12 Tips for Starting a Twitter Hashtag Chat

Starting and running a successful Twitter hashtag chat can connect you with likeminded people through the topics that matter to you and help in the basic Twitter endeavour of building up a loyal following. You could write a book on the benefits of creating real-time, loyal, conversational Twitter hashtag communities, but I'll stop here and leave you with links to read if you'd like to learn more about the benefits (Hashtags for Business, and How To: Use Twitter Hashtags For Business).

Some of the best hashtag communities out there are @Journchat, @DesignChat, @CommsChat, @bhamchat, and @ToolsChat - and I've been running Twitter community chat @AllStartups for at least a year now. In that time we've seen some great community chats and startup founders stopping by, including @DuaneJackson, @swombat, @sohear, and @MikeButcher. Based on my observations of the techniques used by the aforementioned hashtag communities, and my own experiences with @AllStartups, here are twelve tips for starting a successful Twitter hashtag chat.

1. Get the Twitter Account to Match Your Hashtag

It's almost too obvious to mention but Twitter users are brought together via tweets, so you need to get the Twitter account to match up to the chat and to use it as a centralised point of contact for your chat. Think of your hashtag as being like a real-world event - you wouldn't expect to hold a successful, buzzing event without an official Twitter account, website, or Meetup group, would you? URLs are there for a reason and people need somewhere to get information about your chats - so follow the lead of @Journchat, @DesignChat, @CommsChat, @bhamchat, and @ToolsChat and grab the Twitter account for your hashtag and ask people to follow it and keep them in the loop about the chats. It's no coincidence that these high-flying Twitter communities hold the Twitter account that matches up to the #hashtag they use, or that they have all created online destinations that centralise the info & community surrounding the chats and have a place to publish transcripts and blog posts. For example, http://designchat.info/ , http://journchat.info/  http://blog.bufferapp.com/tag/toolschat , http://commschat.com/ , and http://bhamterminal.com/mybirmingham/bhamchat/ .

2. Set the Schedule

Look through the Twitter Chat Schedule spreadsheet and plan the time of your chat to avoid clashing with related chats. Also try to find the best time to suit your target audience and their respective timezone. Don't plan a chat when people will be too busy to participate. Most chats seem to be around 1 hour in length.

3. Add To Twitter Chat Schedule

Add your chat to the Twitter chat schedule spreadsheet.

4. Choose a Topic Before Chatting

Check blogs and news for the latest hot topics surrounding your hashtag chat and tweet about those to kick off the session. For #AllStartups I look for the latest startup news through sites like @TechCrunch and tweet something about them to break the ice and get the ball rolling.

5. Ask Who Is In The Chat

Unfortunately, Twitter's hashtag architecture means that you can't see who is "present" in the chat - be it as a contributor or as an observer (they piece together hashtags using search queries). You can only see who tweets to the chat, and that's why you should always encourage observers to tweet at least once to acknowledge that they are present in the chat. Or you could use http://Nurph.com and get presence for free.

6. Publish Transcripts

Hashtag chats are meant to cultivate interesting conversations and community engagement - and what's the point in having an interesting conversation if you can't share it at a later date or refer back it and learn from it? Here's a blog post http://www.hacktext.com/2011/02/how-to-archive-your-twitter-chats-with-what-the-hashtag-645/ about how you can use WhatTheHashtag to archives your conversation. On the other-hand, you could chat via @Nurph in the first place and get conversation transcripts for free without any work whatsoever, and with in built keyword search and easy to share conversation URLs.

7. Get a Blog

Set up a blog using Posterous, WordPress, or Tumblr to write longer form updates and announcements about your hashtag chats. @Commschat have done a great job with this.

8. Follow Community Members

Find people interested in your industry/community/topic and contact them about participating in your chat. You can start by asking other people on Twitter, searching for keywords using Twitter search, or simply holding a chat, seeing who turns up, and taking it from there.

9. Encourage @replies To Avoid Infuriating Followers

Hashtag participations can get annoying for the Followers of the chat participants if they are inundated with tweets that don't interest them. However, you can significantly reduce this problem by asking all tweets to the hashtag to be @replied to the Twitter account that runs the chat. You did get the Twitter account to match your hashtag, didn't you?

10. Use BufferApp To Schedule Tweets

People need reminding about events (out of sight, out of mind) so use @BufferApp to schedule tweets about your event throughout the time between the chats, and keep people excited and more likely to discuss the chat through search results.

11. Contact Influencers

Find the movers and shakers in your industry/community/topic and contact them about participating in your chat. Once you've got an expert onboard your community contributions will increase significantly. You can find them by asking other people on Twitter, searching for keywords using Twitter search, or simply holding a chat, seeing who turns up, and following the connections once you've met the right people.

12. Use Nurph

Yes, this is shameless self promotion - but Nurph makes it easy to chat in to a hashtag via the chat room ettiquette we all know, to avoid spamming your followers when you're chatting thanks to auto @replies, it tells you who is in the chat using presence, it gives you automatic conversation transcripts, you can share transcripts instantly - and we have tons more features in the works that will answer all the other problems that currently get in the way of using Twitter hastags. What are you waiting for? Get in the Nurph!