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.