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Advice / Job Search / Networking

The Online Networking Opportunity You're Probably Not Taking Advantage Of

Every Monday, I speak with a group of diverse, ambitious women. On Tuesday nights, I’m privy to a guru’s thoughts on personal improvement. On Wednesdays, I learn from a few good men. Thursdays are filled with conversations about how to imbue your life and work with happiness. Then comes the weekend, after which I’ll start all over again the following Monday.

These meetings of the mind last only an hour, but they are jam-packed with wisdom, insight, and introspection. They’ve changed how I approach my day job, taught me how to improve the community I live in, given me insight into the opposite sex, and simplified my journey toward living a fulfilling life.

And over the handful of weeks that I’ve lent my voice to these bits of chatter, I haven’t spent a dime. I haven’t signed up for any sort of organization, and I haven’t even left my house.

What’s my secret? Twitter hashtag chats.

What’s a Hashtag Chat?

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of joining one yet, a hashtag chat is a regular conversation, usually taking place on the same day of each week. One Twitter user picks the topics and moderates the discussion, usually through a series of questions.

Each chat is designated by a particular hashtag that relates to the moderator’s brand or interests. (A few I regularly join: #Ambitionista, #TipsyChat, #SideHustleChat, #BlissChat, and #USBloggerChat.) These hashtags provide a rallying point for any potential participants and can be used as organizational tools for both the moderator and the participants.

For example, if the moderator wants to post a recap of the week’s chat, she can search the hashtag to select highlights. Participants can also search the hashtag, which will allow them to see other people’s answers or join interesting side conversations.

Who Can Join?

Hashtag chats are open to, well, everyone. Once you come across a specific chat that piques your interest, you can join any week you’d like without admission fees or any sort of screening process. As long as you include the chat’s particular hashtag in your tweets, you’re in!

Where Can I Find Them?

Unless you know that a chat and its corresponding hashtag exist, you won’t be able to participate. To review an alphabetical list of better-known chats, check out this Google Spreadsheet. It includes important information, such as the day and time of the chat, as well its overarching theme.

In fairness, this document is far from comprehensive. For example, none of the chats that I take part in are listed. So, be sure to cross-reference other resources such as this report produced by Twitter and this schedule, or do a quick Google search for Twitter chats in your field or area of interest. Of course, there are many more chats than these sites list, but they’re a great place to start.

How Can These Chats Build My Brand?

Through hashtag chats, you gain access to leaders in your field, learn things you wouldn’t have otherwise, and are given a platform to promote yourself and your endeavors. By participating, you’ll be rewarded with insider knowledge, as well as the chance to network with other people who share your interests or business ventures.

Just be careful not to participate so much that you dilute your brand. Filling your followers’ feeds as you participate in a hashtag chat may be seen as distracting, or even spam-like. To avoid being a nuisance, it’s good practice to reply directly to the moderator with the relevant hashtag. This way, the only people who see your chat participation are those who follow both you and the moderator. While this reduces the chance of your responses being seen—good for not seeming spammy, bad for visibility with potential contacts—a good moderator will often retweet replies to ensure every voice is being heard.

And if the moderator isn’t retweeting you? Personally, I feel that it’s better to respect your own followers than to make sure your voice is being heard at maximum volume.

Next-Level Tips

Now that you know the basics, there are some best practices to be aware of when seeking out, and participating in, a hashtag chat. In the research stage, you want to ensure that you research your moderator thoroughly. Is she truly an expert in her field? Does his related content promote a message you agree with or enjoy? Is she a professional, an entrepreneur, or an amateur? Different users may look for different things; regardless, make sure your potential moderator lives up to your expectations.

Once you’ve found a chat and are ready to respond to a question, remember that it’s important to be honest. (How else will you get proper feedback and learn anything?) Also, while you want to contribute to the conversation by adding new ideas, be sure to stay on topic. And don’t forget to include the hashtag—correctly spelled—with each relevant tweet. Additionally, never forget that you’re representing yourself, your company, and your brand to potential contacts. It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s important to find the balance between humble student and established professional.

If you’re looking to start a chat, ask yourself the tough questions. You should have the necessary accolades to guide others, the presence to lead a discussion, and the dedication to plan curated content for a weekly conversation. After all, you’re taking on the role of a teacher, guru, and Sherpa for others looking to you to learn, and that’s no small thing.

On Twitter, you have the opportunity to speak with your heroes, find your mentors, build your brand, and have honest (if truncated) conversations with people. Hashtag chats take this idea to the next level: You can learn from the masters, network with your peers, and, in time, become a role model for others based on what you’ve learned.

So, search out some chats. Participate fully. Indulge your obsessions, hobbies, and side hustles. Soak up the knowledge available to you, and put it to good use. We’ve all got a spare hour on a weekday night—why not use it to connect, learn, and grow?

Photo of hashtag courtesy of Shutterstock.