Twitter chats are everywhere these days, right? I’ve found that many people aren’t sure the best way to run them so I want to put some instructions to paper for you.

What are Twitter chats useful for?
They are a great way to stir up buzz for a person, campaign, product or whatever if it is you’d like people to talk about. Because Twitter is in real-time, it’s not hard to get folks to participate as you do them. But the key to a great Twitter chat is preparation — so check it out below.

How to Create a Successful Twitter Chat

Time. A good Twitter chat is usually one hour. You can do it for 30 minutes if you prefer or are worried it won’t go on long enough. I find that people do get into them, though, and an hour is usually no problem if you have committed tweeters.

Timeliness. Make sure there are no other major events (or other relevant Twitter chats) being held at the same time or near the time you are planning. You don’t want to wear the target audience out and it does take time and effort for folks to participate.

Hashtag. You must create a relevant hashtag for the event. It’s best to go with the easiest hashtag you can. For example, a Twitter chat about a new Zumba video you are promoting might be #ZumbaChat. The hashtag is essential so that when the chat begins, folks participating use it segment the entire conversation into it’s own category in real time.

Hosting. One person or brand’s handle must be the “host” of your twitter chat. This person will ask the question, keep the conversation going and change up the subject matter. I recommend having two people on this handle — one to keep up the convo and another to handle replies from participants, RTs, questions and more.

Star Guest. This doesn’t have to be a celebrity — just someone of note relevant to your subject matter. A veteran fitness instructor or Zumba expert would be great to use as a promotional guest because people will know they are talking with someone who has cred,

Twitter Support. You will want to get a commitment from 3-4 other people who can help run the conversation. A way to do this is segment the chat into subjects to cover and ask each person to take a subject of the chat as their own to ask and questions, reply, retweet keep the momentum going. These will usually be people who are relevant to the chat in some way — either writers, bloggers or others of some influence who can be counted on to have something valuable to contribute.

Subject Prep. As I mentioned in the tip above, you should have subject matter prepped. In the Zumba video example, you might want to plan out 4 segments of 15-minutes. The plan could be to cover these aspects: Q&A on Zumba for beginners, Why Workout Videos are Great, What’s New in the Zumba Craze and Success Stories From Those Who Lost Weight with Zumba.

Question Prep. Plan out several questions for each segment so that whoever is the leading the chat can have something to draw from if the chat starts to lull. You can always re-energize with a great question and contribution.

Invitation & Promotion. Try to set up your Twitter chat at least a week in advance. You want commitment from your core team and to start creating buzz so people can get it on their calendars. Create a well-designed invitation with all the details, including date, time, hashtag, participants of note and the reason for the chat. I recommend a 5 W’s format so it’s easy to read. Don’t put a lot of text!

Reward Incentive. Draw people with a reward incentive. For example, 2 people from the Twitter chat will be randomly selected to win a free copy of the Zumba video. That is huge and people love to win stuff!

Post-Chat Details. Twitter chats are a great way to draw new people in. Make sure you save the handles of those that participated and thank them later by handle. Now, you have new people on your radar screen and YOU are on their radar screen. You can now interact with them regularly and they will be useful down the road. Success!

Do you have any other questions about Twitter Chats? Did I miss anything that you think needs to be addressed?

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