Have you heard about Facebook chats?

They’re a great way to: boost social engagement, get instant customer feedback, improve customer service, and show off your expertise to your Facebook fans.

But what the heck is a Facebook chat and how do you host one?

That’s what I asked Danielle Cormier, social media specialist at Constant Contact.

Learn how to run a Facebook chat for your business (in less than 3 minutes) in this week’s, Ask an Expert.

What is a Facebook chat and what can they do for small businesses?

I first got the idea to do a Facebook chat for Constant Contact from Ruelala, the fashion-flash deal site. They were doing “ask a stylist” where people could ask them for fashion tips, and I thought we could do an “ask an expert” for marketing or social media tips.

We’ve done a variety of chats so far… We’ve done ones about new products, we’ve done them about product changes—we did a Q&A about our Email Editor changes a few months ago, and we’ve done chats about best practices and hot topics—like our most recent chat about Pinterest.

It’s a great way to boost your engagement and it’s really easy … and free. It’s especially good for B2Bs like us, but it’s also useful for B2Cs. Say you’re a bakery, you can talk about baking tips, or if you’re a fitness center you can talk about best ways to work out. So there are a lot of topics and a lot of different ways you can involve your audience…

So just be creative and have your experts ready to discuss the topics with your fans.

How exactly do you run a Facebook chat?

First of all: you want to promote your chat A LOT. No one’s going to come if they don’t know when your chat is going to be. So put it on Twitter, put it in your email newsletter, and talk about it on Facebook before the actual chat.

On the day of the chat, post a photo to your Page—the chat will take place right in the comments section.  I use PicMonkey to create the photo, which is the picture editor that comes with our Email Marketing product, but you can use Powerpoint to combine text with your photo.

Remember to always include the topic when promoting it and let your fans know that they can ask you any questions right in the comment section of that photo.

What is your best advice for a business that’s planning to host a Facebook chat for the first time?

Don’t give up after one chat if a lot of people don’t come. We have definitely had some topics that have fallen flat.

Also, test different times. You can use a poll on Facebook to ask your fans what time they would like you to host the chat and what topics they would like to discuss.

And share your chat after you’re done so people who couldn’t attend can read the conversation and see what happened. That way, you can stretch out the engagement beyond that one hour that you host the chat.

Recap: How to run a Facebook chat

Step 1: Pick a topic

Step 2: Promote, promote, promote!

Step 3: Get prepared to answer your fans’ questions

Step 4: Post a picture and direct your fans to the comment section

Step 5: Answer questions and engage with your audience

Step 6: Share the chat after it’s over

Step 7: Plan your next chat, test different times, and poll your fans!

Still have more questions about how to run a Facebook chat? Ask them in the comments below or post them to the Constant Contact Facebook Page.