It's no secret: Twitter chats are an essential part of your digital marketing diet. In fact, these online conversations offer valuable information and far-reaching benefits to both seasoned and aspiring professionals from any industry. And while many will continue to debate whether some of the information gleaned is insightful or insipid, I can certainly attest to its remarkable power—being part of a team of moderators who manage a well participated, multi-themed chat exploring the limitless possibilities of social media (#smchat). So you may ask, "Are there a clear set of best practices that can help maximize time and thought investment in this activity?" From my experience to date, there are some good habits worth noting. And below are some considerations. These are frank, personal impressions which I hope will resonate instinctively and be of help over the long term.
- Spontaneity is key, but timeliness is of the essence Most chats are prefaced by a round of introductions. Although friendly and reassuring, I personally limit (if not completely leave out) these seemingly endless greetings (actually, I am known to just parachute myself in the midst of a chat). There's nothing wrong with pleasant hi-there-hello's but be focused and on point with the limited hour you have in drawing people's attention to and interest in the discussion.
- Digression is encouraged, especially if advancing non-obvious aspects of a given topic I typically refer to moments of inspiration as "sparks" and will invariably refer to this term from time to time because of its understated, onomatopoeic beauty. If you start seeing chatters branch off into tangents, join them! You will be astounded at what fresh nuggets of insight you'll be able to sift through these exchanges.
- Self-promotion can be awkward: attempt at your own risk Perhaps it's because I haven't actually brain-farted an e-book worth reading. I don't know. While there's nothing wrong with the odd, brave 'shameless self-promotion' you are, in essence, owning up to two things: a) that you are willing to risk demonstrating a faint moment of egoism, and b) that you have no qualms at all with that decision. Is that really the kind of impression you want to leave?
- Hashtag spamming is really not a good thing. Really, don't even bother. In almost all scenarios, there will be a random tweet that will piggy-back off the rousing (sometimes frenetic) pace of your Twitter chat. Usually, these tweets are entirely unrelated to the topic at hand. So something like this: 1001 Ways to Improve Your Social Selling - URL - #LookAtMe #ImShameless #TwitterChat will inevitably pop up randomly in your timeline. Don't be that person. It's really not worth it. You're only giving people more reason to unfollow, mute or out right avoid you.
- A framework is ideal but sometimes not necessary. Preparing a brief abstract that positions your theme and substantiates the various reasons why you think a given topic is worthy of discussion is, IMO, the best case scenario. Offering leading questions beforehand also helps incite reflection prior to the actual chat. This makes for more willing (and prepared) participation. However, there are some Twitter chats that simply fire off a topic and questions on the fly. Sometimes this can be equally exhilarating. However, I do notice that these types of chats tend to already have a handful of regular participants who are savvy enough to go with the flow.
- Co-moderation is a good, sustainable format It's like tag-teaming. Not only do you ensure longevity of your involvement in Twitter chats but also afford having fresh ideas circulate within your team. Online conversations on Twitter are meant to be community-driven. So it follows that having at least two people assigned to a given chat topic makes for a more pragmatic, sustainable approach to your format.
- Echo chambers are evil. They really are. Yes, I myself have been guilty of contributing to the reverberating hollowness within these accursed chambers. I don't think moderators actually intend to come off as sounding like broken records. But I have seen a fair share of repetitive question-and-answer banter that trigger eye roll's and ugh's like an unconscious twitch. Is it laziness? Did you not have enough time to prepare? Are you justifying using your Captain Obvious megaphone because you want to help new entrants? Whatever the reason, the "define your objectives" meme is a dead horse. If you persist with flogging it to amplify canned loops of thought, you risk boring your participants. Worse, turning them off. Be daring. Ask tough questions and stir the pot once in a while so you can surface truly novel perspectives and creative input.
- Be encouraging and inclusive So no, I won't take back what I said about keeping your intro's short :) Although there is something to be said for quickly responding back to first-timers and making them feel welcome. What often works for me is keeping the tweet short and sweet,"Hi! Welcome! Feel free to dive right in or ask us any questions #TwitterChat" Most who are unfamiliar with how Twitter chats work will listen and lurk at first. But once someone acknowledges their presence and interest, they open right up and become surprisingly attentive and collaborative during the dialogue. Also, make sure you share others' input with an RT, favourite or quote. This helps strengthen affinity and confidence among your participants, especially when they know their presence is valued and their '2 cents' is useful to others, too.