If you are at all familiar with social media you have probably heard of this little thing called a Twitter Chat. Twitter Chats are an excellent tactic to incorporate into your social media strategy when you are aiming to grow your following, build your reputation in your industry, provide value to your followers and overall increase engagement. If you don’t know what a Twitter Chat is, think of it as a virtual panel on a given topic, but instead of a curated list of speakers, any number of experts can weigh in to a series of questions using 140 character-long Tweets to get their point across. Often you will see a featured guest for more high-profile chats, but even then anyone can join in and give their two cents.

However, before you set forth into the wide world of Twitter Chats, it’s important to know some of the best practices and etiquette that makes a Twitter Chat beneficial to your followers and easy to manage for the community manager at the helm. The crew at Splash Effect has tons of experience both running and participating in Twitter Chats, both for our personal brands as well as for clients, so this guide should give you everything you need to make a splash during your next foray into the world of Twitter Chats.

1) Find the right Twitter Chat for you.

It may seem obvious, but before you participate in a Twitter Chat you need to find the right chat for you or your organization. Participating in just any Twitter Chat will not have the same benefits as participating in a chat for which you can provide valuable and insightful answers. Start by seeing if any leaders in your industry or network that already host chats, and if you’re having trouble finding the right one for you do a little Googling or check out this database from Twitter Report of tons of known chats. When you come across a new chat just make sure to do a little research into the host first to ensure it is reputable and that the potential reach of the chat will be worth your time and effort.

2) Let your followers know you’re participating.

Remember that social media is storytelling, so before you dive in, be sure to provide some context to your followers before you do. Tweet a few times in the week leading up to the chat so they aren’t surprised when an influx of tweets from you take over their feed for an hour. This practice will also give you a good chance to connect with the hosts so you and your Twitter handle are recognizable to them during the chat. Ultimately this is free promotion for their chat, but it will also likely mean more retweets and engagement from them when it’s time for the chat. Furthermore, participating in Twitter Chats is not just for your benefit, but the content produced also provides value to your followers. By promoting in advance you will also increase the likelihood of them tuning in live, engaging with your tweets and possibly even participating themselves.

PRO TIP #1: Always ALWAYS use the Twitter Chat’s official hashtag when Tweeting about the chat. ALWAYS. Your tweet will fall on deaf ears if you don’t and getting into this practice before the chat will help ensure you do it during.

3) Be Prepared.

This step will depend on how the host of the chat manages their chats, but sometimes – especially if you are invited to participate in a chat – the host will share the questions beforehand. If this is the case, prepare your answers beforehand so you can spend more time engaging and less time thinking up the perfect answer. If you’re lucky enough to get the questions in advance, even craft your tweets beforehand so it just becomes an easy copy and paste job when it comes time for the chat itself. If you’re participating on behalf of an organization, try crowd sourcing the answers so you can provide a perspective that is fully representative of your brand.

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However, in most cases you will probably only know what the topic is before a given chat. In this case it is harder to prepare but you should spend sometime brainstorming and writing down some key thoughts on the topic. If you are participating in a chat relating to your industry you will probably have a good idea of what questions the host might ask, so whether you have the questions or not you will be able to prepare at least a little bit. Trust us, preparation is key to ensure you have a great chat, so

4) Build anticipation.

One hour or so before the chat begins, build anticipation with a tweet indicating your excitement to participate in the chat. Try using a GIF with this tweet, something that will both express your excitement and draw engagement and interest from your followers and other participants. PRO TIP #1 applies here to.

PRO TIP #2: HAVE FUN. Obviously, you should take into consideration the tone of your chat first and also don’t stray too far from your typical social media persona. But approaching Twitter Chats with fun and enthusiasm usually makes for a more engaging and successful chat. Use GIFs or memes and just be a little silly. It’s endearing and shows personality, which will result in more growth for your account.

5) Monitor the chat.

Using either the Twitter web app or your social media management tool of choice (we recommend Hootsuite), set up a live search for the chat’s hashtag. This will make sure that, for the hour of the chat, all you’ll see on Twitter is content relating to the chat. It will make it easier to spot the questions from the host and will make it to engage with others throughout the chat.

6) Keep in line with best practices.

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While there are no “official” rules as to how to participate in a Twitter Chat, over the years participants and hosts have developed some standards and best practices to ensure that Twitter Chats are easy to follow when sometimes thousands of tweets are sent within the typical one hour timeframe. In order for your contributions to receive optimal engagement – and out of respect for the community manager hosting the chat – follow along with these simple rules:

FOLLOW THE SUGGESTED CHAT STRUCTURE. While different chats might vary slightly in their preferred method (usually hosts will send out a “housekeeping” post before the chat to get everyone on the same page). However, the generally accepted format is to answer each questios (which will be numbered Q1, Q2 etc.) with the prefix “A#”, the number of course varying depending on the number of the question.

PRO TIP #3: You can send more than one tweet to get your point across, just make sure you preface each part of your answer with the the corresponding “A#” to the question. Also, if you are using more than one tweet to express a thought, use (1/2), (2/2) etc. at the end of your tweets so users know how to read your tweets in a particular order.

RETWEET THE QUESTION. Before you begin answering the questions, take a moment to retweet the question sent out by the host account. By retweeting the question you provide additional context to your followers so they can easily see what question you’re answering without having to be following along with the chat. At this stage in the chat we advise avoiding the Quote-Retweet function. While great in many cases, in this instance Quote-Retweeting will give you less room to comment (the quoted tweet takes up 24 characters) and it makes it less likely for the host to retweet your answer.

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USE THE HASHTAG. I can’t say this enough: whatever you do, do not forget to use the designated hashtag for the chat. Most hosts are monitoring 2 things when conducting a Twitter Chat: mentions and a feed of the hashtag. With the volume of tweets they have to interact with in a short period of time, the community manager will not be checking your profile to see if you accidentally tweeted the answer to question 2 without the hashtag. If you forget the hashtag your tweet, no matter how insightful and informative, will not make an impact on the chat.

7) Engage!

While Twitter Chats are an excellent way to demonstrate your knowledge, it’s also the perfect opportunity to expand your network. The best way to do this is to engage with other participants in the chat. Take some time between posting your answers and the next question coming out to like, retweet and reply to the other participants. This is where the quote-retweet function is perfect to use, because you can use it to expand on another participant’s point or to complement their insight. Also be sure to follow anyone you engage with. When you do they will more than likely return the favour, making for a more robust and engaged community for your organization.

Now that you know how to Twitter Chat, go forth! You’ll be glad you did.