Your Twitter Chat May Feel Like Herding Cats, But It Doesn’t Have To
More than five years ago, social media and digital marketing author/guru Marsha Collier decided the future of customer service was online. Collier, who was named one of the top 10 women social media influencers by Forbes in 2011, ultimately wrote a book called The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide. In December 2009, as part of her research for the book, Collier launched a Twitter chat under the hashtag #CustServ.
More than five years later, Collier still hosts the chat every week under that same hashtag. Each Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, about 100 members of the online customer service community gather to discuss the industry with Collier. The weekly #CustServ Twitter chat runs so smoothly, it’s fair to say Collier makes it look easy.
Of course, anybody who has ever tried to get a Twitter chat off the ground knows it is anything but easy. It takes a lot of planning, organization, and strategy to pull off successfully. Anything less will result in a cacophony of non sequiturs and fragmented thoughts racing across God knows how many Twitter feeds, disappearing into the digital ether before anybody can make sense of them.
“A Twitter chat with no structure can become like herding cats,” said Collier.
Collier explained how she sets up a structure for her chats.
“What we generally do is find an article online and use that as a link to something that is in line with what we’re talking about,” she said. “Then what we do is write 10 questions ahead of time. I have other people who help me run the chat, and we take turns tweeting out the questions. By having people retweet the question, you have access to a larger audience, which helps build the chat.”
Collier isn’t the only one reaping the benefits of dedication to the chat game. Every Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET, between 250 and 300 people participate in a #BufferChat. The chats, which generate about 3,000 tweets per hour, focus mostly on social media, marketing, and productivity. Buffer Community Champion Nicole Miller said utilizing easily available software is key to keeping the chat organized.
“We encourage our participants to use Twitter chat tools like Nurph.com or TweetChat.com,” said Miller. “There’s a lot of them specifically set up for Twitter chats, where they have a dashboard setup that aggregates all the tweets with that hashtag and provide you with an easy button to reply or favorite or retweet those. [It] helps keep the flow of conversation a bit more manageable.”
Beyond organization and structure, Miller thinks what defines a successful Twitter chat will be different for every individual or company. For Buffer, success is measured in three ways.
“There’s three main benchmarks that we track with our Buffer chats,” she said. “The first is the number of participants each week, which is the number of people actually mentioning the hashtag. There’s the number of tweets within a certain amount of time with that hashtag in it, and then there’s the reach, which Twitter defines as how many people could have been reached by that hashtag.”
Collier uses Hashtracking.com to gather data for her chats. The numbers from one of her recent chats show how engaging a properly run Twitter chat can be. That iteration of #CustServ led to over 2,000 tweets and 1,000 retweets from 458 contributors. It was delivered to 23 million timelines and had a Twitter reach of just under 4.3 million.
“We’ve been pretty successful because we’ve been long-running,” said Collier.
Consistency has been key for both Buffer and Collier. Having the chat at the same day and time every week is a necessity, and so is putting a lot of thought into what time will work best for your chat.
“Picking the right time for a chat is really hard, because, depending on your audience and the topic, different times of day make a huge difference,” said Collier. “If you’re talking to moms, dads, somebody who is going to be home during the day, then during the day is a good time. If you’re trying to reach people who are at a job all day, some people prefer lunch—I prefer evenings. Then, stick with it.”
Twitter chats don’t only benefit marketing professionals like Collier and the Buffer team. Brands have a lot to gain from them too—even if they’re not the host.
“It’s not unheard of us to pop into chats that we’re not necessarily a featured guest of,” said Morgan Johnston, manager of corporate communications and social media strategist at JetBlue Airways.
In addition to looking for spontaneous opportunities, JetBlue is a regular presence at several Twitter chats, including #CustServ.
“We don’t necessarily invite ourselves in unrequested or untagged,” said Johnston. “It’s generally because someone gave us a nod and brought us into the conversation.”
Johnston said JetBlue emphasizes building relationships with participants that could potentially last long after the chat ends.
“Twitter lasts for a while,” said Johnston. “Just because the official chat is over, [that] doesn’t mean there aren’t other opportunities to engage a lot of those customers and follow up on interesting conversations or answer more questions.”
When the pros break it down, starting a Twitter chat sounds pretty doable. But keep in mind that these guys have stuck to the program for years. Although the potential payoff is huge, it’s probably not going to happen overnight. What really brings it all together is that a successful Twitter chat doesn’t just expand a brand’s reach—it inherently makes a statement about what the brand stands for.
“[Hosting a Twitter chat] really says that the brand wants to connect with individuals in their community,” said Miller. “I think one of the biggest benefits that we have with #BufferChat is that we’re really close with the community, and we have established relationships. We learn a lot about our product from the community, and it makes your brand more accessible by making it a little more open and trustworthy.”Image by Phone: Carlos Die Banyuls