If you're looking for a great way to promote your brand online while simultaneously engaging with people in your target market and building your network, consider hosting a Twitter chat.

What is a Twitter chat? It's really just a Twitter conversation around a hashtag at a scheduled time. It's no more complicated than that.

Here's how it works: you, as the brand leader, pick the hashtag and the time for the chat. Then, you moderate it on a regular (typically weekly) basis. People who want to participate in the Twitter chat just tweet with the hashtag that you've selected during the time that you've established. All participants follow the chat via the hashtag.

As with everything else related to digital marketing, though, hosting a Twitter chat is a learned skill. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your first chat session.

1. Be A Follower First

Before you host your own Twitter chat, it's a good idea to participate in a few chat sessions where you're just a participant.

Of course, you'll have to locate a Twitter chat before you can do that. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources where you can find them. You should be able to find a few chats that are at least moderately related to your niche. Check out ChatSalad, Tweet Reports Twitter chat schedule or TWUBS Twitter chat schedule to get a list of chats.

Join some of those chats as a guest. Watch how the moderators act. Take notes about what's working and what's not working in each of the sessions. Use a tool like tchat.io, TweetChat, Twitterfall or one of the other top tools. 

2. Pick A Hashtag

Think of the hashtag you'll use as a domain name. You can't have one that somebody else is already using.

A good idea is to pick a hashtag that reinforces your brand. That way, people who participate in your chat will be tweeting your brand every time they provide input.

For example, if your brand name is XYZ, you can use the #xyzchat hashtag for your Twitter chat. Your brand name is embedded in the hashtag itself and that gives your brand greater exposure.

I recently participated in a Twitter chat with SEM Rush. Their hashtag was #semrushchat. As you can see, the brand name is in there and it is to the point.

2. Either Do A One Time Thing Or Establish A Schedule

If you want your Twitter chat series to grow in popularity overtime, you need to determine a schedule and stick to it.

Whether that is one a week or once a month, it doesn't matter. Just as long as you make it clear.

Also, in some cases companies prefer to do one-off Twitter chats. That is OK, as long as the community understands that. Furthermore, it is important that you know that consistency is very important to creating an active community. So a series of Twitter chats will result in more interaction and followers.

3. Make Sure To Set Up A Page On Your Website 

Yes, you need a website for your Twitter chat. It should describe your chat and link people to the chat itself.

Also, you'll need to rank the site for your hashtag. If your hashtag is completely unique (it should be - see above), that shouldn't be any problem.

4. Promote Your Twitter Chat Like Crazy 

Besides setting up webpage, promote your Twitter chat on all of your social media channels (not just Twitter). Let people know when it will be happening and the hashtag that you'll be using.

Quick promotion list

It's a good idea to provide several updates on Twitter because not everybody who follows you will read all of your tweets. Consider promoting it once a day 10 days before the chat. Promote it 3 times a day 3 days leading up. On the day before, promote it 5 times and promote it hourly the day of. 

I recommend creating a customized image to use for promotion.

5. Moderate Your Twitter Chat

Your success at Twitter chat will depend a great deal on how well you moderate the session. That's why you should enter the chat fully prepared.

For starters, offer a welcome to everybody who's participating. It's always a good idea to begin with common courtesy.

Next, announce your chat topic. It's best to chat about only one subject per session. Otherwise, it becomes difficult to manage the chat.

While there are many ways to do Twitter chats, the format that I have seen which works the best is to prepare about 4 to 6 questions.

Next, make sure to have one main guest who you are asking these questions. Other people will respond, but the main guest is the draw. The guest will respond to your questions and interact with the other participants. 

Ask one question every 10 minutes. This gives the main guest and the audience plenty of time to respond and converse over the hashtag.

When asking the questions use Q1 for question 1 and Q2 for question 2, and so forth. Those who respond will respond with A1 for answer 1 and A2 for answer 2, and so forth.

Everyone must use the hashtag in their Tweets to participate and keep track of the conversation.

When you are done, make sure to provide a full recap complete with Twitter analytics data.

Get Started On Your Chat Now

If you're looking for a new way to build your brand online and you haven't yet tried a Twitter chat, begin the process of setting one up today. It's an excellent way to connect with like-minded people who will offer great ideas and contribute to your marketing efforts.

Published on: Jun 1, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.