Today’s guest post is written by Melissa Woodson.

Twitter is an excellent venue for sharing news with fans and followers, promoting products and businesses, and supporting worthy causes.

To that end, Twitter chats are becoming increasingly popular as a way to build brand awareness and extend networks.

A Twitter chat is brought together by a common hashtag, open to anyone who wants to participate, and is typically scheduled at a specific time.

Because chats are your golden opportunity to share your expertise and knowledge, you want to host one that doesn’t fall flat and send participants fleeing from their computers.   

Five Tips for Holding a Twitter Chat that Doesn’t Suck

  1. Follow in others’ footsteps (or tweets). We often learn best by example, and Twitter is no exception. Before you attempt your chat, check out and participate in other chats. Google Docs hosts a spreadsheet where you can search for chats based on specific topics. Take notes while you participate, noting what does and doesn’t work. Focus on the moderators and how they keep the conversation focused. Observe a wide variety of chats; while you may be focusing on real estate sales, you can learn some valuable strategies from a blogging chat!
  2. Plan your big event. Social Media Examiner recommends you carefully choose a hashtag that is short, simple, easy to remember, and unique. Once you have decided on the hashtag, determine the day and time for your chat. Avoid hosting it at the same time as other chats with similar topics so your target audience can participate!
  3. Gather your audience. Unless you promote your chat, you’ll be talking to yourself. Promote your chat everywhere you can: Your blog/website, social media, news releases, email, and through word-of-mouth.
  4. Structure your chat. Decide how you are going to structure your chat. Will you let it flow organically? Or will you format it with specific questions every 10 minutes? Typically, the best chats have a finite timeframe—30 minutes to an hour—and are built around a series of questions. As the host, you’ll want to participate in the chat, but keep in mind the larger your chat, the harder it is to respond to each participant. You’ll also need to monitor the conversation to keep things flowing. If people are particularly interested in one question, you may want to give them a few more minutes to discuss it before moving on to your next question. Using a tool such as Tweet Chat will help you keep track of the conversation by filtering only tweets with your chat’s hashtag.
  5. Get, and respond to, feedback. When finished , you should analyze the chat for effectiveness. Storify allows you to archive any of your chats. Use the feedback from others for improvement. Make sure you connected and followed everyone who participated. Mack Collier recommends asking regular participants to help choose topics, serve as moderators, and give constructive criticism on how well the chat flowed.

When people make suggestions for improvements, make sure you follow through. Being a good listener (or reader) will make you a better leader!

Have you held a Twitter chat? What would you add? Are you thinking about holding one? What questions do you have?

Melissa Woodson is the community manager for @WashULaw, a premier program for foreign attorneys to earn their LLM online in U.S. law and just one of the llm degree programs offered by Washington University in St. Louis. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and making half-baked attempts at training her dog.