Tips For An Effective Twitter Chat

Fourteen years before Twitter had its debut at SxSW,  professor of educational psychology and semiotician Gary Shank wrote a paper titled Abductive Multiloguing: The Semiotics of Navigating the Net, in which he describes the concept of the multilogue:

“It is as if everyone who is interested in talking can all jump in at once, but still their individual voices can be clearly heard. (…) it is as if someone had started writing a piece, but before he/she gets too far, people are there magically in print to add to, correct, challenge, or extend the piece.“

I’ve yet to see a better description of a Twitter chat!

Lately, as a guest of quite a few Twitter chats, I’ve been getting some insight into some of the different approaches to how Twitter chats are run, and getting some notions of makes for a better Twitter chat guest experience.

Plan Pre-Set Questions (And Answers)

Probably one of the most raucous and active chats is#BlogChat, one of the oldest chats around as it was started by Mack Collier  (@mackCollier) over three years ago.  Instead of having guests on #Blogchat, Mack invites individuals to be co-hosts. He then takes a main topic and breaks it down into two sub-topics, each being the subject of about a half an hour.

Many chats are structured like this: the guest and often the host work up a series of questions. This gives the guest the opportunity to craft some good answers before the event (and editing them down to good 120 character chunks so that they’re easily re-tweeted).

These pre-crafted questions and answers provide a structure upon which more spontaneous give and take can occur. Those questions are often numbered, Q1, Q2, Q3 and so on. Then, the answers can be likewise numbered, A1, A2, A3 and so on. This way, it’s much easier for the chat participants to keep up with the flow of conversation.

On #Bizforum, Sam Fiorella (@samfiorella) likes to come up with a series of statements on which to frame a robust debate. Like any debate-meister worth his or her salt, Sam will take the contrary stance from the chat guest, inviting the “audience” participants to all weigh in.

Being a chat guest can be a harrying experience.  During one #socialChat with hosts Alan K’necht (@aknecht) and Michelle Stinson Ross (@SocialMichelleR), we were all on a conference call during the chat so that we could bring tweets to the notice of one of the others.  But not even that could help us when Twitter crashed for the entire hour, and we had to reschedule.

Don’t Use Your Smart Phone!

While there isn’t any official tally, I think my friend Brandie McCallum  (@lttlewys) could get the prize for one of the most active chat participants. She’s in about 40 to 45 chats a week both as herself and on behalf of organizations for which she is a community manager.

Her first piece of advice is that chat guests shouldn’t try to participate from their smart phone. As obvious as that seems, it has happened.

Roll With It

But more importantly, she says, “good chat guests don’t just answer the pre-set questions, but answer other questions as well, and really engage the community.”

The best guests seem to be quick on their feet, and snappy with their replies. But even if you’re Twitter’s version of Oscar Wilde, it can be helpful to have a friend or co-worker on the chat alongside you. Since it can be easy to miss a good question or side-chat, the co-pilot can often bring tweets to your attention.

My closing piece of advice is to have fun.  Sure, being a Twitter chat guest can feel like you’ve suddenly landed a job at Kennedy Airport air traffic control. But the upside is that if you goof up, no one is going to get hurt.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Twitter | Twitter Marketing Column


About The Author: is the author of the DragonSearch Online Marketing Manual and Social Marketology (McGraw Hill 2012) and the ceo/co-founder of DragonSearch. He is a regular speaker for Google at their Get Your Business Online seminars. Dragon frequently speaks about the convergence of social media, process, information architecture, and sociology.


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  • Linda Bernstein

    Nice column, Ric. My advice, still, is to make sure that when you’re a guest you have a really good Internet connection. When I was a guest on #mediachat the other week, I was doing it from a DSL connection, and my browser kept freezing. So by the time I restarted my browser and I got back (this happened 3x), questions had been posted by the host, and I didn’t know. It was an active chat, and all went well anyway. You one time said all you needed was a coffee shop. I’m not sure that’s true. Oh, some hosts have the guests on the phone to make sure that the guest is ready and knows where things are at. I think that may make sense after my experience.

  • Michelle StinsonRoss

    Now you all know why I warn the Special Guest on #SocialChat to put on their fireproof pants and get ready for the ride of their lives in the hot seat :) As hosts we are sweating it out right along with the guest and fully appreciate how crazy an active chat can be.  Hopefully, we have empowered all of our guests to share their knowledge in a way they makes them shine.  

  • Deane Alban

    I attended my first twitter chat yesterday at #foodandmood held by Huffington Post in association with a doctor. It went very well! Over 9,000 twitterers attended but only a few dozen made most of the comments. I’m new to Twitter and found several interesting people to follow and got several new followers myself by making some thoughtful comments. I also found a ton of interesting tweets to retweet.
    Do you think they should have included the word “chat” in their hashtag? It seems they may have missed some people who wouldn’t have found it because of this.

  • Dave Fowler

    I can vouch for the benefits of pre-preparing a bunch of well-crafted tweets. These become an excellent anchor amidst the buzz of the live chat, and keep a sense of structure too.

    In my case, I was asked to provide advice rather than answer formal questions. I drafted a top ten tips, ordered them into a logical, progressive flow, and then edited and re-edited them to ensure clarity and ease of retweeting.

    During the chat itself I found that dropping a new tweet every 2 to 3 minutes (initially intervals of 4 minutes, but that seemed too drawn out) allowed me to focus on answering questions and to otherwise engage with the audience.

    I couldn’t have done so as effectively if I’d been trying to write the core tweets on the fly, and as a further upside, as a result my nerves soon settled and I really rather enjoyed the experience; the hour flew by. Given the chance to guest chat I’d heartily recommend anyone to grab the opportunity.

  • Ric Dragon

    Not sure Deane – I’d think the foodies would find it anyway – but at 9K attending (wow; what a HUGE number! How’d they know how many?) – Maybe the *reach* of that dozen was 9K?  ”Chat” does at least suggest to people that they can open up and share!

  • Ric Dragon

    Which chat was that, Dave?

  • Dave Fowler

    Hi Ric, it was with MyBlogGuest, on the subject of content strategy for guest blogging via that platform.

    Roundup here:

    Summary and archive of tweets here:

  • amhey

    Why on earth shouldn’t you use a smartphone – using the Tweetdeck app you can see what’s going on easily.

  • Ric Dragon

    It’s true; it IS a good way to see what’s going on; but awfully difficult to type into at the pace of a Twitter chat. I actually have mine open – looking at the phone, along with desktop apps (and dual monitors at that).

  • amhey

    I can type on my iPhone almost as fast as a person speaks – and I’m not a great typist! I’ve been using onscreen keyboards since 1992.


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