Real-time conversations aren’t always realistic in an online community—the 24/7 access communities provide inherently means collaboration is done on the individuals’ time. But occasionally you want to capitalize on a great event or recent hot topic, and the average discussion posts or resource sharing just won’t cut it.
Have you thought about how you can keep engagement up after a big announcement or a recent event? Consider giving your community members the opportunity to keep the conversation going with live chats, which offer both flexibility and spontaneity.
"There’s really no replacement for the energy that comes from a conversation happening in real time—it’s why we love dinner parties, conferences and happy hours,” says Lindsay Starke, Higher Logic’s community manager. “A live chat, when you pull it off successfully, harnesses that energy and makes it available to your entire community."
The live chat movement is gaining in popularity, whether the channel is a public facing network like Twitter or a private online community. While not as spontaneous as apps like Snapchat, texting or an instant messaging tool, setting up time for people to engage on a certain topic or event can foster a free flowing, collaborate environment, perhaps even more so than emailing or posting questions in discussion groups. Take advantage of what your platform offers, anything from moderating a discussion in an open forum to using a more sophisticated live chat widget.
Some Higher Logic clients have starting testing out moderated live chats in the Discussions module of their online communities. We’ve compiled some excellent advice from them (and our own experiences) and created a quick To-Do list to start your live chat planning.
- Announce your live chat event on the community: create a discussion post detailing your guests, moderator, day/time of the event and any requests for questions ahead of the event
- Take it one step further and create a dedicated page for live chat event details, which will also be helpful for tracking page views afterwards
- Put together seed questions to give to guests and moderators beforehand, to ensure there will be enough live activity
- Get the word out! Share on your social channels and send out an email invite
- Recruit members for the discussion if you don’t have guest speakers. The moderator can send a list of pre-planned questions for the recruits to ask during the live chat
- If you have Reply by Email functionality, the moderator can set all guests/recruits’ notifications to real time so they can reply through email. This can be an easier mode for responding, instead of refreshing the discussion page
- Make sure you have a specific hot topic to address. If it’s too obscure or repetitive within your industry, you will come out with low engagement
- Auto-subscribe members to the community or discussion group hosting the live chat. This way, regardless of whether or not members participate, they will see the digest the next day
- Don’t schedule too many. Start out slowly—try monthly live chats if you feel the topics and number of posts make the cut
- Don’t assume the logistics are a breeze. Run a test chat internally to work out any of the kinks before show time
- Don’t go on forever. Set a time limit to draw people in and make it active only during the scheduled time. We suggest starting with a 60-minute session
- Don’t have the questions be a free-for-all. Assign certain questions to guests and topic experts so no one is stepping on toes or drowned out by other answers
- Don’t jump into auto-refreshing without some testing. Some participants might prefer to follow the live chat and respond through email, while others will be in the discussion group and want regular refreshes to keep up with the responses