So you’ve been invited to participate in a Twitter chat. Now what? What is it? What does “participate” mean?

And most importantly, how does it benefit YOU? 

As one of the hosts of the popular monthly #TBINChat about all things travel, I decided to do what I do best to help you out: I wrote a listicle. So here are the top 21 things you need to know about participating in Twitter chats.

Twitter Chats 101

The Basics:

  1. You need a Twitter account.
    I know, it sounds kind of silly to mention this, but it’s an important point. Your account does not need to have a huge following, nor does it have to contain a long feed of past posts. I know people and companies with Twitter feeds consisting only of automated posts from their Instagram account. That’s okay. It just needs to be an account you own and can log into to follow the questions and answers. (And hopefully, join the conversation.)
  2. You need to know the hashtag to follow in order to see the whole conversation.
    The hashtag is the key to watching the flurry of questions and answers. In the search box on Twitter, type in the hashtag. (example: #TBINChat) That will take you to a full page about the tag. The initial screen you see will be a feed of the top tweets that have used that hashtag recently. During the chat, you will follow along under the “latest” tweets.
  3. Use the hashtag in all of your tweets so that everyone else can see them.
    Whether you are answering questions as they are posted, commenting on someone else’s answers, or maybe asking someone a question, the hashtag is the key to being seen.
  4. The format is usually a series of questions posted by hosts and answered by all participants.
    The chat I host, #TBINchat, normally consists of ten questions, sometimes with a bonus– on the topic chosen by the hosts and promoted in advance. The questions will appear in the latest tweet list with numbers usually formatted as Q1, Q2, etc. The questions may be posted by several hosts and co-hosts or moderators all at once. As each question posts, everyone who wants to share an answer tweets it using the notation A1, A2, etc. preceding their answer, always ending with that all-important hashtag. You may also see answers in the form of a retweet of the question as it was posted by a host and then “commenting” their answer. That’s okay too, just don’t forget to add the hashtag to your answer portion.
  5. It’s okay to cross-talk.
    What that means is that you can (and should) converse with other participants by replying to their answers. Say perhaps the Royal Caribbean Twitter team is participating in #TBINChat (which they frequently do), and they post an answer to one of our questions that mentions their newest ship. It is perfectly acceptable to use the reply function to directly ask them a question about the ship. They are HOPING you will do just that. It’s why they are there!
  6. Post pictures, gifs, and videos.
    Everyone participating is there to learn more about the topic of the chat. Anything you add that makes it more informative or entertaining is acceptable as long it is on topic, NOT off color and is considerate of everyone participating. It’s a chat, not a debate!
  7. What’s the difference between a Twitter chat and a Twitter party?
    There’s not a real difference. It’s generally just a matter of how the hosts (or sometimes sponsors) want their online conversation to be perceived. Both are usually structured the same way and both may have prize giveaways for participants.
  8. Are Twitter chats actually “live”?
    Yes and no. To make things flow smoothly, and so we have time to actually chat with participants, hosts and co-hosts often use automated schedulers to post the questions. On occasion, other participants may be given the questions in advance so that they can schedule their answers if the chat is at a time when they cannot participate live. All of the remaining participation is live in real time during the scheduled time frame of the chat. Hosts are often live on Twitter chatting for as long as half an hour before and half an hour afterward the stream of questions begins, so feel free to ask questions during that time if you want. Just be sure to use the hashtag so they can see your question.  
  9. You don’t need an invitation.
    I’ve never seen a private Twitter chat, but then if it was private, I wouldn’t see it, would I? If you can see a chat, feel free to join in. Your first chat with a new group may feel a little awkward. It will seem like half of the people chatting already know each other, but answer a few questions, post some pictures and you’ll fit right in. Hosts LOVE new chatters, so we will do everything we can to make you feel at home if we spot your Tweets. You can also bring your own plus one (or plus 10) to the chat so there will be someone you know tweeting in the chat. It’s a fun way to hang out with friends who share your love of the topic. 
    A good example is when #TBINChat does our twice-yearly cruise chats. If you and your friends or family members want to know more about cruising, get everyone to join the fun.
  10. Get on the chat’s mailing list.
    If you like the topic and the chat has a mailing list, get on it! It’s the best way to get advance notices about upcoming topics, prizes, sponsorships, what companies are participating in the next chat, and sometimes even get the questions in advance so you can prepare your answers. It’s like being a real INSIDER!

    Ready to get down to the reasons why YOU should join the fun?

    For consumers:

  11. Join in for fun and information!
    Choose Twitter chats on topics that interest you or chats hosted by someone you follow. They are a fun way to rub shoulders with bloggers, influencers, authors and companies. 
  12. Prizes!
    Not every chat has prizes, but they can range from Amazon gift cards to all-expenses-paid trips. Even if you don’t participate in every chat, keeping tabs on your favorite chats is a good way to know who the upcoming sponsors are and what prizes might be offered. 

    For bloggers, writers, and journalists:

  13. Be seen.
    Twitter chats are one of the easiest ways to make yourself visible to consumers, brands, editors, publishers, and others in your field that may want to work with you. Popular chats can reach an audience in the millions! It’s networking without the work! TIP: Be sure your website is current in your Twitter profile; that’s the door to everything else you have to offer. 
  14. Get your work seen.
    The secret sauce of making the most from a Twitter chat is to frame your answers to the questions in a way that lets you add links to stories you’ve written. It’s perfectly okay to do a little self-promotion as long as the answers are relevant and don’t hijack the chat. Be prepared by having your blog or portfolio in an open window before the chat begins so you can easily copy and paste links into your answers. And we can’t stress it enough– don’t forget the hashtag so your links can be seen.
  15. Grow your audience.  
    Make a habit of following all of the hosts and contributors during each chat; it’s quite likely they will follow back. Also, make sure your answers are informative and helpful to gain followers looking for the unique insight you offer.  

    For businesses, destinations, and brands:

  16. All of the above.
    The reasons we’ve already talked about apply to businesses and brands as easily as they do to individuals. Twitter chats can be one more tool in your arsenal of ways to get your foot in the door– to start the conversation. 
  17. Steer the conversation.
    The brands we work with at #TBINChat are experts at spinning our questions in the direction they want without distracting from the conversation. It’s an opportunity to show off new products, expose a group of consumers and members of the media to the best of what you offer, possibly in a way they had not considered before. 
  18. Troll for our super fans.
    You know who your dream superfan is– the bloggers, influencers or consumers who rave about your brand over and over and over, telling everyone in their sphere of influence the wonders of what you offer in a far more authentic way than you ever could with simple advertising. Twitter chats are ripe for finding those fans you want to cultivate. 
  19. Consider sponsoring a chat.
    The benefits of sponsorship usually include additional exposure in the pre- and post-chat notices, as well as input on the questions themselves in some cases. Provide prizes for the chat and you can place products or swag directly in the hands of the lucky winners.
  20. Improve your use of Twitter.
    I’ve had brands tell me their audience doesn’t come from Twitter. Perhaps that’s because they aren’t using their Twitter account in a way that attracts the right demographic. Or maybe it’s because they haven’t found (and utilized) a Twitter influencer with followers that fall into their demographic. Participation in a chat focused on a topic you can contribute to has the potential to increase your audience size, stir things up a bit for your existing audience, and introduce you to people who ARE making good use of Twitter, and who ARE reaching the audience you want to reach. 
  21. Consider having your OWN Twitter chat.
    The easiest way to do that is to pay an experienced chat hosting team with a large following already in place to handle the details for you. You decide on the questions, set the date and time, promote the chat across your social channels, then let the team do the work of bringing millions of new potential customers to your doorstep.