.”

4. Spend time & favors to promote your first chat(s)

Even well-followed Twitter users can’t simply throw out a hashtag and expect an amazing show up for their chat the next day.  Spreading a new chat around will require you to spend time sharing the chat’s hashtag with your other networks on Twitter.

Find highly frequented chats and hashtags that have common ground with yours and share the tag, with the time, day and topic of the chat.  Ask a moderator of a similar chat if you can share yours at the end of a chat you participate in. Ask influential Twitter users if they’ll attend your chat and push the chat’s info to their following.  With a little bit of hustling (and a lot of DMs) you’re sure to have yourself a healthy attendance for your first ‘event’.

The Main Event: Doing Your Chat The Right Way

5. Always assume there are newcomers

Like many reoccurring events, Twitter chats will almost always have newcomers.  For this reason, it’s important to have a consistent format for your chats and follow it every time. Plenty of hour long chats use this simple format:

  • Welcome & Introductions (all participants tag every relevant tweet with the chat’s hashtag for the entire hour)
  • Moderator tweets Question 1 (indicated by the text “Q1”)
  • Audience tweets Answer 1s (indicated by the text “A1”)
  • Moderator tweets Question 2 (indicated by the text “Q2”)
  • Audience tweets Answer 2s (indicated by the text “A2”)… and so on until…
  • Moderator thanks everybody and wraps up chat.

Because the timing of messages can often get scrambled on Twitter, it’s important to explain the Q1/A1 format in case any newcomers are present.

6. Allow for flexibility

However, it’s OK to be flexible within that format.  Don’t be afraid to explore side-bar questions, and don’t be upset if your established list of questions is a tad bit too short or long.  Twitter chats vary in purpose, but they all exist in order to allow people to share and learn across cyberspace.  As long as learning is happening, it’s fine to play things by ear every now and then.

7. Respect everyone’s time

This one’s easy.  Keep your eye on the clock, start on time, and end on time.  Make sure guest moderators understand that expectation as well.  If you drastically run out of time for a topic, make room for ‘part 2’ later down the line, or direct your audience to a different venue to continue the conversation (a related forum or blog post on your site, perhaps.)

The Finishing Touch: Post-Chat Musts

8. Archive your chat

It’s helpful to be able to reference previous chats, or have a place where newcomers can view old discussions.  Twitter’s format, however, makes this a little difficult to do.  Thankfully, Storify is a tool that allows you to easily create a ‘story’ from your tweets.  Simply create an account, search your chat’s hashtag, create a list of tweets, and publish the story’s link in a page a on your website.

9. Direct your audience somewhere

This is just plain ol’ good marketing.  Always end your chats with a call of action.  For your first couple chats, that could be as simple as “return next week; same time, same place.” Eventually, you might consider pushing your audience towards a specific event or web page associated with your brand.  It’s your choice, just be sure to build off the chat’s energy in some way.

10. Build the hashtag beyond the chat

A successful Twitter chat is probably the easiest way to build a consistently-followed professional hashtag.  During the 167 hours of the week that your chat is inactive, tag any content that the chat attendees would find interesting with your chat’s hashtag.  In due time, your chat followers will be doing the same, forming a tight-knit community around your chat and your brand.