Using social media to distract me from an incurable addiction to chocolate
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Twitter chats are a great way to connect and engage with others, especially if you are new to Twitter and looking to build your network.

Even if you are one of the seasoned Twitterati, these chats offer tremendous opportunity to make new connections and sustain existing relationships (you never know who you might know in a Twitter chat!)Twitter-Chat

For those of you who don’t know what a Twitter chat is, it’s basically a virtual meetup held on Twitter centred on a common subject. You follow the conversation via the hashtag for the chat.

Some of my favourites are #socialchat (Mondays at 9 p.m. ET, #tweetdiner (Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET) and #PR20chat (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET). To be honest, I haven’t checked in to #PR20chat in a while but it’s not for lack of interest!

Pick a chat, any chat

There are tons more – these are the three that interest me the most. A really nice guy named Robert Swanwick created a Google doc that you can review to find a Twitter chat of interest – and to add your chat to should you decide to create one of your own.

You can use Twitter clients like TweetChat or TweetGrid to aggregate tweets related to the chat, which makes it easier to follow and respond to other participants. These clients also auto-tag your tweets with the right hashtag which is convenient since it ensures your tweet gets included in the chat stream without you having to remember to type it out.

Today I saw that Marissa Gagnier over at Thoughts of a Ninja already wrote a great post on Why you should attend a Twitter chat. Marissa also outlines her favourite chats (thanks Marissa, I’m going to check those out!) and some of the benefits brands can get from participating. Emphasis on the word participate:

I think there is a lot of potential here for brands to really connect with their customers. Not only will they gain followers on Twitter, but more importantly – you can have real, meaningful conversations with people around a common theme.

This is great advice for brands and a reminder that social media is about engagement, not broadcasting/selling how great your product/service is – at least not all the time.

Do it! Do it! Do it! (seriously, how can you resist the Do it! chant?)

So in kindred spirit to Marissa’s post, I offer five reasons you should participate in a Twitter chat of your choosing:

1. Networking
Twitter chats are a great way to find new people to follow on Twitter, especially since you have a shared interest in common! It also enables people to discover you – which can help you build a following.

And since it is the quality of your followers – not the quantity – that is important, Twitter chats helps you to connect with others in ways that are relevant and meaningful.

Relevance = the secret sauce of social media success!

secret-sauce

Also, be sure to follow up with participants after the chat to sustain the connection.

2. Learning & Sharing
Twitter chats enable you to debate, question and share ideas with others who are passionate about the same topic as you! So dive in and comment. A lot.

Don’t be shy. If you have a question or don’t understand – speak up! Chances are someone else in the chat wants the answer too.

p.s.: Often Twitter chats include a series of questions (Q1, Q2, Q3 etc.) that the host shares, along with the Twitter chat hashtag. You then respond with A1, A2, etc and the associated hashtag. Word of advice: when disagreeing with someone’s opinion in a Twitter chat, be polite or you’ll quickly find yourself ignored or blocked.

3. Build your personal brand
Twitter chats are a great way to demonstrate your expertise and build awareness. Reasons 1 and 2 are how you do it. Nuff said.

4. Gain story ideas
Twitter chats can be another source of inspiration for your next blog post, video, podcast, etc. Whether it’s varying points of view, a great quote or a new perspective on your subject of interest, Twitter chats can have you swimming in content generating heaven!

5. They’re fun!
It doesn’t matter if it’s online or face to face, when you get together with people who share the same interest as you, it’s fun! Twitter chats usually last 1 hour and you won’t believe how the time flies!

So there you have it. My five reasons you should join in on a Twitter chat. There is some Twitter chat etiquette that I should point you to. Nothing too dreary – just a few points to make the experience enjoyable for you and everyone else.

Now spill…what Twitter chats do you participate in? If you don’t currently participate in a Twitter chat…is your interest piqued? 

*#TwChat image via Robert Swanwick | Secret sauce image via Crowded Ocean