Let’s chat about live chats

At my company we have great enthusiasm for social learning, which is awesome. We also have an enormous gap in social learning and social media savvy and skill, which sucks. At the intersection of those points rests part of my job; the place where I have my greatest challenges, frustrations and thrills.

We use many techniques to try and close those gaps and I’ve outlined some of them in previous posts about standing up a social learning capability. One technique we’ve had great success with recently are live chats. They’re great for communication, change management and pre-work in formal learning programs. I’ve found the set-up, promotion and coaching needed doesn’t change much no matter what the topic or goal. We recently held two live chats, one for pre-work in a program and another for talking about the upcoming organizational changes.

SET-UP

Preparing and promoting a live chat is pretty easy. I create an ad for the community homepage detailing the host, time and topic of the chat. We’ve found two hours to be a good length of time. We’ve held the chats from 10-noon ET and we’re looking into other times to make it easier for ex-US colleagues. We reiterate over and over that we expect people to multitask during the event, so they don’t feel like they need to stare at the microblog stream all day. We link the ad to a job aid detailing how to use the stream and general rules about hashtags and etiquette. Since we are internal, we take advantage of old school communication to drive traffic. We provide an Outlook calendar invite, which prompts people to join. We re-iterate in the invite that you can and should multitask. I post in the stream a week out as a teaser and everyday for at least three days leading up to the event. And then right away in the morning and then 15 minutes before it starts. That seems to prime everyone up.

COACHING

I meet with the host prior to the chat. The first question I ask is how fast they can type. As a former newspaper guy, I can type as fast as I can talk and that is really fast. This can be a hurdle for some hosts. I coached one of hosts, who lives in Korea, via Instant Messenger and I’ve spoken with others in person and over the phone. The most important thing for a host is to know their subject. They need to think fast to keep up with the questions because unlike a “real world” Twitter chat we want to answer everyone since we are educating on the topic but also getting people used to the technique. We don’t want anyone disappointed in the experience.

THE CHAT

I’ve done these with host sitting next to me and a world away. The most important thing is to have someone other than the host keeping an eye on the stream so you know who needs to have a question answered next. I spend my time during the chat trying to take that burden so they can focus on each answer. Our stream refreshes with the newest posts on top, so that makes it easier. There is usually someone else on the team helping out and if the topic is sensitive. For the chat on org changes, we had someone from HR on hand. If you think you’re going to have too much traffic for one person, have another coach answer questions and feed it to the host through IM. This saves typing time. I find IM is great for this as well as verbal communication. My host in Korea could have been driven mad by the fluidity of the stream and my blinking IM. She was awesome, but she was exhausted after answering questions non-stop for 2 hours.

We prepare seed questions for each topic in case folks are shy about jumping in; remember we have a skill gap so I never know how fast the stream will be. I announce the start of the chat and then the host introduces themselves. From there we let the community take over. People are getting better at speaking among themselves as well as interacting with the host. I post at the 30, 60 and with 15 minutes left since we expect people to pop in throughout and not be glued to the stream. Those markers are also a good time to drop in a seed question. I never use a seed question with less than 15 minutes to go as I don’t want the conversation running over.

POST CHAT

Once the chat is over, we all take a deep breath. The chats remind me a little of how a newsroom buzzes around deadline. Of all the things in newspapers, I miss that rush the most. The clacking of the keyboards and the quick relaying of information back and forth and then to users is a lot like deadline. We tell everyone, especially off timezone users, to go back into the thread anytime and add to the conversation. This gets us a way to tap into ex-US users and provide an asynchronous experience. We have alerts set on the stream so we get an email when a new post comes in. We then gather the information from the chat and create content for the community that can be delivered in many formats. We’ve created FAQs in the case of the org chat and we’ve used the questions and answers as seed topics for the live portion of the formal program. I’m still working on good metrics, but I can easily count the people who post, and the amount of posts. I’ve been toying with comparing the hourly page visits before, during and after the chat. I figure if I subtract the number of people who post from the visitors during the chat hours I’ll get the gawkers.

So far the feedback has been positive and my fears of a silent stream for the two hours has yet to happen. I haven’t had any hosts run from the room so we’ve got that going for us. I think you’ll find this social technique as valuable as we have.

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About John Buonora

Social Learning Manager and Strategist working on career number three. An Old School guy with Millennial skills and a lover of my family, sports and food.
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