What I Learned From My First Twitter Chat

Social media democratizes access to experts, politicians, and celebrities. It can build up bubbles of bias or completely break them down. Twitter, in particular, accelerates the news cycle and allows you to ask questions in real time. 

If you haven't heard of a Twitter chat, it's basically a set time when companies or individuals ask and answer questions. It can take the form of an "ask me anything," or be about a specific topic. It allows anyone from anywhere in the world to participate without having to sign up for a webinar or travel to a conference. It's like a mini-meet up—but to do it well, here's 7 things to keep in mind:

1. Know The Topic Inside And Out

Twitter is in real time, so you're in the hot seat. You have to say what you want to say concisely, which means you need to organize your thoughts.

As Mark Twain notes, it takes time to write concisely—time you don't have. By reading up on the subject and prepping (no matter how much of an expert you are) you'll be more prepared to know the answer without having to think, and can spend your time crafting it well instead.

You can also use GIFs or other shortcuts to better convey your message without using additional characters.

2. Be Prepared

If you're fielding questions, unless you try the "ask me anything" format, chances are, you'll know the topic and the questions ahead of time. You wouldn't take the stage without prepping a few answers to questions, and this isn't any different.

Draft tweets using your social media tool ahead of time. It can be done right in the Twitter UI and saved as a draft if you're working on a personal level, or you can use tools like SproutSocial to shorten links and make sure everything fits within the limit. We used a Google Doc with tweets vetted for character count and copy, since multiple people were tweeting.

Don't forget that you're most likely using a hashtag, so any of your tweets will need to take that into account.

3. Give Your Followers A Heads-Up

If you're going to be dramatically altering your cadence, it's important to let your followers know. You don't want to be "that guy," and if suddenly someone's entire feed is filled with just you, they may unfollow you. 

A conventional example:

And a fun one:

It doubles as a way to promote the event and get people excited to join in—so don't be afraid to drum up some excitement!

4. Go With The Flow

Twitter is social media's most informal channel for business, with the exception of Snapchat. Use of GIFs, slang, and bringing to light the human side of your brand is highly encouraged. Though we always strive to be "on brand," it's important to adjust to the expectations of each channel. Either way, trying not to use contractions or abbreviations while fitting in coherent thoughts into 140-characters is a challenge few take.

On that same note, conversations can change. Just as professors adjust the course of the lecture based on the questions they're receiving, so should you. The ultimate goal of a Twitter Chat isn't to drive leads, but to educate the community on a topic. Be ready for sudden changes and go with the flow when they occur. Because they will occur.


5. Engage Your Team

Use the wisdom of  your team! Tag-teaming responses that came in made it so everyone could be answered in real-time. To make sure you're coordinating your team, work together—in person—to make sure your responses aren't too close together, too varied, or otherwise don't flow. It should feel conversational.

If you are using multiple people, be sure to let people know. We introduced ourselves separately (though from the same handle) and used co-tags to indicate who we were:

As well as indicating our personal handles to conclude the chat, so we could stay in touch!


6. Refresh, Refresh, Refresh, Refresh

Make sure you're up to date with the conversation by following along with the hashtag in the Twitter UI. Choosing "Live" should allow you to interact as things are happening. Monitor using your social media monitoring tool, too. For example, a question came in on one of our answers that didn't use the #WistiaChat hashtag. Since we were checking both feeds, we were able to see it and respond in a timely fashion, and bring them back into the conversation.

7. Have Fun

Most of all, have fun with it! You're there to showcase your expertise on a topic and energize followers passionate about learning more. So go out there and do your thing!