The Way We Work
February 6, 2012 by Amy Sept

You no longer wonder why people use Twitter — you are a convert. You use it to stay in touch with friends, family members and business contacts. You follow a few professional resources — like @oDesk — and you try to share interesting information on a regular basis.

You are even following a few potential clients to learn more about what they do and how you might be able to help.

With the basics mastered, you can get even more from this fast-paced network by jumping into Twitter chats.

What are Twitter chats?

As a regular Twitter user, you have likely noticed what are called hashtags — keywords or meaningful abbreviations preceded by a “#” that somewhat serve as Twitter’s filing system. These hashtags can also serve as a flag to bring together people who share a common interest, using Twitter chats.

To get a Twitter chat started, a small group of users chooses a date, time and specific hashtag; by tagging tweets with the relevant hashtag, this group can then discuss their topic in real time — and others who see the hashtag can join in.

Online discussions are not a new idea; Twitter is not the only way to connect in real time, and if you want to limit your conversation to a few specific people it is not even the best option. But there are a growing number of niche chats on Twitter, and if you are not yet following one, you are missing out on a potentially significant information and networking resource.

Why you should follow along

The power of Twitter chats is not in sorting out your plans for an upcoming camping trip; they are generally focused on a subject that can be discussed publicly and may be of interest to others. Here are three reasons why you should find one related to your professional interests.

1. Find new experts and thought leaders.

When you go to work-related events, you are likely introduced to new people — not just the people at the event, but others who come up in conversation. For example, you may listen to a great speaker, or learn about a new book or blog post that is generating a lot of conversation. You may get into a great discussion with a seasoned professional who has decades of experience to share.

The same can happen in Twitter chats — except you do not have to leave your desk. For example, if you are trying to start a blog, you may want to follow #blogchat (Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET). Not only is it frequented by successful bloggers who are happy to share their own experiences, but you may learn about other resources by following the conversation.

2. Learn from your peers.

One key benefit to networking (in person or online) is learning from people who are in the same industry as you. What issues or trends have they noticed? How do they handle certain situations?

Sometimes, the only people who can truly understand the highs and lows of your business are those who do the same thing. For example, a recent #PMchat for project managers (Fridays at 12 p.m. ET) discussed whether there is value in pursuing a PMP designation from the Project Management Institute — something only others in the industry can reasonably weigh in on.

3. Build your network and reputation.

Contributing your own opinions to a Twitter chat does more than help you connect with your peers: It is an opportunity to showcase your own knowledge of a particular topic. Over time, this can help you be seen as more than a participant — as someone who adds value to the conversation.

And therein lies part of the key value of Twitter chats — they are not just a great source of information, but also a relevant way to build your brand and professional network, helping you find both partnerships and referrals.

There is no definitive directory of Twitter chats, but this article from Social Media Today lists a number of popular chats and includes a link to a spreadsheet of known groups.

Have you ever participated in a Twitter chat? Do you know of any that may be helpful to share? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below!

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As Managing Editor of the oDesk blog, Amy Sept has more than a decade of communications experience and a passion for helping nonprofits and small businesses succeed. She is an experienced freelancer and the founder of Nimbyist Communications, a marketing and public relations business specializing in nonprofit promotions. She has previously studied both journalism and music, and before launching Nimbyist was manager of communications for… read more