One of the things that may have initially put off Canadian SMBs from using social media to connect with customers is the fear of having to constantly keep up with all those posts. Who has the time when you’re busy trying to sell, deal with customer service issues or develop your next great product or service? In that sense, Twitter chats are a great example of how to get a lot done on social media in less time.

If you haven’t participated in one before, Twitter chats are much like traditional, in-person events that a business might host for its customers prospects and partners. The difference is that it takes place entirely on the social media network, and is usually organized by having each post stamped with a hashtag.

Let’s dive into the rationale, the process and the strategy behind Twitter chats successful companies anywhere in Canada can use.

#WhyTwitterChats

See what we just did there? That phrase, #WhyTwitterChats, sums up a topic of conversation that you could have on social media. It’s a way of easily organizing everyone’s thoughts around a particular theme, which can be helpful if you’re trying pursue a specific marketing objective. Some companies host Twitter chats to learn more about their customers’ pain points, for example, while larger firms may use Twitter chats to answer frequently asked questions about their products, services and even their business direction.

There are other great reasons to host or participate in Twitter chats, of course. These include building your network of contacts, finding experts, keeping up with current trends, solving problems and maybe even receiving some affirmations about things you already think might be true. For marketers, it can be like a better version of a focus group because those taking part can be from everywhere. After all, focus groups may be used only in isolation, but a good Twitter chat can help you cultivate a community of engaged customers and prospects.

#TwitterChatSteps

Let’s take a fictitious example of a B2B company serving the commercial real estate sector. Imagine the company wants to drive more leads among prospects who own large office buildings. Those kinds of companies may struggle finding businesses who make great tenants. This is how a Twitter chat would work:

  1. Develop a theme that for a Twitter chat that might get to the heart of your customer’s problems -- or your customer’s customer. Think about a short phrase that would represent that theme in your Twitter chat. In this case, for example, it might be #Tenants2016. The shorter the hashtag the better, so participants have more room to write thoughtful posts. Use your company name only if it’s short or could be abbreviated.
  2. Determine a date and time for your Twitter chat. Half an hour can be long enough, at least for those participating, but some run an hour.
  3. Identify a moderator who will help moderate and run the Twitter chat. This can be someone internally, like the owner of an SMB, or it could be someone in charge of marketing, sales or even an outside expert who works closely with you as a partner. Ideally the host or moderator is already active on social media and has a relevant group of his or her own Twitter followers.
  4. Use any other social media channels, like a company blog, to explain why you’re hosting your Twitter chat, the details. Don’t forget to mention your host and the hashtag you’ll be using. If your company has an active Twitter account with a group of followers, you can also send direct messages (ie, messages only they will see) in Twitter to invite them personally.
  5. Consider reaching out to any longtime customers who are active on Twitter (such as those used in a case study or testimonial, for example) who would be willing to be participants in the chat. That way you’re sure to have at least the basis for a discussion with someone besides the host or moderator.
  6. When the chat begins, welcome everyone and explain what hashtag you’ll be using. Also introduce any special guests or experts you’ve lined up.
  7. Use a simple format like “Q1” to walk through a list of questions related to your theme ahead of time, like “What do today’s tenants want most?” Make sure you put a period before any replies beginning with an “@” symbol to make sure they can be seen by anyone following the Twitter chat.
  8. Spend a few minutes on each question -- unlike a live conversation, participants may need a few minutes to think through their responses and write them succinctly in less than 140 characters.
  9. Remember that this is really a marketing exercise, not a time for sales pitches. Look for new voices who join the fray and consider following their accounts as part of your next steps.
  10. As with any live event, there may be some surprises and questions that can’t be answered on Twitter. Explain how you can follow up after the chat ends.

#TwitterChatROI

The chat’s over. Now what? The worst thing companies can do is nothing. If you’ve managed to generate some conversation and insights from your target audience, you should already have put some thought around how that might be used. The following are just a few ideas:

  • Write a Twitter chat recap: Compile all (or even just a few) of the most valuable comments that came out of your chat. Post it on your blog if you have one, or print it out as a more dynamic piece of marketing collateral to use at a trade show or even in a client meetings.
  • Build your pipeline: If anyone on the Twitter chat suggested they were at a particular stage of the buying cycle, ensure you continue to follow them and coordinate with sales to determine if you have their contact information in your CRM, or even someone else who may be part of the same buying team.
  • Continue the conversation: If you struggle to keep your corporate Twitter account updated, focus on some of the accounts that participated in the Twitter chat by retweeting their insights, responding to their questions or linking to helpful articles that relate to their needs.

Twitter chats, like any kind of chat, may not last very long. The value they offer, however, can be used by smart SMBs well after they’ve wrapped up.

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