Participating in Twitter chats can grow your network of industry contacts and support your personal brand. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Walking across the street during rush hour traffic is something like trying to get a word in during a busy Twitter chat. With so many individual Twitter accounts responding to the same question, at the same time, it can seem difficult to enter the conversation and actually contribute in a meaningful way.
Fortunately, there are several ways to ease this process, all with the ultimate outcome of growing your network of industry contacts, sharing your expertise, supporting your personal brand and learning from fellow industry members.
Try out these tips during one of the monthly or weekly chats on Twitter that revolve around travel, such as #TWChats, the once-a-month chat hosted and organized by TravelAge West and Travel Weekly. Also, be sure to follow @TravelAgeWest, @TWTravelNews, @ChatsTW and the hashtag #TWChats on Twitter for more information on the time, date and theme for each #TWChats.
Don’t only rely on Twitter.com.
Though you can monitor a Twitter chat’s hashtag using Twitter.com’s search tool, it’s not very sophisticated. Instead, sign up for a social media management system, such as Hootsuite, in order to more effectively monitor a hashtag.
The few minutes it takes to get a free account on Hootsuite will do wonders for your experience on a Twitter chat. On Hootsuite, users are able to create separate streams on one page that monitor specific items, such as a home feed or a hashtag. My favorite streams monitor: all activity related to the #TWChats hashtag; all mentions of my Twitter handle; all retweets of my tweets; and a stream of what my favorite Twitter contacts are saying.
Schedule some tweets in advance.
Though scheduling also requires a service such as Hootsuite, it deserves its own attention. If you are taking on a bigger role for a Twitter chat, you might be given the questions ahead of time to program into Hootsuite.
Preprogramming the questions — and even some of the answers — is a huge advantage, one that frees you up to respond to real-time tweets. And even if you are not taking on a hosting role, in which you are privy to the questions in advance, there still might be certain things you would like to schedule in advance for the end of the chat, such as thank you messages to organizers and follow-up contact information.
Sure, you can attend a Twitter chat with nothing prepared, but the fast pace doesn’t allow for much time to search the Web and your photo folder for relevant URLs and photos. If you know the topic ahead of time, set up a Word or Notepad document that lists the URLS you might want to share. In addition, if you have some photos related to the chat, make sure they are clearly marked on your desktop or in a special folder intended for the chat.
Preparing your thoughts on the topic is also a good rule of thumb. Twitter chats don’t exactly allow for slow meditation — think through what could be your key contributions related to the topic and consider jotting them down somewhere that you can access during the chat.
Engage with others.
The rules of good Twitter chatting are similar to those of real-life social interaction. Just as you wouldn’t expect a good conversation to be one-sided, a great Twitter chat relies on thoughtful responses to other Twitter chatters. It is OK to not respond to every single question, if you notice that coming up with responses leaves you no time to think and engage with other people.
Add to the guest list.
Encourage your colleagues or friends to join, too. Since they recognize your Twitter handle, they are more likely to see and engage with your tweets. This increases your chances of the greater group seeing and engaging with your tweets.
If you’re sharing other people’s ideas, or paraphrasing what another participant has said, always cite your source. If you’re sharing an experience you’ve had with a travel brand or fellow traveler, go ahead and mention their Twitter handle. They’ll get a notification, and if they’re around during the chat, they might even reply.
Go with the flow.
Great Twitter chats are not a free-for-all. Like a party or conference, the best Twitter chats are scheduled far in advance and are organized to follow an agenda.
To maximize everyone’s time and keep everyone on the same topic, chats are organized by questions, with each question receiving an allotment of about five minutes (though this varies based on the number of questions). Don’t respond to question No. 4 when the chat has officially moved onto question No. 7. Stay on topic.
While it’s great to strengthen bonds with colleagues, a Twitter chat is a fabulous opportunity to meet new folks who share the same interest in the topic at hand. Don’t be shy: If someone says something you like, go ahead and retweet, mark it as a “favorite” or reply.