Last week the White House launched a new “Office Hours ” Twitter program, in which U.S. citizens are invited to tweet their questions and concerns over the nation’s deficit reduction and debt ceiling negotiations. Using Twitter to encourage healthy dialogue between individuals and large corporate entities is nothing new, but establishing predetermined times for concentrated discussion is a trend still growing in the Twitterverse.
The White House office hours grew out of last month’s Twitter “townhall” ; people were encouraged to #AskObama questions concerning the economy, healthcare, and the like. The president answered in true Twitter fashion, making him the first president to live-tweet to the nation.
The Doctor Is In: The Marketing Advantages of “Office Hours”
Having established hours when you’ll be available on Twitter has its advantages. Twitter’s integration with mobile phones encourages instantaneous responses and fast-paced tweeting, but a disconnect still exists between users most of the time. For introducing questions, it feels a bit like throwing a fishing line into a murky lake – there’s no telling if anyone is really out there.
Setting up a real-time Q&A session on Twitter guarantees visitors that someone is listening and establishes reliable conversation.
I had a recent nightmare experience with Comcast customer support, as I was forced to speak to numerous androids, and then human representatives who weren’t much more help. I had to call five separate times before finally finding a kind ear, who was able to help me quite easily.
As humans, we have a desperate desire to be heard. Businesses rely on social media because it helps establish community; but communities can’t happen with a single person hollering down a well and waiting for an answer.
A live tweet session is a great way to provide people with live personalized attention without a direct phone call.
Take a look at how others have used established tweet-times to garner interest:
- Fashism  hosts “ask the expert”  Summer Fridays in which folks tweet their fashion woes and have live celebrity fashionistas respond with style tips.
- Community online shopping site Moxsie  introduced #BuyerChat events  on Twitter in which followers play the part of virtual shoppers, providing clothing designers with real-time feedback.
- The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum  organizes online “Dialogues”  – monthly live Twitter discussions with artists in conjunction with in-house museum events.
- Lucky Magazine  hosts regular fashion Q&A sessions to help prevent fashion faux pas.
Have Something to Offer
Naturally if you’re hosting a live Twitter event, you’ll want to be prepared; that means taking time to think about the kinds of questions that might be posed, and having answers ready.
Not all questions have simple answers, in which case you may want to use Obama’s technique of having material ready to link to in order to explain more complicated answers (as you can imagine, the debt crisis doesn’t fit easily into 140 characters).
Live tweeting in the form of hashtag television is becoming increasingly popular, as TV watchers unite on Twitter to discuss the thrills and triumphs of their favorite characters live with other like-minded devotees.
Originating with the #trumproast, other television shows, such as Glee, have begun displaying their hashtags in the lower corner throughout new episodes.
With tablets and smart phones growing ever more popular, it’s not uncommon for TV viewers to divide attention  between the big tube and smaller screens in a show of multi-tasking mastery. Seeing a hashtag during a favorite show prompts the viewer to find out more, even if they aren’t sure what it is (although who mistakes a pound sign for a hashtag anymore?).
Show Them You Care by Being There
Live tweeting is a technique that is still catching on with most companies, but it’s a great idea to consider. Many groups host one-time live Twitter events, but making them a regular routine fosters community and user loyalty. Talking with live individuals reminds users that you are indeed human, and are truly listening!
Make being present a habit, and customers will reward you with devotion and virtual hugs.