We’ve all seen how ubiquitous hashtags have become and how everyone in media is using them. In #SocialMedia, it’s now the standard way of getting attention on Twitter and the Tweet Chat has grown to include over 1,000 regular chats. These are the contemporary equivalents of chat rooms, but much more specific. I started #DadChat 3 ½ years ago and it’s grown into one of the most successful on Twitter.
This column will explore what I learned, and offer tips on how you can build a successful Tweet Chat. Note: please understand the difference between a Twitter Party and a Tweet Chat because they are distinctly different and this is explained in my column on that exact point.
There are many examples of successful AND good Tweet Chats such as #CMchat, founded by @JessicaNorthey and #blogchat, founded by @MackCollier. I could list all the other good ones, but that would largely fill the rest of this column and I’d likely leave off someone I like and know well, so we’ll leave it with these two and, of course, my bias belief that my own #DadChat is up there, too.
We all like lists, so here’s a list of tools, ideas, and recommendations to help you build your own Tweet Chat – in NO order of priority:
~~ The choice of chat name, just like the title of a book, movie, or song, is undeniably important. The evolution of #DadChat is a PRIME example of this. I began my chat as #aDadsPov because it related to my column name, “A Dad’s Point-of-View” and I thought the synergy was wise. My good friend Adam Cohen (aka @DaDaRocks) quickly disavowed me of that idea, after my new chat was going for a couple months with minimal attention. He GAVE ME #DadChat, which thankfully had NOT yet been used, and within weeks, #DadChat was on its way to success.
Using the word “Chat” is NOT essential for your name but it’s the best choice if you don’t have a cool and smart alternative. My friend Jodi Okun named her college-oriented chat, #CollegeCash, and I believe that was a smart and good choice.
Test out your name idea with friends. Do searches with that name and see what comes up. Do your homework and don’t shortcut this incredibly important starting point.
~~ I think it’s obvious, but perhaps it’s not, that you should choose an area that has its niche appeal. Many chats are VERY specific and many are tech-oriented. Too narrow and you limit the chance for broad appeal and too broad and you don’t hit anyone directly. #DadChat has become – really – #ParentChat, since our community is truly divided among dads and moms, including a smattering of “Aunts” and “Uncles” who simply love the community and dialogue. With over 1,000 ongoing chats in existence, joining “the club” now requires being clever and smart with your choice of name and niche.
~~ In Real Estate, the mantra is location, location, location. In Television programming, it’s time slot, time slot, time slot while in Feature Films, it’s release date, release date, release date. So, choose your day and time with care. “Prime Time” is 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, and perhaps 8:00 p.m. Sunday – Thursday. It’s called “Prime Time” for a reason. Friday and Saturday nights are more iffy, just as they are the least viewed nights for most of the major Television Channels.
Consequently, your choice of when to schedule your chat is difficult and important. Perhaps, if your niche is quite unique, you can go up against the big guns and compete. Perhaps you can’t. If your community is mostly composed of stay-at-home-dads and/or moms, then daytime is a good choice. Maybe going in Prime Time on Friday or Saturday would work for your community. Again, do your homework; know your competition; be smart about it!
~~ The format you choose to run your chat is as varied as your imagination. Many chat hosts are very strict in their formats while others, like myself, are more flexible. That said, I still adhere to some pretty consistent guidelines.
Also, some hosts are strict with what they “allow” their participants to do or say to the degree a host can control anyone or anything on Twitter. For instance, I remember joining a chat and being admonished by the host for carrying on a “side chat” with someone that wasn’t directly on point/topic.
In #DadChat, I love that relationships are made in our chat so if people are having side-chats, bless them and it’s all part of our eclectic community and it all helps grow our community.
Many hosts use the Q1, A1 format for asking questions and getting answers. They often use this when a guest is participating and some hosts ask the participants to NOT interrupt with their own questions for some period during the chat.
You have to decide what is best for your personality, comfort level, and especially your community. This may evolve so don’t be locked into a format if you see a better way to go with time and experience.
I’ve chosen a much more open format than many. I don’t care if people interrupt or ask their own questions. I do care if people are overly self-promoting during the designated chat hour, which is why I encourage people to self-promote during pre-chat time.
I also prepare a list of questions for my guest, whenever I have one, so that guest can prepare answers. I do NOT use the Q1, A1 format so I further encourage my guests to try and include the question in their answers. So, for instance, if I ask where you are tweeting from right now, I would suggest NOT saying “Los Angeles,” but instead tweet, “I am currently tweeting from Los Angeles, though Chicago is my home.”
~~ YOUR personality will make or break your chat. Using the two examples of #CMchat and #blogchat, I couldn’t have picked more diverse but equally successful hosts. Jessica Northey is THE Country Girl with the biggest and best personality out there. She’s bawdy, and fun. I love her and she’s built a literal franchise with all her work in Social Media and with #CMchat (stands for Country Music Chat, btw). Mack Collier, on the other hand, is the Southern gentleman who tweets with a drawl, wears a hat, and never wastes a word or thought. Back in the days of Twitter Jail, he NEVER was thrown in jail (figuratively) because he never over-tweeted (like I did).
Both their styles are effective because they reflect who they are, feel and are completely genuine, and both are exceptionally bright, fun, and funny.
On the latter point, do not forget that humor is the best ingredient you, as host, can bring to the chat. EVEN with serious subjects, there can be some levity.
I was hired to host a Twitter Party for the great skateboarder, snowboarder, and multiple gold-medal winner Shaun White who, at the time, had over one million followers. We were on speakerphone during the chat and it was clear that he had a great and wild sense of humor but his tweets were boring. I urged him to be himself. He was nervous about what was right to do. I said that as long as he didn’t swear, have some fun. He loosened up and the chat sped into high gear and was a huge success.
~~ I write a pre-chat post which I publish on the Monday before each Thursday’s #DadChat. I’ve found it to be very effective because it gets the PR effort off and running, puts out the topic, guest info, and is a place to post the transcript (which I get from Hashtracking.com for a nominal fee).
Whenever I have sponsors and/or guests, I ask them for images, links, and short bios. I include that with each pre-chat post. I ask questions that I’ll ask in the chat in this post. I invite readers to invite their friends and Social Media contacts to the chat with three suggested tweets (which they can use verbatim or rewrite or do their own).
Further, as a member and active participant of Triberr, this post (and all my posts) gets aggregated beyond my own Social Media circles.
~~ Twitter is an in the moment platform so PR efforts too far in advance are useless. My PR campaign begins with the posting of the pre-chat blog. It continues with some personal invitations to the chat via email but is mostly done through Twitter, which, after all, is the platform on which the chat resides. The highest concentration of promotional tweets is done all day Thursday, leading up to the 6:00 p.m. PT/9:00 p.m. ET start time.
I use Hootsuite.com to schedule my tweets. It is a morning ritual I do EVERY day but I post about double my usual number of tweets on Thursdays. You will need to figure out your best practices PR, refine it with experience, and enlist friends and colleagues to help as well.
~~ Another key ingredient to keeping your chat relevant and fresh is a good variety of topics. Take a look at our #DadChat pre-chat posts and see the incredible variety of topics we’ve had. Let them be an inspiration for your own topics. Be clever. Take risks. Often the topics you think are the most risky (politically incorrect or sensitive) will be the most successful.
~~ I thought I could do it all in the first year or so of #DadChat. I can’t and no one should try to run it all themselves. Consequently, I began to invite guests or co-hosts for my chat. THIS has been the hardest and most time-consuming aspect of running #DadChat. But, it’s also been the most gratifying and most successful tool I use.
Guests bring new views, new people, and a new voice. Guests often will do great PR for you. They will suggest topics you might otherwise not think of or had the courage to do. They will also disappoint you by occasionally not showing up or not having the spontaneous personality and wit you thought they had or had even seen in a speech or a TedTalk!
So, the homework, choice, and preparation you provide the guest will all determine each one’s potential success at your chat.
~~ Everything in Social Media is about consistency. So, if you’re going to do a weekly chat, be there EVERY week. I have done my chat from McDonald’s on the road, from ships at sea, and have only missed a handful in our existence. When I knew I’d miss one, I arranged a guest host and scheduled a handful of tweets to appear during my absence.
Do NOT start something you can’t continue and complete. So, maybe it’s best you begin your chat monthly. After several months, if you love it, if the people are there, you can increase its frequency. Be consistent!
#DadChat has reached a level of success, with the perfect demographic, that I can and do secure major sponsors for our chat. The pricing, format, and things to do with/for a sponsor will be the topic of a separate column, if the demand for it is there…
I wish you luck with YOUR chat. Be clear, it’s work – Hard Work. It also requires something I tend to lack…patience. I almost threw in the towel when it seemed it was not taking off. Persistence, passion, and patience paid off. It can and will for you, too! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section, below.