Great words of wisdom! I love the stuff about homepage promotion—after all, if a chat happens and nobody knows about it, does it really exist?
You guys all mentioned promoting chats well ahead of time. What else do you do to get ready for these chats in advance?
At a minimum we tend to prepare a few opening questions ahead of time if we run into a situation where chatters are a little hesitant at first to begin asking questions. Once a couple questions get kicked-off, the conversation usually picks up and then it's just a matter of managing the Q&A at a fair pace.
Preparation, for me, really depends on the subject. We do chats on all topics, and some I’m more comfortable with than others, so that dictates the amount of preparation I need. You can never predict audience participation, though, so I always have lots of questions ready before I go into a chat and I always try to make sure I’ve read up as much as I can on the topic at hand. But for breaking news topics, that’s not always possible – but that’s also what makes it exciting for us and for the readers.
Ditto what Jon said. I personally like to look back through Facebook comments and Tweets to see what sorts of questions people are looking to answer. I make a note of those to use as stock questions if things ever get slow.
But, re engagement, I always give preference to reader questions in our chats, so I often don’t use the questions I’ve prepared.
Good point re: reader comments getting preference, Ruth. And what a good segue, because here is one...
Great question, Toby. I find the number of guests on a panel has a direct impact on the experience of the panel members. If you have too many guests who are all very vocal, it can become a shouting match and that’s off-putting to a lot of people, including the readers. For that reason, I rarely host chats with more than four guests.
On the other hand, it’s dangerous to book and promote chats with only one or two guests. People forget, mix up time zones and have family emergencies that can cause them to cancel. If you are only starting with two guests, you run the risk that one or both won’t show. I always aim for three guests, which is forgiving if one drops out but not too crowded if they all attend.
I'm only speaking from Fishidy's experience so far, but we've probably maxed out at around 70-80 participants at a point during our chats. With that number of participants, given ScribbleLive's tools, I think it's still very manageable by one person.
I also think three to four guests is the sweet spot, just in case someone can't make it. That number also allows you to divvy up the questions if you feel bombarded -- you can assign different questions to each guest so you can move more quickly through the queue.
And for really busy chats, I find ScribbleLive's Q&A format very helpful. I also like that I can pause the stream of comments, which gives me, and the guests, a chance to catch up.
Depending on your guest panelist, I think the most important thing is to feed questions to them at a reasonable pace that they're comfortable with. They will be following up to previous questions, comments, etc. so it can quickly get overwhelming.
We have two reader questions in the queue and I think that might take us up to the end of the hour, 12:30
I think what I look for the most is a simple uptick in participants. If I see a growth there week over week, that's enough for me.
And by participants I mean those guests other than the experts we invited.
I think you can look at it lots of different ways. Obviously the stats on a chat are a big part of the measure of success, but not always. I think the number of engagement minutes is as important to look at as the number of uniques or the number of comments. For example, I’ve hosted chats that had very high numbers for unique visitors, but that’s not necessarily obvious because they’re a quiet group, not asking a lot of questions (this happened on a few of our royal chats, which were well-attended but quiet).
An increase in questions submitted also makes me really happy.
There's also the success factor of offering readers something they can't get anywhere else: I can’t think of another way for readers to connect with the kinds of people we feature on our live chats. To use the Jane Goodall example, people can read about her in all sorts of different places. They can also pay to hear her speak. But the opportunities to actually connect with her, one on one, are very limited.
To give another example, when Angelina Jolie had a double-mastectomy, we felt that many women, particularly those with a recent cancer diagnosis, would have been left confused and afraid. So we immediately organized a panel of top surgeons and breast reconstruction experts. Keep in mind that it can often take weeks or months for patients to talk to their doctor one on one — in this case, anyone, anywhere, could type in a question and get an answer a few seconds later. To me, that’s the best part of live chats and I think readers are seeking those kinds of connections and that's also part of the success story.
Alright, so I think we have time for one last reader question.
This is addressed to Ruth, but I'd like to have each of you weigh in on what your favourite chat is (either that you hosted, participated in or watched) as well as any lessons you have learned from hosting these chats.
The chat with Pattie Mallette was the busiest I have seen — it was crazy! I knew it would be big, but I think Bieber fans around the world spread the link via Twitter etc. and within minutes we were bombarded.
Haha, I can't say we have any wild and crazy moments with our team of financial advisers. Maybe I should book Justin Bieber's personal wealth adviser?
Our favorite live chat event so far has been our featured series with pro bass fisherman Mike Iaconelli as a guest. It's exciting to see users react to Mike in an online chat and realize that we were providing them with something unique. So far we've had great feedback from our members! They're excited to get the chance to interact with a pro in real-time. For them, getting real feedback in response to real-time questions makes for a unique experience that many people don't get to have.
I think that's really what it boils down to: Offering a free service that readers can't really get elsewhere. I think it's something that they do enjoy and appreciate.
This has been so great, all. But unfortunately that's all the time we have for today.
Thank you Ruth, Rebecca and Jon for taking part in today's chat.
Thanks for having us! I'm always happy to chat about chats!
Thanks for having us, Belinda. I really enjoyed our discussion and picked up some great new tips, too. I'm off to my next live chat!
Yes, this was definitely a bit of a learning experience for me too :)
You all can join us next week to talk about more real-time issues and trends as part of our #ScribbleChat series.