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

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.

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