You may have seen a tweet go by on Twitter similar to the one above that contained a hashtag (#) and a description that ended in chat (example: #HikerChat) and wondered what it was all about.
It’s a Twitter chat going on – one the fastest areas of growth on Twitter.
What is a Twitter chat?
Let’s pretend you are walking through a hotel lobby and see a sign outside a meeting room that says, “Come on in. We are all here to talk about hiking for an hour. Everyone is welcome!”
So, you go in and a leader asks some questions over the next hour themed around a specific area of hiking.
For some of the attendees, this is their first time attending. Others have been coming for years.
People answer the questions and comment on each other’s answers. No one tries to sell you anything – everyone just enjoys an hour of talking about a topic they love.
Now, make that a virtual experience on Twitter and you have a Twitter chat.
What makes a great Twitter chat?
Having attended a multitude of Twitter chats, the best ones have similarities.
So, what makes a great Twitter chat?
Organization: Whether the chat is large or small, a good Twitter chat has a moderator/leader (or leaders), a theme for the day, and coordinated questions.
The moderator will send a reminder tweet the day of the chat to round up attendees for the chat.
The moderator asks numbered questions throughout the chat in tweets (Q1, Q2, Q3, etc.).
People answer back by beginning their tweet with A1, A2, and so on and so forth.
Everyone follows the questions and the answers by searching for the hashtag.
Can a chat occur without the Q&A format? I’ve attended some chats that were an hour of rambling with no format – they don’t work.
The chat invariably is reduced to a few people tweeting back and forth and that’s not a chat, that’s Twitter.
Consistency: With the exception of an occasional week off for holidays, the chat needs to occur each week at the designated time. Attendees plan on that time and their schedules should be respected.
If the leader has a conflict, finding a guest moderator ensures the chat continues on.
Broad, on-topic theme: Themes are great and needed, but if the topic gets too specific, attendees may have no experience or interest and they’ll not feel included and simply fade away.
Minimized marketing: Some chats are sponsored each week by a different vendor, which is understandable if the chat is run as a business.
Chat attendees understand the occasional plug, but it can’t overtake the group with marketing messages.
Friendly attendees: Since attendees are there to discuss their favorite topic, most Twitter chat participants are friendly and happily welcome new members.
There are, of course, exceptions. A very large travel chat comes to mind whose leaders and top attendees appear to be in attendance more to get their name out than to actually share and interact.
Fortunately, this is the exception and not the rule. If you try a chat and it just isn’t working out for you – there’s probably another chat occurring in 60 minutes – so keep searching until you find a great group.
What are some of the best Twitter chats?
Here are some of the chats I attend on a regular basis.
These chats are well-organized and well-attended by friendly people who always welcome newcomers.
Time: Fridays at 9:00 am PST / Noon EST
Topics: #hiking, #camping, #exploring
One of my favorite chats, #hikerchat, is a chat with a group of super nice people who get together every Friday morning to talk hiking and backpacking.
Teton Sports and American Backcountry pitch the questions to the group and the hour always flies by too fast.
Fortunately, the group continues to share and converse throughout the week, hashtagging their tweets #hikerchat as they do.
I recently had a chance to ask Shawn from Teton Sports a few questions about their experience hosting #hikerchat:
1. How did you come about starting #hikerchat and how long have you been hosting it?
American Backcountry Tees had a previous social media manager (Eva) who actually started the chat and at that same time TETON Sports was going to start a chat, I saw the hikerchat tag and reached out and from there we’ve formulated a working bond on growing the community.
We have lots of give and take, what I mean by that is Eva started the hashtag, but together we built it and TETON designed the logo and helped to bring an awareness.
From there AB and TS kept the #hikerchat tag as an open community instead of an advertiser platform. It started about 2 years ago in December and has been going strong since then. It’s the longest running and largest outdoor chat on twitter.
2. What do you like best about #hikerchat?
I love getting to know other adventurers, we don’t push any type of ads on #hikerchat because we want it to be an open community where people go to learn more about the outdoors and to get excited about the outdoors.
We’ve created a fun little side project we call #YourLead where we go on a road trip and meet up with awesome friends we’ve created via #hikerchat. We can almost literally go anywhere in the world and have people to hike with. It’s fantastic!
3. As a host of one of the most successful chats on twitter, what advice would you give others about hosting chats?
Keep it legit and fun, second to that DO NOT PUSH ADS! Make the chat a fun and comfortable place for people to join. We’re also doing the same thing with #campchat, it’s growing quick and is already ahead of other prominent twitter chats out there.
Also innovate! We have a lot of fun things happening in a few months the will clearly define #hikerchat and #campchat as the leaders in outdoor digital chats. Notice I didn’t say Twitter 😉
Teton Sports also hosts a related chat, #CampChat, on Tuesday evenings at 6:00pm PST / 9:00pm EST with a great group of outdoors enthusiasts talking camping, hiking and sharing their love of the outdoors, so be sure to check it out as well.
Time: Wednesdays at 6:00 pm PST / 9:00 pm EST
Topics: #skiing, #snowboarding, and all things snow
#SnowChat is the chat I’ve attended the longest – at this point I can’t remember when Wednesday evenings didn’t mean it was #SnowChat time.
#SnowChat brings together an outgoing group of people across North America that share a love of skiing and the mountains.
I’ve met some great friends at #SnowChat. It is a very fun, approachable chat, so if you like talking snow things, definitely join on Wednesday evenings.
Time: Mondays at 5:00 pm PST / 8:00 pm EST
Topics: #food, #foodies
Foodies come out in full force on Monday nights for #foodiechats.
Founded by Steve Green, #foodiechats is a huge 90 minute chat that is sponsored by manufacturers and/or restaurants each week.
How big is #foodiechats? In 2014 #foodiechats saw over 300,000 tweets from more than 40,000 attendees.
#Foodiechats is a good example of a chat run as a business that balances sponsorship and chat topics.
The sponsor may send out a few questions, they have their plug and the theme is related, but the chat isn’t completely focused around the sponsor.
Question 2 is a good example. The question is about stir fry – a related but not directly sponsor-focused question.
#Foodiechats is also a very visual chat, so when you join, come on a full stomach or you’ll never make it through the entire 90 minutes without a run to the kitchen.
The #foodiechats foodies are a very passionate group and continue to share long after the chat has ended and throughout the week.
How do I find a Twitter chat?
Those are examples of three chats that won’t disappoint, but what if your topic of interest isn’t hiking, skiing or food?
Well, first off, we seriously need to talk.
Kidding aside, there’s probably a chat out there waiting for you – you just need to find it.
Like #travel? #ExpediaChat at 11am PST on Wednesday is great.
I also asked some #travel tweeters and their recommendations included:
How about #wine?
#WineChat is good (but it’s at the same time as #SnowChat), so you may want to try #SonomaChat right before #SnowChat.
One way to find a chat is to search by topic on Twitter and then scroll through tweets to see if you notice any chat hashtags.
Probably the easiest – find some prominent tweeters on a subject. They most likely attend chats in their area of expertise or interest, so you can always tweet them and ask.
Should I start a new Twitter chat?
- You have a topic that is not being covered well by an existing chat
- You understand the workings of Twitter chat
- You have a large enough following to build the chat following
- You can commit to the schedule
Brands that do it, and do it well like Teton Sports, gain favorable brand recognition and loyal followers.
For most people though, it may be best to find an existing chat and simply participate.
Have fun with it and chat with you on Twitter!