How to Host A Twitter Chat

by Sharp | May 31, 2012

armanitweetsArmani got a bit of press yesterday for their Armani Tweet Talks series that they’re launching in conjunction with their one night only fashion event in Beijing tomorrow. The premise, a series of brand-hosted conversations happening solely on Twitter, makes sense for a company positioning itself as a thinker, innovator, and trendsetter, and while the topic is provocative and timely (“China, The New Fashion Superpower”), the format is not a new one.

Companies ranging from packaged goods to sportswear to media entities to fashion houses have used this format of Twitter conversation to allow fans access to people they might not normally meet and create a reason to drive conversation and attention around major initiatives.

But as we’ve seen most recently with McDonalds, a sponsored conversation is open to your audience and there is no guarantee that a brand can control the discussion. That said, there are definitely best practices that can help a brand guide the dialogue and set the tone for a positive experience.

Below are a few lessons we’ve learned by planning these types of events for clients:

  • Clearly define the conversation parameters: Where some brands have failed in the past is by not setting out a guideline for the conversation. You don’t want to create something so limited that people will be intimidated or lack a connection with your subject matter, but you also don’t want to leave it so open that the conversation gets derailed and your messages get lost. For example “Tell us your brand story” is very broad and open to all sorts of interpretation, while something like the The CDC’s Obesity Chat allows people from a wide range of backgrounds and interests come together to discuss a timely, focused issue.
  • Invite Experts and Influencers: Part of the draw of a Twitter Chat will be the participants. You want to create an experience that people want to be a part of with people they want to hear from. This could be an expert from within your company, but could also be a company spokesperson a collection of topic-relevant bloggers or members of the media. Educating your influencers ahead of time will also help the conversation stay on course.
  • Keep it Short: All Twitter chats include the same basics: A hashtag that allows people to join and follow the conversation and a set time period in which the conversation will be hosted. Remember to keep both short – your hashtag should clearly identify the chat, but with only 140 characters per Tweet, you don’t want it to take up too much room. Also, you probably don’t need more than an hour to make your conversation have impact – extending a sponsored hashtag for days could drive negative backlash.
  • Promote Across Platforms: Making sure your audiences have the logistical information ahead of time and with enough notice and reminders will help draw in a wide audience. You’ll want to promote through your brand’s Twitter account and other social platforms, but you may also want to use your company website or blog, or even send an email to your contact list. Armani is doing a nice job of this with their web presence (http://www.armani.com/tweettalks).
  • Provide Useful Information or Experiences: In preparing for your Twitter Chat, you also have the opportunity to educate your audience about your given topic of discussion. Encourage your audience to read up on a given topic, direct them to useful links within your website, or invite them to purchase a product at a discounted price in order to participate more fully. Whole Foods does a good job of both promoting their Twitter Chats and creating a robust experience. For example, you can follow along with their #WFMWine wine conversations and learn a ton, but you can also purchase the wines ahead of time and have an even more engaging experience.
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