It’s no longer a secret that Twitter chats can be a great tool in one’s marketing strategy. Essentially, a Twitter chat is an online networking event that you can participate in from the comfort of your own home (and PJs). True, you are missing out on the free champagne and petits fours but you will also be spared from the pointless chit chat and superfluous formalities. Twitter chats attack the topic head on and tweets are to the point. After all, when you only have 140 characters to spend, “How are you?” is pretty wasteful.

Twitter users convene around a certain topic and select hashtag for an hour or so. The hosts or moderators guide the conversation by throwing in questions (using Q1, Q2…) and users tackle them (using A1, A2…), interacting not only with the hosts and moderators but among themselves, usually by tagging specific users in their answers.

Now, I am an advocate for participating in Twitter chats prior to creating and hosting one. And there are 5 reasons for that:

1. You get to know your community and audience

Joining a chat that already exists and has a loyal community not only allows you to capitalize on those eager users – and save you the trouble of finding them yourself – it also allows you to get to know the community intimately. And this is crucial.

You want and need to understand their values, their concerns, their desires, what animates them, what they find problematic and what solutions they would like to see. This applies to a wide range of categories of users and whatever community you are trying to serve. You need to know what they are talking about.

2. Find new followers and follow new people

Twitter chats resemble classrooms and, even though users are all 18+, the dynamic is not far from 6th grade: there are the ones that sit in the back and rarely raise their hands and there are the loud ones that will quickly interject any chance they get. The latter are the ones you’ll want to get in touch with.

Twitter chats allow you to find the people that are driving the conversation, the ones that are taking the lead and answering audience questions–the ones that are building trust. Furthermore, the more you’ll actively engage them (i.e. respond, reply, favor, & retweet), the more people will follow you. Win-win situation!

3. Make your voice heard in your community

Being an active member of a chat is a great way to gain credibility among fellow users. Because topics are specific and participants are experts – or at least, very interested in the matter – showing that you know what you are talking about will boost your popularity among target groups.

By engaging carefully and respectfully (i.e. reply to the questions with a well thought-out answer, address all questions you were tagged in, and retweet pertinent answers), you will be able to send your message across effectively. However, one needs to remain cautious: Twitter chats are not the avenue for blatant self-promotion – remember, they are networking events, not a marketplace. The goal is first of all to form relationships and gain legitimacy among the community you are trying to serve.

4. Get to know influencers

Similar to point 2, you will find THE people to follow thanks to Twitter chats. And these people have a name: influencers. I am an avid fan of influencer marketing because I strongly believe in the power of individual relationships and connections to move brands forward. Being on the friendly side of the right people will take you a long way.

You should start by following the hosts and moderators of the chats. Understand who they are and where their expertise comes from. See how they interact with their audience and the solutions they are trying to provide.

Engaging via Twitter chats with influencers is a great start but you should quickly carry on the process outside the chat. Follow them and start tweeting to them and retweeting and favoriting their tweets. Hopefully that will do more than catch their attention – they will follow back and it will be the beginning of a mutually-beneficialrelationship relationship.

5. Become an influencer

Eventually, if all goes well, you will want to venture into chat hosting. If you are using Twitter as a part of your marketing strategy–and you must be if you’re reading this–then chances are you ultimately would like to see your newly gained Twitter friends turn into customers and/or users. And that could happen if after playing your cards right with careful interaction and knowledge sharing you’ve established yourself as an expert in your community.

Thanks to the great connections made through previous chats, which should be nurtured, you could significantly grow your exposure and online popularity. The result: traffic, and hopefully, traction.

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.