Twitter chatsIt’s easy to mentally devalue things that are free or inexpensive, even in the age of Chris Anderson’s “radical price” meme. Truisms like “you get what you pay for” are largely accurate, but there are more and more exceptions every day, and the social media marketing space abounds with them. Case in point: weekly Twitter chats. Smart companies are joining these online conversations to learn, network, promote and stay on top of trends and competitors.  Here’s what they’re getting out of it.

Accessing experts & industry leaders

Many of the people you’ll encounter leading and joining these weekly chats have hourly rates that would make lawyers blush. When you meet them in a Twitter chat, you’re doing so as an industry peer in a forum that’s free by design. Aside from proprietary and confidential information, participants are eager to share what they’ve learned, help others tackle problems, and collectively strategize. Facilitators and guest hosts, regardless of pay grade, expect those involved to ask questions and share insights. As long as they are relevant to the weekly topic or current question in play, quality questions will get quality answers. Granted, they’ll be of the 140-character variety, but chats are a more conversational side of Twitter; ideas have room to develop.

Take advantage of the elevated conversations and don’t be shy. Even if you hang back and listen, there is tremendous value in seeing what these influencers have to say and how they approach problems—the kinds of insights that usually command speaker fees.

Building brand & establishing expertise

Twitter chats are merit-based based discussions. Ideas shared and questions asked count far more than job title or market share. Broadcast-style promotion won’t work here, where discourse is king. The smallest brand, if adding value, will win more eyeballs than the largest brand stuck on autopilot. Even vendors are welcome in Twitter chats filled with target prospects, as long as that vendor is contributing in some form or fashion.

To watch this phenomenon in action, just watch the chat’s stream (follow its hashtag in your Twitter client of choice) and see who and what gets retweeted. This is a great way to get cross-network exposure, because every time someone retweets your content or addresses a tweet to you, their entire network can see it, transcending the more focused format of the chat.

Rapidly networking

Twitter chats are excellent mixers. I’ve met many of my best professional contacts (and some good friends) by participating actively and frequently in these forums. The chat can break the ice and open up the possibility of a more substantive conversation between two or more people that might be considered “mismatched” outside of social media. Once you’ve started that conversation on Twitter, taking it to the next level is easier and more likely. If you don’t make your presence felt in the sessions, however, you can’t exactly use “we met in that Twitter chat” as your “in”.

Making brands indispensable

Be one of the biggest sources of value for the chat. Use your network to bring in guests and promote the sessions. Use your research skills to answer lingering questions, or backup a fellow chatter’s assertion with data you find online. Better yet, start your own! If you think there’s a space to fill by hosting a new chat, be the one to fill it. Should it become popular, your brand will be continuously associated with its usefulness.

One of the “usuals” in a weekly chat I was involved with made herself – and by extension, her company – indispensable by using her access to databases to answer the questions other participants asked during the chat. Doing this also served to bolster her image as an industry expert, and led ultimately to new customers.

Finding Twitter chats:

There isn’t one, authoritative resource for discovering the hundreds of chats out there (entrepreneurs, take note). For now, we have the following:

Tools:

  • Tweetchat: No download necessary, automatically appends the chat’s hashtag to your tweets, follows only those in the chat. This is my personal favorite.
  • TweetGrid: A handy search client that reduces clutter and updates chats in real-time.
  • Tweetdeck: You can track chats by adding a column that looks for your chat’s hashtag.

How does your company use Twitter chats? What have you gotten out of it?

TwitterGive your business a face on Twitter.

So your company is engaging on Twitter. Showcase the collective voice of your employees – and what others are saying about you – with Twittervoice.

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