The Social Media Tool You May Be OverlookingRemember the days when you had to spend hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars registering for a conference and booking airfare in order to learn about the latest trends in your industry and network with like-minded professionals? Thankfully … "/>

The Social Media Tool You Might Be Overlooking – And How It Can Change Careers

The Social Media Tool You May Be OverlookingRemember the days when you had to spend hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars registering for a conference and booking airfare in order to learn about the latest trends in your industry and network with like-minded professionals?

Thankfully there’s a better way to stay on top of your game, both educationally and socially. These days you can accomplish the same goals just as effectively on Twitter – for free. It’s time to embrace the Twitter chat.

What is a Twitter chat?

It’s not just randomly tweeting at a stranger and ending up in a conversation. A Twitter chat is a planned event with a set day and time and identified by a specific hashtag (such as #AIAchat for the American Institute of Architects monthly chat). Remember when AOL chat rooms were all the rage? This is similar, except you follow the hashtag instead of entering a separate room.

Many chats are recurring weekly or monthly events. Others might be one-time chats associated with a particular event. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of Twitter chats here.

Generally speaking, there’s a moderator who leads the chat. Most commonly, the moderator throws out questions at regular intervals to facilitate discussion.

What does a Twitter chat look like?

The Editorial Freelancers Association has a chat the last Friday of every month at 3 p.m. EDT. Each month, the EFA chooses a specific topic for its chat, and a moderator directs the Twitter chat by offering up questions to stimulate discussion on the topic.

For example, the September EFA chat focused on negotiating freelance rates. Here’s the first question from the moderator:

And here’s an example of someone who engaged in the chat:

Who can participate?

Generally speaking, Twitter chats are open to the public.

Who participates?

It varies depending on the particular chat, but there can be a wide range of participants from students interested in the subject all the way up to C-suite executives. These chats are usually very welcoming to newcomers.

How do you join a Twitter chat?

The key to a Twitter chat is using the hashtag. Instead of entering a dedicated chat room, you follow the hashtag at the designated date/time, and by using the hashtag in your own tweets you become part of the conversation. Some Twitter programs – such as TweetDeck and HootSuite – will allow you to start a new column with the hashtag to isolate it. TweetChat.com is a great tool as well, because it focuses solely on the hashtag for the chat and even automatically adds it to your tweets so you don’t forget.

What do you do once you’re “in” a Twitter chat?

Most chats have a dedicated Twitter account or a designated moderator who tweets out the questions for the chat. Questions are generally labeled Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. as you saw above in the #efachat example. When you answer a question, it is common practice to label your answer A1, A2, A3, etc. You do not have to respond to the moderator and use their username in your answer, but you do need to include the hashtag in order to participate and be included in the stream.

You may find you want to respond to someone else’s answer or ask them a follow-up question. Feel free to send a tweet directly to them. This is a great way to build relationships with others in the chat.

What’s the value of participating in a Twitter chat?

There are many great stories about people who got new jobs or new clients through Twitter, and quite a few of those started with connections made in Twitter chats.

It can lead to job opportunities

Heather Collart, now the Senior Director, Community Investment for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, credits #sbchat (a sports business chat) for giving her a connection she would later leverage when she applied for a job with the Pistons. Collart was working in athletics at Pepperdine University when she noticed Peter Stringer, the Senior Director of Digital Media for the Boston Celtics, in #sbchat one week. Knowing the NBA was an ideal career destination for her, she turned their interaction in the chat into a phone call. From there, a professional relationship developed.

Collart would lean on that relationship after applying to the Pistons, an organization where she had no professional contacts. Based on her interactions with Stringer via social media, phone and email, he felt comfortable sending Collart’s resume to someone he knew at the Pistons.

After Collart was offered the position, she learned from her boss that she likely wouldn’t have been interviewed if it hadn’t been for her connection with Stringer. She was applying from out of state which raised concerns that she might be unwilling to relocate. However, Stringer’s assistance got her resume pulled from the pile and landed her a phone interview. She’s been with the Pistons for three years now in increasingly important roles.

It can lead to new business

Ross Barber credits music industry Twitter chat #ggchat with generating new business for his web design company, Electric Kiwi. He’s already completed a project with Solveig & Stevie, who he connected with during the chat, and is working on new websites for The Dutch Guy On Air, The Baseline Group, and the host of the chat, Go Girls Music.

Barber says it only took him a few chats to make connections that led to new business. Not only does the #ggchat encourage participants to share what they do within the music industry, giving him ample opportunity to promote his business, he was also asked to be a guest speaker of sorts one week and chat more specifically about his work.

Many of active Twitter chats, especially those hosted by professional organizations, rotate the moderator role and open it up to members and others in the industry to lead a chat. Barber had such an opportunity and was able to highlight a blog series he had written. It wasn’t long before he was getting questions about his process and pricing.

The opportunities are out there if you look around your industry. Can’t find a Twitter chat for your industry or expertise? Start one! It’s as simple as picking a hashtag, date/time and promoting it through social media and professional organizations and affiliations.

If you’d like to see an entire chat, #efachat archives all of their chats here.

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