Erika Heald

Avoid These Common Mistakes In Twitter Chats

By: Erika Heald | August 2, 2016 | 

Twitter Chats Can Be Great For Business If You Avoid These Common Mistakes

I’m a huge fan of Twitter chats.

Not only do I participate in a number of them regularly, including #CMWorld and #SproutChat, I recently took over as the moderator of #ContentChat.

So you could definitely say I’m all-in on the potential Twitter chats have for building your brand’s community and reaching your business goals.

Despite having seen first-hand how Twitter chats can help build a subject matter expert’s community and enhance their thought leadership platform, it’s often a tough sell to get executives to sign off on including them in their social media marketing and PR mix.

The reasons provided for not hosting a Twitter chat often range from “our customers aren’t on Twitter” to “we tried it once” or even “I just don’t get Twitter chats.”

The unspoken real reason many marketers don’t want to commit their team to a Twitter chat is they’re afraid of it being a horrible, public failure.

Luckily, many common reasons for a Twitter chat #fail are completely preventable.

Twitter Chats Fail #1: No One Shows Up

It’s your scheduled Twitter chat time and you tweet, “Hi everyone and welcome to our chat! Please introduce yourself before we get started.”

You get crickets in return.

What happened?

The most frequent reason for low attendance to a brand Twitter chat is a lack of promotion.

Would you schedule a webinar and expect a couple of tweets to drive hundreds of registrations in less than a week?


Then why would you expect the same for your one-off brand Twitter chat?

Like any other marketing-sponsored event, your Twitter chat needs a reasonable amount of promotion to drive attendance, a minimum of three to four weeks BEFORE the chat is scheduled to take place, with six weeks being ideal.

This promotion can include:

  • Inclusion in your email newsletter.
  • Personal invitations for prospects from your sales team.
  • Targeted emails to subscribers interested in your chat’s topic.
  • Inclusion in your employee email footers.
  • Banner on your homepage.
  • Promoted social status updates,on LinkedIn and Facebook, in addition to Twitter, if those channels are active for your community.
  • Targeted social media outreach to ideal attendees.

Of course, there are a few other avoidable reasons no one turns up for your Twitter chat:

  • It falls on a day that is a holiday for most of your audience.
  • There is an established chat happening at the same time.
  • You counted on your special guest to drive all the attendance.
  • You are covering a topic a competing chat just talked about.
  • There is a big cultural event or breaking news taking place that’s preoccupying everyone.

You’re probably thinking to yourself that the last one isn’t always avoidable.

You can’t predict that breaking news is going to have everyone glued to CNN, right?

However, when something like that does happen, you always have the option of postponing your chat.

It’s not ideal, but neither is having your special guest interacting only with your employees for an hour.

Twitter Chats Fail #2: Your Chat Attracts More Detractors Than Fans

It’s every communication pro’s nightmare, you make an executive available to your community through an open forum, yet every one of your brand’s detractors show up, killing whatever chance you had of a brand-enhancing event.


If this happens to you, follow Jay Baer’s rule from Hug Your Haters, and reply in a constructive manner to your detractors, but no more than twice per person.

If at all possible, get your customer service team involved in triaging the issues, OFFLINE.

So how did this happen?

Chances are, your brand has a listening issue.

If you engage in regular social listening, you should be able to pick up the grumblings of detractors—and address them individually—so they don’t feel like storming your Twitter chat is their only chance of being heard.

If you are having a larger corporate issue that’s driving a significant amount of negative chatter on social, then it’s really not your best time to host a Twitter chat.

Wait until you’ve addressed your community’s concerns, and they’re likely to be more receptive to a positive brand conversation.

Twitter Chats Fail #3: People Show Up, But No One Is Engaged

You’ve welcomed everyone to the chat, introduced your special guest, and thrown out your icebreaker.

No one wants to introduce themselves and commit to attending the chat.

Next, you post your first question and only your special guest answers.

You suspect you have a few attendees lurking in the cyber shadows because someone liked and retweeted a few of those introductory tweets.

So what’s going on?

If this is the first chat your brand has hosted, it’s possible you’ve attracted folks who are new to Twitter chats and don’t know the ropes.

Did you share the rules of your chat up front?

Many chats allow and encourage all participants to chime in and answer the questions, while others focus on the guest for the first half, then open the floor to comments and questions.

It’s helpful to remind attendees of your hashtag, and to remember to append it to every answer to ensure all the chat participants can see it.

It’s entirely possible you have had some replies, but they just didn’t use the right hashtag.

If the attendees are unsure of the rules of the chat, they may just hang back and wait for someone else to reply.

It’s helpful to have a colleague with some prepared answers to questions, on stand-by to get the ball rolling by chiming in from another account (with full disclosure as to their affiliation, of course).

It’s also possible the content of your questions, and the replies from your expert, aren’t what attendees expected from your pre-chat promotion.

This is why it’s best to avoid clickbait chat topics, and make sure you’re accurately reflecting what your chat will be able to deliver on the conversation front.

Twitter Chats Fail #4: Your Special Guest Has Nothing Interesting To Say

Although this can definitely be classified as a reason for #3, it merits its own entry.

Sometimes your amazingly charming and authoritative guest bombs.

It may be your guest is overwhelmed by the flurry of @replies coming their way.

Or perhaps your guest didn’t prepare answers to your questions in advance—you DID send the questions in advance so they could prep, didn’t you?

It’s important to make sure you prep your Twitter chat guest in advance, no matter how experienced with chats you think they may be.

This includes letting them know the chat’s format, how long everyone has for discussing each question, and what the questions will be.

Encourage them to come to the chat with a few prepared replies to the questions so they can more easily reply to and riff off the conversation as it takes shape.

There is one other reason a special guest can fall flat, and that’s because they’re sharing old material.

Many industry experts have a presentation they give over and over again, banking on it not being likely that any given audience would have overlap with a prior one.

When it comes to Twitter chats, if your guest has recently guested for another Twitter chat on the same topic, or written about it in a widely-shared blog post, it may be past its prime for generating conversation.

To avoid this, make sure to ask your guest about their recent social media and public speaking activities, and then ask questions that go beyond what they’ve recently shared elsewhere.

This also gives your guest the opportunity to blog some of their content in a helpful, in-context way.

Although it’s a risk to commit your brand to hosting a Twitter chat that’s open to anyone who tweets, it’s an excellent way to get to know and build your relationships with your brand community.

That’s why companies from Applebee’s to Buffer have made Twitter chats a regular part of their social media marketing plan.

As long as you take the time to prepare for hosting your Twitter chat in advance, keeping these pitfalls in mind, a brand Twitter chat has the opportunity to give you insight into your community you just won’t find any other way.

Happy tweeting!

image credit: shutterstock

About Erika Heald

Erika Heald is a San Francisco-based marketing consultant and freelance writer. She focuses on helping technology and specialty food start-ups define their content marketing strategy to drive lead generation and customer loyalty. Erika led and grew high-performance content marketing teams at Highwire PR, Anaplan, and Achievers. You can find her on her blog and , or hosting the weekly #ContentChat Twitter chat.

  • Great post! I moderated tweet chats for IABC/Toronto for two and a half years and yes sometimes some chats have better traction than others. I was careful to avoid schedule conflicts with chapter events and kept the topics interesting. One thing you can’t control is what else is going on at the same time, like hosting a Tweet Chat during the World Series or Stanley Cup playoffs or a very popular TV show.

    • So true, Bill! Even with the best planning, unexpected things can come up. If it’s something that’s going to seriously limit the possible attendance at your chat, I’m in favor of changing the date if it’s a 1-time event. For an ongoing chat, if it’s possible and appropriate, you can try to incorporate the event into your chat, but need to be braced for lower than usual participation.

  • Dawn Buford

    Super helpful tips Erika! And you’re right, promotion is everything! Promote it in a way that makes people curious and want to join in and you’ll attract a bigger and hopefully, more engaged audience. Having backup questions ready can definitely save the day!

    • Exactly! Adequate promotion is so important for making your twitter chat a success. And good backup questions can get the ball rolling. Folks can be somewhat shy/reserved about asking questions in a new chat. Those prepared questions can warm things up.

  • I *love* Twitter chats! My experience is less brand oriented (in a way). I do #runchat almost every Sunday evening, #coffeechat almost every Sunday morning, and #chatsnap every Wednesday to name a few. There are little things Twitter Chat participants can do to make things easier (such as using something like to automatically append the hashtag so their witty commentary doesn’t get lost). If I had to name one takeaway from each chat I mentioned it would be a) For #runchat, it’s so established that attracting people isn’t really an issue. I know the organizer puts in a lot of work behind the scenes generating relationships with sponsors, etc. (and the prizes from the sponsors bring in participants) b) For #coffeechat it’s almost exclusively pure fun but it’s a great example of how Twitter can be a virtual gathering place and c) #chatsnap (a chat devoted to Snapchat) is AWESOME for networking and gathering tips. Anyway great post on a fave topic!

    • I think brands may underestimate how much time goes into preparing for and running an ongoing chat. It takes a lot more than just the 30-60 minutes of public conversation to make them successful. And agree completely about the networking (and friend-making) potential of twitter chats. I’ve met a number of awesome folks I would never have met otherwise who have become IRL friends.

      P.S. I hadn’t heard of #coffeechat but I’m totally going to check it out!

  • Gini Dietrich

    I have Twitter Chat Fail #5 to add! It’s a really big commitment. It’s why we haven’t done a Spin Sucks one. Address that for me (and then maybe you can run it for us!).

    • I have to agree that it’s a big commitment, Gini. But it’s also a great influencer relationship builder, an opportunity for the community to come together and share their expertise, and a lot of fun. The key is building out your topic calendar (and guest invites) several months in advance, so you can get into a regular flow. I’m almost done booking Content Chat guests for October for instance.

      And I’ve already started a mental list of #SpinSucks twitter chat topics…and a few speakers…

      • It is a big commitment (to do it right) but I can assure you Gini, there’s be plenty of crazies support (well I only can speak for one crazy in particular ahem) but I think you’d be pleasantly surprised how much participation you’d get. I would for sure participate!

    • Oh gosh, Gini. Could you see all the people that would come out for a SS Twitter Chat?! Don’t get me excited!!

  • This is a great post Erika

    Some points I can share. It is true 99.9% of most company’s customers will almost never talk with you on Social Media never mind Twitter. It isn’t so much they aren’t their it is do they want to talk. So you have to obviously give a reason for them to attend.

    Promotion, Promotion, Promotion for any event online. This is why the new run to snapchat is so silly. No one knows you are there unless you tell them. And to be frank most brands will never have success there besides paid advertising because seriously who wants to follow Kraft or Pepsi on SnapChat? (see you need a reason!)

    The detractors thing is interesting. The people who run the CMI view me as a troll. I view them as bullshit artists. Touche. Only I have the data to back my view. So be prepared to defend if need be and if you are a Brand or Industry that is polarizing, be very careful how you handle a chat. Coke for the most part abandoned Facebook and never respond to posters. Why? Because the volume is too high to respond to everyone and 1/3 are accusing them of killing children with HFCs. There has to be a reason to have a chat vs just because ‘the social media hacks are telling you to’.

    I actually don’t troll chats. But if a post from #influencerschat for example is in my feed and I say OMG what a bunch of phooey BS I have a hard time not popping in with my two cents, I am sure this happens a lot with many chats,

    As for participation and speed it is hard. I used to attend #custserv chat and the posts would be so fast you can only read so few and respond to so few it can be very chaotic. But Marsha Collier and Roy Atkins publish the chat logs and when you then read them it is usually cohesive. So good idea to do so. I also find that too many chats all have the same opinion.

    I will end with. Have a reason for a chat that isn’t just for ego, show there is value, be courteous, promote the hell out of it, and good idea to reach out to a select group of people you would love to attend so they feel more compelled to do so.

    • I agree that many brands social channels do very little to give their audience something to talk about. And in many cases, the brand fans don’t have an interest in interacting with each other in a twitter chat. However, if you have fans that are scheduling meetups on their own, for instance, that’s a good indicator that they are interested in connecting with each other, and a twitter chat could be a good outlet for that.

    • Hi Howie – I’d love to chat with you about your comment about CMI. If you’re up for continuing the conversation, I can be reached at Thanks!

  • Such helpful advice, thank you! Another failure could be not offering recaps or not communicating up front that a recap will be available. Not a deal breaker, but it could help the lurkers become more active participants if they know they don’t need to read every related tweet coming through at that moment.

    • It’s interesting to see how often chats don’t offer a recap. It’s certainly an additional time commitment, but it’s also so valuable—both for those who attended (you can’t always keep up with all the tweets in a busy chat) and those who missed out.

      • Agreed on the recaps. My only beef with recaps is when everything is displayed. The main points of the chat are more beneficial to me to review when I can’t attend a particular chat. I don’t have the bandwidth to go through everything. Another thing I like is putting Twitter Q’s on the Twitter cards – extremely helpful when you have a lot of people attending the chat and the speed is so fast – it helps me keep track!

        • At a minimum, it’s good to weed out the side chatter from the recaps. It can be hard to decide how much of the back-and-forth to include in a recap, to balance keeping it concise with not missing out on showing the flavor of the chat to those who haven’t attended.

        • Great feedback on Twitter cards, Sue! Definitely has them easy to find, especially among the more active chats!

  • Great post, Erika! Super helpful and right on. You know how much we love our Twitter chats and the amazing communities that have been built because of them. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and congrats on #contentchat!

    • Thanks so much, Cathy—the post wouldn’t be possible without my being a part of the awesome #CMworld community you’ve built. 🙂