My name is Lisa and I sometimes annoy my Twitter followers by participating in Twitter chats. I don’t mean to be annoying, of course, but I’ve found that Twitter chats provide SMBs an excellent opportunity to meet new people, increase their own influence and gain valuable insight on a particular topic. And when you’re not busy doing that, Twitter chats are also a lot of fun!
If you’re not familiar with them, a Twitter chat is a guided conversation where users interested in a particular topic hop onto the service to chat. The chat is given a hashtag, which makes it easy for anyone looking in to identify the chat and participate. It’s similar to a chat room in that it’s a topic-driven conversation happening in real time; it just happens to be housed on Twitter.
For example, the hashtag #b2bchat refers to a Twitter chat for B2B marketers that takes place every Thursday. Anyone who is interested in B2B marketing can use the hashtag to follow the conversation happening and jump in.
If you’re a small business owner, how can you get in on the Twitter chat action and grow your network? Here’s a quick primer.
Find the Chat
Though most people aren’t familiar with them, there are dozens of scheduled chats that take place every week. There’s probably one specifically related to whatever it is you do, regardless of how niche it is. If you’re looking for chats to get involved with, there’s a running Google Document that keeps track of the Twitter Chat Schedule  to help Twitter users find chats that may be of interest to them. There are chats on everything from journalism to PR to interior decorating to being a college student.
For small business owners, here are a few that may be of interest:
- #smbiz: A chat where small business owners can get answers from experts and other SMB owners. Takes place every Tuesday from 8 to 9pm.
- #blogchat: Offers advice on how to better your blog. Takes place on Sunday nights from 8 to 9pm CT.
- #imcchat: This chat is all about integrated marketing communications and takes place Wednesday nights at 8 pm ET.
- #socialmedia: A chat all about using social media. Takes place every Tuesday at noon EST.
You can also find chats simply by monitoring the hashtags that come through your Twitter stream. If one sounds interesting, click on the hashtag and take a look at what everyone is talking about.
Respect the Hashtag
Every Twitter chat comes with a designated hashtag. This tag is key as it will help you and everyone else to keep track of the conversation happening as part of that discussion. In order to participate in the chat, all of your tweets should include the appropriate tag. If you tweet without it, your tweets are going to fall on mostly deaf ears and fragment the conversation. You want people to see that you are participating in this chat and that you’re interested in whatever the topic is.
Many people who partake in Twitter chats are good about following back other members, so participating in a chat is a good way to increase your influence on Twitter if you prove to be helpful on a certain topic. If you see multiple hashtags pop up, try to include those in your tweet, as well, to make sure that everyone watching can see what you’re saying.
Find Your Tool
You may want to use a Twitter tool to help you monitor the Twitter chat hashtag that you’re following. This will help you isolate the conversation so that your “regular” Twitter stream isn’t polluting it with outside information. Some tools you may want to use:
Show Up Prepared
Do a little research on the Twitter chat you’re joining before you show up. Some chats have rules for how users are supposed to participate; for example, you may need to send in questions ahead of time. You want to be aware of the rules beforehand so that you’re able to participate. You should also be familiar with whoever is hosting the chat and get an idea for what they’re most skilled in and what they’ll be bringing to the table.
If you show up late to a Twitter chat, go back in the tweet timeline to see what everyone is talking about. The worst thing you can do is arrive to a chat 15 minutes late and then interrupt it to ask what the topic of the chat is. You should know this before jumping in.
Don’t just sit there, say something!
If you know the topic beforehand, you may want to come with some questions already in mind so that you don’t waste time thinking them up. Knowing what you want to ask will help make sure that you’re getting actionable information from these chats. You can also retweet people who you think made a great point or who asked a question you’d like to see answered.
But don’t just focus on your own needs! Keep your eyes open for opportunities where you can help answer other people’s questions or concerns. This is a great way to grow your authority on Twitter and to be seen as a helpful person. The more you can point people to trusted resources, the better job you’ll do at establishing connections with the people you “meet” via Twitter chats.
After the chat ends, follow the users you enjoyed interacting with and learned from. This helps keep the conversation going and strengthens your ties with those contacts. You may also want to e-mail or send a message to the hosts of the chat to thank them for putting it together or let them know you found it valuable. Twitter chats are a great networking tool, so you should use them as such. The same way you’d follow up after an in-person networking event, you should follow up here as well.
Twitter chats offer small business owners and entrepreneurs a great way to network, share knowledge and increase their own influence. Above are some of my best practices. What are yours?