What I Learned From My First Twitter Chat
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I’m sitting at my kitchen table in my tiny Upper East Side apartment, wolfing down leftovers in gym shorts and a sweaty T-shirt. It’s 7:30 p.m., which means it's only 30 minutes before my interview on Chelsea Krost’s famed Twitter chat, #MillennialTalk.
Twitter chats are events that enable Twitter users to meet (digitally, of course) at a predetermined time to discuss a particular topic. Chats use a designated hashtag for each tweet to keep the conversation somewhat coherent and separate from the rest of the Twitterverse.
Krost’s weekly chat, #MillennialTalk, is styled like an interview. She invites experts from different industries to bring career advice, financial tips and entrepreneurial guidance to her millennial audience. Krost asks questions, and the interviewee and audience answer. The whole shebang lasts about an hour.
Related: 10 Tips for Millennial Marketing
#MillennialTalk gets thousands of tweets each week -- competing with some of the biggest brand hashtags like #ShareACoke and #MyCalvins. It's even trended on Twitter’s homepage. I scheduled this interview months ahead of time with Krost’s team, whose members helped me determine the best questions and prepare my answers.
It almost didn't happen.
So here I am, sending out some last-minute emails, and my computer gives me a low-battery notification. I've been ignoring the warning for the past several minutes. I unzip my backpack and reach for my charger. My heart stops.
I left the damn thing at work.
Do I have time to grab it from the office? Definitely not. Do I really need my computer for a Twitter chat? Yes. (Crazy as it sounds, it’s almost impossible to engage in a Twitter chat like Krost’s on a smartphone. More on this later.)
Just then, my phone buzzes. I look down to see this:
I sprint into the bedroom, grab my fiancée’s old computer off the dresser and yank the fraying charger out of the bottom drawer. I plug it in the wall and repeatedly jab the power button.
Minutes later, multiple windows are open. On one side of my screen are my prepped answers; on the other, Twitter and TweetChat -- an application that makes popular chats a bit easier to follow. I’m in the #MillennialTalk “room." All tweets with that hashtag automatically will populate here, and every tweet automatically will add that hashtag to the end of the comment.
I try to make light of the situation. I test to make sure I understand how this application works:
Testing 1..2.. Is this thing on? #MillennialTalk— Ryan Erskine (@RyanErsk) March 8, 2017
I immediately get a half-dozen likes. Minutes later, Chelsea Krost welcomes me to the chat and greets all the people joining in the audience. Many of them are weekly regulars.
She tweets “LETS GET STARTED! #MillennialTalk.” The post immediately garners a dozen likes from her followers. And just like that, we're off to the races.
Here’s what I learned along the way.
It gets loud and messy.
An interview-style Twitter chat is absolutely nothing like a traditional interview. Krost asked the first question, but before I had time to retrieve one of my prepared answers, audience members started chiming in with their own thoughts.
A Twitter chat, especially a popular one like Krost’s, is like the online version of a networking event at a loud bar. There’s a roar of commotion, with people shouting over each other in an attempt to be heard. Side conversations spring up. You can’t get too deep into one conversation because you can’t hear that well and answers are flying by so quickly. Also, 140 characters.
In the end, I felt less like an interviewed guest than a co-host. Krost and I fell into a rhythm. She asked a question, I answered it, and then the two of us went our separate ways, engaging in side conversations with different people before occasionally crossing paths in our efforts to hit everyone.
There were well over 1,000 tweets in the hour-long chat. I kept checking the home page to see whether it was trending. It didn’t happen. I can only imagine how crazy it gets once a Twitter chat passes that threshold.
It goes by fast.
For an interview-style chat, it definitely pays to have answers ready to go. I was relieved and grateful that Krost’s team gave me questions ahead of time so I could prepare. With so many comments whizzing by, I barely had enough time to copy and paste my answers from a Word doc into the TweetChat bar, let alone engage with all the participants.
I became a multi-tasking maniac. I answered a question and immediately jumped to other answers. I liked, retweeted and responded one after the next after the next, rapid-fire. I felt like Neo in "The Matrix," warding off Agent Smith clones with acrobatic jumps and impossibly timed offensive strikes.
You've got to keep things snappy.
In terms of audience engagement, the sharpness of my answers and how I packaged a tweet was nearly as important as the answer itself.
Chelsea started the chat by asking, “Why should job seekers care about their online footprint?” This question is a lay-up for a personal-branding professional, but my first few answers went largely unnoticed.
A1 Companies are looking for more info online and are actually making hiring decisions based on that additional info. #MillennialTalk— Ryan Erskine (@RyanErsk) March 8, 2017
A minute later, I tried again:
And then in a different way:
A1 Wouldn’t you rather hire someone with an impressive digital presence over someone with no presence at all? #MillennialTalk— Ryan Erskine (@RyanErsk) March 8, 2017
And once more:
A1 These days, the most important thing you can do to prep for a job interview is clean up & improve your online presence. #MillennialTalk— Ryan Erskine (@RyanErsk) March 8, 2017
I found I could answer the same question time and again by taking slightly different angles and repackaging my thoughts. I know this sounds weird, but the answer I gave two minutes ago already was long gone -- both in the TweetChat room and in people’s minds.
By the end of the chat, I was enjoying the copywriting challenge of packaging my answers in new ways to get the greatest possible engagement.
It was worth it, right?
That’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? I earned hundreds of responses, likes, retweets and comments during that hour. My website traffic spiked 53 percent in March. It’s hard to say how much came from the chat, but a good portion of that growth did happen during that same week.
My Twitter follower count grew by a few dozen. Not a huge deal, but certainly a nice jump. Plus, it doesn't hurt that all those people are super interested in branding.
I can't tell you for sure how many of those people visited my blog, bought my book or checked out my company. But I can tell you that a few months later, I recognize some of the same people still engaging with my Twitter content week after week.
At the end of the day, it might have been more of a networking success than anything else. Can you directly measure the success of a happy hour you attend with coworkers and industry colleagues? Probably not, unless you manage to sign someone up for your business right then and there. But will you do it again next time? Yeah, you bet.