How to host a Twitter Q&A session

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Earlier this month, a handful of people here in the UK — from Richard Branson to Foreign Secretary William Hague to Chloe Green from Made in Chelsea — held live Q&A sessions on Twitter. During that time, 124 questions were asked of six participants and hashtags related to these Q&As were mentioned more than 8,000 times. Just like an in-person press conference or a round table discussion, these conversations provide a way for other users to ask questions and hear responses directly from the host. But, it all takes place on Twitter. And anyone can do it.

While there are no hard and fast rules for hosting a Q&A session on Twitter, here are some best practices to help you get started:

Pick a hashtag
The first step is easy - use a specific hashtag in your tweets to set them apart from your day-to-day output and provide context for your followers. Try to pick something short that speaks to the topic you would like to address or consider simply using #Ask…. For example, we used: #AskRichard #AskTeamGB #AskChloe #AskBusiness #AskEnergy and #AskFS.

Pick a time
The Q&A session should take place at a specific time so you can encourage people to “tune in” and follow along. The duration is up to you, but we’ve found that anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes works best.

Tweet about it
Tweet about your Q&A session a few days beforehand. This way you can start collecting questions in advance. Make sure you tweet about the Q&A on the day it’s happening as well, to remind people when they should tune in. In your tweets, tell users what hashtag to use and guide them if there is a specific topic you’d like to focus on.

Get the word out
Email partners, employees, or influential friends to tell them about the Q&A session and encourage them to tweet about it (using the hashtag, of course). If you have a website or a blog, put the hashtag and a description of the session there too. The people visiting those sites are the ones who are likely most interested in asking questions and engaging.

Go time
As you sit down to begin answering questions, send a tweet so people know you’re getting started and if possible, add a picture.

You can follow the questions by doing a search for the hashtag you’ve chosen and by checking your mentions tab. You don’t have to answer every question. We suggest answering a dozen or so questions over the course of the session, depending on its length.

Once you’ve found a question you want to answer, retweet it. This way all of your followers will see it. Answer the question in a tweet. Instead of starting the tweet with an @reply, as those will only be seen by users who follow you and the user who the @reply is directed to, compose a new tweet and start it with a “.@name” or a word. Here are some examples:

When you’re all finished, tweet that the session is wrapped up.

Summarize the Q&A in a blog post
Once the Q&A session is over, consider drafting a blog post that shows the questions and answers. This way people who couldn’t participate on Twitter during the given time can still read through the content. Check out #AskRichard blog post as an example. You can also use Storify, which is a third party site that has a handy tool for embedding tweets.

No time like the present
The wonderful thing about hosting a Q&A session is that it’s so easy, you don’t need anything other than Twitter itself and a little bit of time. Go for it. And if you have any questions just ask us: #AskTwitterUK.