Twitter chats – sometimes spontaneous, sometimes staged – are a growing trend in social media communications.

By using a designated hashtag, participants can bypass the traffic chaos of their Twitter feed and hone in on a single group discussion.

Examples of popular Twitter chats include #SmallBizChat (self explanatory) #blogchat (where experienced bloggers trade tips and showcase blogs) and closer to home, #SMEMau, a discussion on the role of social media in the management of Australian emergencies and disasters.

Another I really like is #AgChatOz, which was formed in 2010 and regularly reaches around 275,000 people per week, including Ministers, media, lobby groups, farmers and consumers.

A few weeks ago, the communications team at the Local Government Association of Queensland decided to dive into an idea we’d previously played around with – hosting a weekly Twitter chat on issues relevant to local government ourselves.

Our online community is in a constant state of growth, with Queensland councils, elected members, council officers and stakeholders continuing to solidify and build on their social media presence at a rapid rate. The time seemed right to elevate our engagement to the next level.

So, after some general googling (there’s a great ‘How-To’ blog on Mashable), reading and settling on a cool sounding hashtag – #councilbuzz – I decided to get the ball rolling.

Here’s what I learned along the way.

Don’t be a pusher

Nobody likes the loudest kid in the playground. Instead of bombarding your followers with tweets advertising the time and topic scheduled for discussion, enroll some fellow champions to your cause to help you spread the word.

It’s a really good idea to email a few of your most engaged Twitter followers and invite them personally to participate and promote the event. If you want to be really underhand about it, target followers with the biggest following or reach!*

*All’s fair in love and Twitter chats.

Plan for awkward silence

You know that moment when everybody around the dinner table simultaneously realises they have nothing to say to each other? Imagine this moment, magnified by the amount of Twitter followers you have (in our case, nearly two-and-a-half thousand). Cue virtual tumbleweed.

Once you’ve chosen your topic for the first discussion, write down a list of conversation starters, fast facts and links to relevant information and examples. I emailed these round to LGAQ staff on Twitter, so they could also jump in if there was any obvious lulls. Backup!

Be a good host

If you’re leading discussion from a central Twitter account, it’s worth trying to make sure that everyone who contributes a tweet during your first few discussions is acknowledged in some way – directly reply to, retweet or favourite their response.

If your discussion is an hour or two hours long, reinforce the topic and hashtag at the halfway mark. That way, any participants you pick up along the way will have a guide.

Share visuals

It’s a given on social media that if you accompany your updates with an image or visually striking graphic, you’ll attract more attention. Try sharing appropriate images to accompany your tweets in the lead-up to discussion. I used www.canva.com (my new obsession) to make this simple image promoting #councilbuzz. You definitely don’t need to be a designer to use this tool (just a bit of time up your sleeve to play around).

Be patient

Unless you’re blessed with a Klout score to rival Justin Bieber, don’t expect miracles the first half-a-dozen times around. It will take time to establish an audience and even longer to train people to remember to tune in each week at a given time.

The verdict

The first two Twitter chats hosted by @LGAQ have been quite successful. The first week, (despite convincing myself that nobody would tweet) we attracted 81 tweets using the #councilbuzz hashtag on the topic of councils and the rise of open data in a two hour window. We had 17 participants and an overall account reach of 17, 254.

This week, our discussion on climate change and the roles and responsibilities of local government drew around 50 tweets and 13 contributors.

Local government in Australia, and particularly in Queensland is teeming with rich subject matter to fuel our weekly #councilbuzz discussion. As a way for councils to connect with other councils, stakeholders and constituents, it is both simple and powerful.

#councilbuzz is hosted weekly by the LGAQ each Monday from 3-5pm AEST.

About the author: Samantha Dean

Samantha Dean
Samantha Dean

Samantha is a Communications Officer at Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) and is responsible for the Association’s social media platforms. Find LGAQ on TwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

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