smb-tech-trendsIt seems timely to write something about Twitter in light of the company’s much anticipated IPO last week. I’ve written before about how to use Twitter for your small business marketing, branding and networking (see: Five ways Twitter can boost your small business marketing). Another way you can use Twitter to build engagement with customers and prospects is by hosting a Twitter chat.

A Twitter chat is a live event scheduled for a set time and day in which participants ‘chat’ with others via tweets that include a pre-determined #hashtag to link the tweets together to create a virtual conversation.  Earlier this year, Plantronics participated in a Twitter chat – hopefully some of you attended – hosted by Anita Campbell of Small Biz Trends. The topic was ‘Working Smarter with Your Mobile Devices.” Our hashtag was #SmarterWorking.

Twitter chats are a great to exchange information with your followers and build brand visibility. You can gain insight about the interests and needs of your users, get feedback on your offerings and test out ideas for new products and services. You also can use the Twitter chat to discuss industry issues to build a sense of community with customers and prospects.

Whatever your goal, plan your Twitter chat as you would any other industry event. It’s a good idea to take part in a Twitter chat before hosting your own to get a feel for how they operate. Once you understand how they work, here are steps you’ll want to take:

proxyChoose your topic: Know in advance what you hope to gain from the Twitter chat. That will help you plan the questions or comments that you’ll pose throughout the event. Once you determine the topic, choose a hashtag. Do research to make sure that your hashtag isn’t already being used for some other topic.  Keep the hashtag simple, relevant to your followers, and clear. Don’t use words that need to be explained.

Promote your event: Once you determine a time and date, start promoting the event. Create a landing page on your website for the event, put information in your company newsletter or include it in your other email marketing, and write about it on your company blog and other social networks.

Invite a moderator or co-host: The advantage of having someone else participate is that you are assured of keeping the conversation going. Moderators also should help you promote the event through their social media and marketing channels.

Keep the chat going: After you welcome everyone, start with your own tweet to get things started. Give participants time to respond. Keep the conversation going — commenting on tweets from participants and posing questions and comments. Re-tweet posts you think provide particularly good input. Periodically summarize where you are in the conversation to keep things on track.

Follow up: When the chat is over, thank everyone who attended with a follow up tweet.

Enjoy the interaction with your followers on a Twitter chat. It’s also a good way to identify topics of interest to use in other social media channels as well as future Twitter posts.