Twitter for Business
Maximizing Your Professional Network
by Susan Bearden
In my last column about using Twitter for business (SCB, Nov. 2011), I discussed the use of “hashtags,” which are words preceded by the pound sign (#) that are used to tag and filter tweets by topic. This month, we’ll talk about live Twitter chats and ways to make participation easier.
A Twitter chat is a gathering of people who have conversations on Twitter about a specific topic at an agreed upon time. All chat participants append the chat hashtag to their tweets so that anyone using a search filter can follow the conversation. Twitter chats are an excellent way for business professionals to connect with like-minded individuals and stay current on trends affecting their industry.
For a list of over 500 Twitter chats, their moderators and schedules, check out the public Google document at http://bit.ly/tEZbqB. You can also do a Google search using your industry name followed by the phrase “Twitter chats.” There are chats geared towards entrepreneurs, small business owners, general leadership (such as #leadershipchat or #smbiz) and other topics.
Getting the Twitter Edge
Trying to follow a Twitter chat using the Twitter web interface can be challenging, so chat participants generally use a Twitter client to follow a chat. Some Twitter clients are web-based and others have small software programs that can be installed on your computer or mobile device. Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, and Tweetgrid are a few examples. Many of these applications give you an option within the preferences menu to set the refresh rate for the client so you can control how fast the chat tweets are updated.
Tweetchat.com is another helpful tool for following Twitter chats. Tweetchat will filter the Twitter stream for your selected hashtag and automatically append that hashtag to your tweets. It’s easy to forget to append the hashtag, and if you don’t then other people following the chat will not see your tweets – an important consideration to keep in mind.
Developing a Twitter Strategy
Depending on the number of participants in a chat, the tweets may come in fast and furious. Twitter chats can have fewer than 10 participants or a few hundred. If you have never participated in a chat before, it’s always good to get a feel for the chat and the participants first. It is perfectly acceptable to “lurk” and just watch the conversation until you feel comfortable jumping in.
Most Twitter chats have their own formal or informal ground rules and culture and lurking is a good way to get a sense for this. Chats usually have a core of regular participants and many have a moderator overseeing the flow of the discussion. It’s important to remember that Twitter chats are not the place to spam followers with advertisements for your services. Focus on contributing to the conversation and engaging other participants. If someone shares an idea or resource that you find valuable, re-tweeting their tweet is a good way to build connections and goodwill.
Maximizing Your Twitter Experience
Twitter chats can be intimidating at first, especially if you are relatively new to Twitter and the chat has a lot of participants. Don’t be discouraged! Start by watching the conversation, and contribute as you feel more comfortable. Even if you don’t participate much at first, check out the bios of active participants and you will find good people to follow. Regular Twitter chat participants are usually well-connected and social media-savvy, and can be great additions to your professional network.
Many Twitter chats are archived after the chat has ended. However, you can easily archive a Twitter chat yourself. The Archivist Desktop application for Windows allows you to archive Twitter chats for later analysis. Given that some chats proceed at a very fast clip, it is a good way to ensure you don’t miss valuable content or good people to follow and connect with on Twitter. Mac or mobile device users can utilize the web-based version of the Archivist, available at http://archivist.visitmix.com/.
Twitter chats can be a terrific tool to connect with other business professionals and build your online reputation. Find a chat of interest to you and start building relationships!
Susan M. Bearden is the Director of Information Technology for Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne. She tweets about technology, education, and leadership as @s_bearden.