Twitter photo from ShutterstockTwitter chats are a great way to engage with your audience and customers and help you create brand awareness. Based on particular topics, Twitter chats enable you to reach a wider audience and discuss particular issues that are of relevance to the audience.

As a creator and moderator of a popular Twitter chat, I have gathered valuable experience in what works, the best resources and how to structure a chat that builds up a passionate community that is always ready and willing to engage in constructive discussions with you. And I want to share that knowledge with you in three simple tips.

Should you start your own Twitter Chat?

Twitter chats enable you to build valuable connections and engage with your brand audience. But before you seek out a chat platform and start chatting, is a Twitter chat really for you? Most importantly, why do you want to start a Twitter chat?

Not to discourage those that would like to establish their own chats, but running a Twitter chat successfully takes time, effort, and most of all, commitment. Are you ready to make that commitment?

If you are, you can take two avenues. One, you can create your own chat forum, or two, participate in an already-established chat. If you choose option one, the advantages are that you get to build from the ground up, and are exposed to the challenges of establishing a Twitter chat. You learn from these challenges and get better with time. You build the culture of the chat, and are considered the expert and founder of the chat. Participants will look to you for resources and answers to their concerns.

The downside to creating your own chat is that you are solely responsible for driving traffic to the chat. In a busy Twitterverse, this takes time and patience. The same patience startups are advised to have is the same required as you begin to engage followers through Twitter chats.

Option 2 is to…

Join an established Twitter chat

Have you ever attended a Twitter chat? What was your role? Did you occasionally comment and retweet, or did you immerse yourself and offer your own insights and thoughts?

If you haven’t attended a Twitter chat, I advise that you attend one for at least three months. Before I started #brandchat, I participated in another chat for almost a year. This period for me was the chance to cut my teeth and learn what it took to participate in a Twitter chat. If you can commit to participate consistently in a Twitter chat for three months, you just may have the commitment required to moderate your own chat.

Speaking of moderate, as you participate in other chats, get to know the chat creator and many of the stronger personalities there. Ask questions and be lively. If possible, request to moderate at least one chat. This opportunity to moderate will help you learn the responsibilities of moderating, working with different chat platforms, and dealing with the different personalities a successful chat forum is bound to have. You will get to see firsthand the challenges moderators go through on their end, and believe me; it will make you appreciate the task even more.

For those who have been with an established chat for a while, ask for moderation time. Trust me you will learn a lot.

Ready to start your own?

You have done all the research, answered the questions I posed in tip #1, and built up experience participating in other chats and even moderating. Are you ready to start your own?

There are a number of things you have to consider when starting your own Twitter chat:

What’s your topic? Every chat needs a topic to be discussed. For many people, topics revolve around their area of expertise. If you are an engineer, a sample chat topic could be, “The best engineering practices for 2014.” Take the time to research the relevant chat topics, and let them be ideas that shed light on the industry or business.

When will the chat start? Timing is key when it comes to Twitter chats. You have to choose a convenient time for yourself and the followers. Twitter statistics show that many people are active between the hours of 8 am to 6 pm (business hours). Thus, if you commit to having your chat at 9 am on Tuesdays, stick to that time and date. There is no room for trial and error here. Even when you don’t feel like getting out of bed to moderate, or have no one to fill your moderator shoes, you have to stick to the time. No excuses.

While it is important to have a main theme/topic to drive the chat, you will find that participants will always have side conversations. Encourage these to happen, as they are your avenue to get to know other people and make connections. As the moderator, you position yourself as a “connector” of people, and the more open you are to different people and ideas, the more participants will want to engage with you. It is the side conversations and making deeper connections that is the “secret sauce” to chat success.