Twitter Chats: A Doorway Between You and Your Community

By: Guest | November 10, 2011 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Shonali Burke. 

When Gini and Lisa asked me to write about Twitter chats for Spin Sucks (ok, “tweetchats,” if you must, I’m going to stick with the former, I’m old-school, whatevs), I scratched my mane.

I’ve written so much about TCs in the past, I was worried about what I could share with you that wouldn’t be same old, same old.

But then, a friend who currently runs a popular Twitter chat DM’d me to tell me he might be shutting it down. The reason? Life has taken over, and he’s finding it tough to keep it going with the same level of verve and vigor as he did in the past.

My response? “Don’t do that. Ask <person who is well known for focusing on the discipline> if they can do it. It’s a good chat. It teaches people.” (Or words to that effect.)

Twitter chats have come a long way since Sarah Evans dreamed up #journchat. You can’t throw a stone in the Twittersphere without hitting a chat, or a hashtag, or several of them at one time.

But there’s a reason for this. Actually, there are several.

Twitter chats bring people together. They educate (a core function of public relations). They curate conversations around a particular topic on a regular basis. They build community.

Let me repeat that last one. They build community.

As a brand, this is one of the most important things for you to do. And if you use social media well, it is a great way for you to build community.

When you embark on Twitter chats, you slowly start seeding your interests, and thought leadership, in the Twitterverse. People begin to see that you care about a particular topic. People begin to talk to you about that particular topic. And after a while, people start to consider you the go-to handle (personal or professional) on that particular topic.

This doesn’t happen overnight. But when you take so much time to build your reputation in this area, are you really going to throw it away overnight?

So before you embark on creating your own Twitter chat, please consider:

Is this something you will be able to sustain over the long term?

When I started #measurePR, I knew instinctively that a weekly chat wouldn’t work for me. So I made it bi-weekly and, a couple of years down, we’re still going strong.

Have you already pre-seeded your community?

When I talk about pre-seeding (not “preceding,”) your community, I don’t mean simply using a hashtag you’ve decided on. Have you consistently been talking about the topic(s) in which you are trying to position yourself as a thought leader… and not just online, but offline?

Much is made of building thought leadership online, but from what I’ve seen, your offline work and activities have to back that up for people to really start to respect and rely on you. So are you doing that? Are you doing good work in your area that sows the seeds for what is to come?

Do you have a backup plan?

Life happens. I get it. We change clients, jobs, careers, as we must. And I will never knock anyone for doing that.

But pause awhile and give some thought to your community. You have taken so much time to build it, to communicate with them, to create a platform for sharing and learning. How is that going to reflect on your brand if you’re here today, gone tomorrow?

Just as you have a continuity plan in place for your business, what is your continuity plan for your chat? If you don’t have one, please make one. Today.

They’re just Twitter chats. But they’re not just Twitter chats. They are the door you can open – or close – between you and your community.

Whether you keep it open, or closed, is up to you.

Shonali Burke is the founder of the popular #measurePR Twitter chat and one of 25 women that rock social media. Her business turns your corporate codswallop into community cool. She also blogsteaches, and cooks.

  • gchesman

    Great post, Shonali. There are so many great TCs now. It’s one of my favorite ways to meet like-minded people, learn about other POVs or new tools, and utilize what I learn after the chat.

    • @gchesman They’re so neat, aren’t they? I remember the first chat I sat in on was #journchat. It went by so quickly it drove me a little nuts. But then I started getting more into it and now I love them. What’s your favorite chat?

      • gchesman

        I like #PRWebchat and #Vocus TCs but it’s tough picking one, especially when the topics change. I just join anything that I find interesting.

  • I love Twitter chats, but find it hard to participate in too many. I”ve been thinking a lot about how specific businesses can use them, and I think one of the key things to remember is: don’t get on Twitter in the first place just to start a Twitter chat. You have to be on Twitter first, and be using it and building community beforehand, then use the chat as an extension of that to further build the community and provide relevant content.

    I’ve heard of people who see the value of a Twitter Chat long before they see the value of Twitter. It won’t work that way.

    • @KenMueller Yes, exactly; it’s also really tough to “get” a Twitter chat for some people, because the format is so much looser than other, more conventional methods of group discussion. I’ve had guests on #measurePR who find it really hard to deal with that, as well as the constantly moving stream. And if any business is interested in starting a Twitter chat, I always recommend they first get used to Twitter, and then participate in a few chats so that they get the hang of it.

      You should stop by #measurePR sometime, btw… #justsayin… right kikilitalien deannaboss ?

  • I was on Twitter awhile before I understood what a Twitter chat even was…I actually think it was you Shonali, who led me to discover TweetChat. Using TweetChat really helped me to understand the power of tweetchats. I have found it to be a great way to really get to know people you follow on a more personal note. It really is like a conversation…like AIM except for you have the opportunity to meet and learn from people you never would have before. It’s a great tool. If I ever decide to found my own tweetchat I will be sure to refer back to this post. Until then, I’m pretty content just trying to attend/keep up with all the fun ones I’m interested in that already exist!

    • @rachaelseda Yes, I think we need to see you at #measurePR more often as well, cough cough. ;P I love the way you describe it as being like AIM almost – I never thought of that before.

  • Mikey4291

    @chillygal @shonali A fat woman got stuck in the door of my local italian buffet. I just couldnt get pasta.

  • Hi Shonali! Thanks for being here today!!!

    Attending twitter chats is a great way to dip your toes in the water too! When I first got started on Twitter a few years ago, I was able to gain a very targeted following by joining in these niche chats. It’s time well-spent.

    • @Lisa Gerber It’s absolutely my pleasure, thank you for having me! Chats are indeed a great way to build that kind of following, and knowing you, you gave back more than you got… which is WHY you got those followers!

  • My issue with Twitter chats because I used to participate in the #CustServ one on Tuesday nights because that is a serious area of expertise of mine and while I had great feedback from the folks in the chat, I found it so hard to keep up with the tweets flying at 25 of them per second. To me they are a bit chaotic.

    But to make up for it anytime someone mentioned Zappos you were required to drink. LOL

    I am pretty sure since @Shonali your topic is much more niche about measuring public radio that it is much more calm in terms of what is going on. maybe that is the secret having a more narrow topic? Like @ginidietrich obviously would do best if she just carved out Merry Go Rounds from the Spin Category. Of if @KenMueller focused just on AXE Products vs the whole category?

    On a positive note I have made some great connections via the TC’s and sometimes and surprised at who participates. And for that to me makes them worth it just in itself.

    • @HowieSPM They can definitely be chaotic – even #measurePR gets like that sometimes, but to me, that’s part of the fun. I try to provide some structure at the beginning of the chat, e.g. requesting folks to use the question number when replying & so on… but there’s only so much you can manage/control. It does take quite a bit of flying between streams and looking at different browser windows even to stay on top of a chat. And yes, having a niche topic helps. :p


      • @Shonali @HowieSPM @ginidietrich @KenMueller
        HAHAHA! I love the drink contest idea. That just made me bust out laughing.
        Also, there could be a whole post on navigating the chaos of twitter chats. Rule 1: let your eyes skip the RT’s.

  • The last one – Backup plan is the issue with Twitter. We just cannot build something like a blog that will be there permanently, weather we work on it actively or not. That’s one reason I don’t like twitter. Its like instant coffee!

    • @Raj-PB One of the things I do is archive the chat as soon as I can. I use RowFeeder to track the hashtag & then I pull a transcript, save it as a PDF and post it, usually along with a recap, on my blog. That helps build the life of the chat, as it were, I think. For me, it’s not so much about the permanence of the chat… it’s more about what the community has come to enjoy and rely on, and I don’t ever want to feel that I let them down.

      That’s why I sometimes have guest moderators, and jenzings has been very gracious and is becoming a more regular moderator. If ever I feel I can’t continue #measurePR, though, I’ll try to “pass it on” to someone who can, and who can keep that community going.

      And what’s this about instant coffee? Doesn’t everyone like instant coffee?! :p

  • Uh, what is a twitter chat? Is that like a tweetup but you actually get to tweet? Actually, I have semi tried to participate in a couple but I didn’t fully pay attention while I was doing it so I don’t think I got the full value from it.

    Trust me, I’m not starting up anything if it requires work; that my jeopardize my King of Just Show Up status and we certainly wouldn’t want that to happen, would we?

    I did finally get my iPhone 4s, I wonder if that will help me be a better twitter chatterer or not? I’m sure having fun playing with it though…….

    Good to see you at Gini and Lisa’s; hopefully they didn’t try to give you that cold pizza since you got the afternoon shift……….just sayin’………..

    • @bdorman264 the afternoon shift rocks. Do you have any idea what time you have to get up for the morning one?

      • @Lisa Gerber Gini probably has the morning shift covered since she gets up at 3:30 am anyway………:)

    • @bdorman264 First you were the Invisible Man, now you’re the King of Just Show Up. What’s next, I wonder? I think Mr. Kind should be it!

      It’s good to be here, thank you, Bill. No cold pizza for me, thank goodness. Gini & Lisa let me off the hook with that one!

  • HerzogIND

    @ginidietrich How was Omaha?

    • ginidietrich

      @HerzogIND No Warren Buffet. 🙁

      • HerzogIND

        @ginidietrich aww… 🙁 Thought for sure you’d get to meet him.

  • kamkansas

    Great post! I completely agree that Twitter chats are one of the most effective ways to build community on social media. (And yay for @prsarahevans for starting #journchat. It’s one of my favorites!) I always come away from Twitter chats with new knowledge, inspiration and friends. Some Twitter chats (#Blogchat, for example) move so fast that they’re hard to keep up with. Don’t get discouraged, just go with the flow. Other Twitter chats I highly recommend are #getrealchat and #smmanners. If you’re not participating in at least one Twitter chat on a regular basis, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity!

    • @prsarahevans@kamkansas Thanks so much for the mention of #GetRealChat! We are so blessed with a great community!

      • @PamMktgNut When is #getrealchat?

    • @kamkansas Yes, @prsarahevans has changed our world in more ways than one, hasn’t she? Thanks so much for the kind words and for stopping by. #getrealchat sounds interesting, I’ll have to check it out.

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  • Very smart, shonali . And you just gave me an idea for a client. Check is in the mail :).

    I can tell you that it is not always easy to make time for #pr20chat every Tuesday. I can also tell you that it is a part of my week that I wouldn’t give up in a million years. For all the reasons you gave — connections, community, etc. Not to mention, I learn something new almost every week. Something I can apply in my day job. A perspective I hadn’t considered. Talking to smart people makes us smarter. Hard to quantify that in numbers, but it’s the truth. And it’s one of the most important reasons Twitter chats are such a success.

  • I have not taken advantage of twitter as of yet, I kind of find it boring but I know its a great marketing tool.

  • I have not taken advantage of twitter as of yet, I kind of find it boring but I know its a great marketing tool.

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