Big corporations have jumped into the act, too. There’s now a Twitter room consisting just of corporate executive tweets, called Exectweets, sponsored by Microsoft.
Guy Kawasaki, the venture capitalist and founder of Alltop.com, is reported in the Wall Street Journal  as saying Twitter is “the most powerful marketing tool that I’ve seen since probably television.” I have to agree with him. I’ve never seen anything ramp up so quickly nor be so powerful.
But with so much growth, Twitter now has a new problem: how do you find and connect with like-minded people on Twitter and not get lost in all the “noise”?
One of the ways to find others and avoid getting lost in the shuffle of Twitter is the “tweetchat”.
Recently I have participated in several “tweetchats.” They’ve helped me connect with others who have similar interests. Participating has increased my Twitter followers. I’ve even learned some new things from these chats that I can use in my business.
I’d like to share my experiences so that you too can learn how to use tweetchats to network online, and get insights to run your business better.
What is a Tweetchat?
A tweetchat is simply an organized group chat that takes place using the Twitter platform.
Participants use an assigned hashtag (say, #sbbuzz) for their tweets during the discussion. Here’s a message containing a hashtag to identify it as part of the tweetchat:
Use of the hashtag code is how other participants follow the discussion. Here’s how one person responded to the above question, using the same hashtag:
It’s even easier to follow the discussion if you use a Twitter tool that shows you only those tweets with the hashtags you’re interested in (more on tools later). That way you can isolate the discussion from everything else going on at Twitter.
Tweetchats are organized events that occur at a set time. Example: Tuesday evening from 8 to 10 PM Eastern. To participate, you just need to be using Twitter at the assigned time.
What is the format of a tweetchat?
The organizer of the tweetchat establishes the format. The format can be as creative as you’d like. Here are some common formats for tweetchats that I’ve seen:
- freeform discussion — everyone jumps in and starts chatting
- structured agenda — the organizer asks questions and gives participants a set period of time to answer
- featured speaker — speaker offers advice or answers questions posed by the audience
Often the organizer will set ground rules at the beginning. Typical ground rules might include:
- the first 10 minutes are for introductions
- no pitching your business until the last 10 minutes
- take banter or irrelevant discussions offline, so as to not hijack the chat
Because tweetchats are so interactive and real-time, the organizer often invites participants to suggest questions or discussion topics during the tweetchat. That way participants can help shape the direction of the chat.
Flexible and convenient
Tweetchats are extremely convenient and flexible. As a participant, you can jump in and out of the discussion whenever you want. Or just follow along silently and watch. You can multi-task, say, responding to emails while still keeping one eye on the discussion.
Your time commitment is flexible, too. Stay for the entire thing. Stay only for 15 minutes. It’s totally up to you.
How do you separate the TweetChat discussions from nonrelevant tweets?
The trick to participating in a tweetchat is to be able to isolate the tweets made by the chat participants, from all the unrelated tweets on Twitter. You want to see only the tweets relating to the tweetchat you are part of.
Here is where a good tool comes in handy. Luckily there are some excellent free ones.
My favorite tool for chats is TweetChat.com. It’s dirt simple to use. You just sign in to a chat room on Tweetchat.com with the proper hashtag.
TweetChat.com makes it easy to isolate the tweets relating to that chat from other discussions on Twitter. All you will see on your screen are the tweets using your tweetchat’s assigned hashtag.
Another tool is Tweet Grid . Tweet Grid is notable because it lets you follow multiple chats simultaneously on a split screen.
There’s also TweetDeck . TweetDeck is a downloadable twitter client for Windows and Mac that also lets you isolate chats on your screen.
If you don’t want to use a tool, you can follow along using Twitter Search . Keep a search window open on your chat’s assigned hashtag.
How do you network and get more followers using Tweetchats?
As with all social media, the first rule is: you have to be social! Just by participating, others will see and notice you.
But there are a few more pointed actions you can take. You can interact with others during the tweetchat, answering questions and engaging others in relevant discussion.
Also, during lulls in the tweetchat or immediately following, I check out and follow other people who are participating. If they are interested in the same chat as I am, I figure they are a good person to befriend and connect with.
Many of them must be doing the same thing, because my follower count goes up with each tweetchat. Last Tuesday evening I participated in 2 tweetchats simultaneously, and my followers went up by 1% (roughly 100 followers) in the space of 2 – 3 hours.
If you take care to compose chat responses that are understandable even by those not participating in the tweetchat, you can increase your exposure. Your messages will be seen publicly on Twitter by others. If you make an interesting point, and deliver a valuable tweet, others may retweet (i.e., repeat) it.
Finally, you can always add your two cents after the fact. I notice that people are tweeting even outside the established chat time using the assigned hashtags, on relevant points. Just tweet something using that hashtag and others may discover it, and in turn, find you.
How do you discover tweetchats?
Here are 4 small-business related tweetchats that I am aware of:
#DIYMKT – chat about do-it-yourself marketing. Mondays, 11:30am – 12:30pm Eastern. DIYMarketers Webpage.
#Sbbuzz – chat about small business technology. Tuesdays, 8pm – 10pm Eastern. Small Business Buzz Webpage.
#Smbiz – chat about small business issues. Tuesdays, 8pm – 9pm Eastern. Smbiz Twitter page.
#Brandchat – chat about personal branding. Wednesdays, 11am Eastern. Brandchat Twitter page .
More tweetchats are popping up all the time. To discover other tweetchats, just do a search on Twitter for “tweetchat.”
The benefits of tweetchats are many. They bring together people with similar interests. You can crowd-source ideas. You can carry on a group discussion in context — and using the right tool, “see” the full conversation uninterrupted by unrelated tweets. You can increase your Twitter followers and thus your online community.
Consequently, I expect to see tweetchats as a growing trend.