There's more to these parties than snacks and drinks...
Twitter parties and Twitter chats are not the same thing, despite the names being used interchangeably. Twitter chats are fun, informal opportunities for building social media relationships and small businesses absolutely should participate. These regularly occurring, mostly non-commercial conversations bring together participants from all backgrounds and embrace variations of a reoccurring theme each week.
Twitter parties are one time or periodic events that are almost always sponsored by a brand, business, or organization. Hosts are hired, prizes are offered, and, while the tone can range from casual and fun to serious and educational, there is almost always an element of self-promotion for the sponsor.
I think Twitter parties can be an excellent part of a social media strategy - if done right. Sadly, most parties rarely offer the desired ROI or results. If you're thinking about hosting a Twitter party, here's how to reap your desired rewards and have a great time as well!
Before you begin, remember some social media basics.
A hard goal refers to a measurable objective that is directly related to your bottom line. Examples include gaining 100 newsletter subscribers or having 50 people claim coupon offers. A soft goal focuses on your image and reputation and creates the positive impressions that help realize your hard goals. Examples include enhancing your reputation as a creative, cutting edge firm or rehabilitating your image after some bad press.
There's no right or wrong target audience, hard goal, or soft goal. The important thing is that you know your social media objectives and keep these targets and goals at the forefront of your party planning. Twitter parties are a significant investment of time, energy, and resources. You want them to pay off.
Find the right participants.
There's nothing wrong with their motivations but neither group is representative of your target audience and thus will play little to no role in the realization of your hard and soft goals. These tweeters are going through the motions of participation to qualify for the prize draw or providing overly positive, fawning responses to your party questions. Neither group is offering honest feedback or having a sincere conversation with you, the sponsor.
You want to attract average Joes and Janes within your target audience demographic, people who are genuinely interested in your brand and have something to say about it. Finding Joe and Jane doesn't happen overnight. It's the result of building long term relationships with Twitter users over time. It's about offering them a value beyond your prize packs, a value that lies in providing information, entertainment, or education. It's about being social and being a source of media.
These value based relationships ensure you get to know your followers and you can feel confident when you issue your invitation to participate in a Twitter party, it will be well received.
... And the right hosts!
Your ideal host is someone who has established trust and a dialogue with your target audience. Identifying these qualities and attributes is easier than you may think. Do they share plenty of personal, non-sponsored material on Twitter and their blog? Do the majority of their blog comments or Twitter exchanges come from other bloggers or a smattering from all demographics? Can they share unfavorable opinions in a fair, balanced, and good humored way? Hosts should be sincere, personable, and engaging - qualities that attract and retain your target audience.
There are many well known bloggers - including those with the large numbers we talked about! - who embody everything you're looking for. But there's also a lot of new bloggers who you should take a chance on. The blogging community is filled with tremendous raw talent and embracing an up-and-coming writer or social media influencer is a great way to make your business stand out.
Welcome all points of view - and reap the rewards.
Generating those honest answers depends in part on attracting the right participants, as described in the section above. You want to interact with people who won't hold back when it comes to telling the truth, no matter what. You don't need a group of bloggers serving flattery on a silver platter. You want people to tell you what they love and hate about a particular service, product, or event. You want to seek out stories about how your brand or business solved a problem (or didn't!) Don't ignore unfavorable answers or comments that might go a bit off script. Embrace them!
I once helped host a Twitter party on behalf of an organization that sold insurance for travelers. One of our questions was about daring travel activities. I don't think any of us were anticipating the variety of responses! Let's just say that there's a lot of people doing very un-insurable things out there! But the truthful answers generated a lot of fun conversations, the sponsor gained some valuable information about the activities of adventure travelers, and participants really warmed to the sponsors' non-judgmental, good humored attitude.
You also want to reach out and welcome new participants. Some less experienced tweeters may find that their voices are drowned out by the presence of more vocal participants. Why not assign a member of your team the responsibility of reaching out to new participants - and while doing so, they can generate a list to send thank you tweets on #FollowFriday.
Keep the prizes sweet, small, and simple.
Lucrative prizes come at their own price, that of making participants jump through hoops. You have to RSVP, you have to follow multiple Twitter accounts, you have to share a photo, you have to sign paperwork, you have to be of a certain age, you have to live in a certain area. I've seen participation terms as long as two pages! This kind of bureaucracy doesn't exactly encourage new participants to give you an hour of their precious free time.
I'm in favor of having multiple, more modest prizes that still generate buzz about your event and make more people happy. And savvy brands can make those prize do double duty. Send a hand written note (and maybe some chocolate!) along with the gift, encouraging the winner to share their pics as they use and experience the prize. You'll get amazing social media traction as a result, ensuring your investment in a Twitter party continues to pay dividends long after the fact.