online-communityI’m thrilled to say that we are celebrating the 8th anniversary of #SmallBizChat this month. Every week for the past eight years, we have picked the brains of some of the smartest and most successful entrepreneurs out there, across dozens of industries. We have held over 380 tweetchats and branded the hashtag #Smallbizchat, of which we are extremely proud.  While we didn’t invent the tweetchat, we believe that we have perfected it, and created a valuable free resource for the small business community on Twitter and beyond.

We like to think we’ve learned a thing or two about keeping an online audience engaged, so here’s the advice that we can pass on to you!

  1. Give ‘Em What They Want

We create value with every #SmallBizChat because we pay attention to the topics small business owners care about. Our program isn’t about promoting our guests’ businesses, but rather getting their insight and tips on topics that help small business owners succeed.

If you want to engage an audience, ask yourself: what do they want? What do they care about? What problems do they have that I can help solve?

  1. Do Your Research

I can’t tell you how many hours that my team and I have put into researching topics and guests. We get a ton of applications for people who want to be #SmallBizChat guests, but we don’t accept all of them. Essentially, the topic they want to address needs to be relevant to our audience, and they need to be a credible resource. We look for evidence of their expertise in their applications.

  1. Leverage Other People’s Networks

One of the perks in working with our small business experts is that they tend to have really interactive audiences. They spread the word about their participation in our #SmallBizChat, and we get exposure beyond our own social network. Even if you have a teeny tiny online audience, you can reach exponentially more people simply by partnering with people with bigger networks and asking them to promote their participation in your event.

  1. Give Influencers a Reason to Get Involved

Anyone you work with, whether for a tweetchat or an interview blog post, will want to see some benefit to helping you out. So before you approach them, consider how you can help them reach X new members of their target audience. Will you share info on their latest product, event, or book? Can you offer help in any other way?

Influencers who see the value in working with you will bend over backwards to help. But even if the perks are small, don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no, but often you’ll find that they say yes!

  1. Get Your Audience Involved

Remember: social media is a two-way conversation. If you’re doing all the talking, you disengage your audience. On the other hand, if you get them involved, they’ll be keen to do so. Ask questions. Respond to theirs. Point out followers who make comments (this is especially effective on livestreaming events). Thank them for participating. After the event, connect with them on other social platforms. This not only engages them during the event, but also far after, and you’ll see them sharing your content and liking your posts.

  1. Build Anticipation Before the Event

What better way to make people eager to get involved than to tell them what’s coming up ahead of time? Not only will your raving fans spread the word about your event in advance, but you’ll also prime them for participation. Spread out your reminders and teasers about the event, and engage directly with your followers (@bunnyhop32 can’t wait to “see” you at the tweetchat tomorrow!”).

If you have an email database of brand supporters, send them an exclusive notification of the event before anyone else and ask for their help in announcing it. This gives them the sense of being VIP, which makes them all the more excited to go to bat for you.

There’s no corner-cutting when it comes to engaging your audience. Be prepared for a lot of hard work. It will get easier over time, but you’ll continually have to work to keep them engaged.

Don’t miss our 8th anniversary #SmallBizChat on April 19 at 8 pm Eastern! Our very special guest is Susan Solovic, who will teach us how to stay relevant and successful in today’s changing market. Just follow the hashtag #SmallBizChat on Twitter to participate. And we want to keep you engaged, so bring your questions for Susan!

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