The ultimate guide to hosting a successful Twitter chat

The ultimate guide to hosting a successful Twitter chat

The Muck Rack Daily has been running a Twitter chat for journalists and media professionals for over a year, and it continues to grow and evolve with every passing week. After countless #MuckedUp chats on journalism and media, we’ve decided to bring you an ultimate guide to the skill itself: the Twitter chat.

Last week, Twitter announced their new custom timelines feature on TweetDeck, which is kind of exactly what it sounds like. Users will be able to hand pick different tweets to include in an embeddable timeline. That means, when there's a Twitter chat worth noting, this new feature could come in handy. To help perfect these conversations and the custom timelines that come from them, we wanted to throw out a few pointers. 

It all began in May 2012 when Elana Zak, previous Muck Rack Daily writer and current social media producer at the WSJ, wrote a blog post on what journalists think about bad PR pitches. The question sparked a lot of Twitter conversation, and tons of journalists shared their annoyances with low quality pitches. Then, for the first ever #MuckedUp chat, we discussed how journalists want to be pitched on social media. Back then, we said:

"It is our hope that #muckedup will evolve into a chat that bridges the gap between journalists and PR folks. We always want the conversation to be productive, honest and at times, even edgy."

Eventually, the #MuckedUp following on Twitter grew and grew, with a variety of major journalists and influential PR pros tuning in every Tuesday night. Now with Adam Popescu as host, the chats give people a weekly platform for discussing journalism. On some occasions we even host #MuckedUp in real life at bars and newsrooms. Over the 18 months the chat has been running, we’ve accumulated more than 25,000 tweets and used Topsy to break these statistics down, state by state.

But obviously, we're not the only ones out there doing Twitter chats. Other awesome ones on journalism and PR include the #wjchat, #APStyleChat, and and #journchat (by Sarah Evans). So, what does it take to host a chat that grabs the nature and volume of attention you want? 

1. Have a conversational, wide-ranging theme: #MuckedUp is connected to Muck Rack’s overall premise to discuss practices among journalists and PR pros. This gives us a lot of options for choosing weekly topics. We’ve hosted chats on anything ranging from social curation and news to journalists learning how to code. Adam, our current host and writer at Mashable and LAWeekly, wrote in an email: "Following the news and trends and really being entrenched in the media is the only way to keep it going, relevant and captivating. You can't fake it."

2. Get a consistent, short, catchy hashtag: #longhashtagsdontworkforchats. Obviously, since tweets are limited to bite-sized 140 characters, choosing a succinct hashtag that people remember will not only help with branding, but with character counts during the chat.

3. “The questions aren't hard, creating provocative topics is the challenge”: This wonderful advice comes Adam. He had some wise words about the most difficult part of being a chat host:

“The biggest challenge is being the ringleader of a circus. Not only do you have to live tweet, field questions as they happen and juggle multiple comment threads at once (whew), but you also have to be the grand curator, not let emotion get in the way, and keep a degree of distance, almost the way a teacher does with their pupils.”

4.  Engage: Why are people on Twitter in the first place? For conversation and engagement. During the chat be sure to reply, retweet, and favorite some of the highlights of the conversation. It's important to find a good balance for not over-re-tweeting or under-re-tweeting. It's also good to add a human element by tweeting from your personal account during the chat as well. See an example of how Adam does this during #MuckedUp:

That does it for this edition of #MuckedUp. Thank you all so much for weighing in and killing it tonight. You really did this chat justice.

— Adam Popescu (@adampopescu) November 13, 2013

5. Keep the audience informed: Don't leave your followers in the dark about your chat. Tweet out the topic and time a few days before hand. It's helpful to tweet a few times leading up to the chat as well so people can be prepared. Don't forget to promote on other social sites as well. You may even want to host a Google+ Hangout to switch it up.

6. Have fun with it: Of course, there will be serious topics that come up, but it's important to keep it lighthearted. Adam noted that the audience let's you know how they feel about a topic: "People let you know online when you've done a good job - and when you've failed miserably."

(Be sure to stay up to date on the current #MuckedUp topics here)

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