Friday, September 18, 2009

Energizing Online Communities with Live Text Chat: The KISS Principle

One of the top goals of community managers is to increase site stickiness and have your members come back for more. While regularly updated content and social interaction can help achieve this goal, asynchronous online discussion forums can use the help of live events to energize the community and promote social interaction. In today's hyper connected world, we are continually being conditioned to expect faster response time and slower lag. Regularly recurring live events can be a great way to satisfy the thirst to connect in real time and keep community members interested.

So why a live text chat? What about live webcast, desktop sharing or video streams? After all, a text chat is just not sexy compared to live multimedia events, right? In my previous life as a live event project manager, I have worked on hundreds of live media events; everything from your run of the mill infomercial webcast to Apple's live keynote event video stream. While live audio/video events are exciting, they are also expensive and problematic. What if one part of your complex signal chain breaks? What if the presenter has a sneeze attack? What if an unexpected thunderstorm messes with your satellite up-link signals? There are a lot of "what ifs" in a live media event. I've seen the worse of these "what ifs", and trust me, they are NOT good for your career as an event producer or sponsor.

Let's also look at what live webcast and media streams mean to your audience members. While these events are sold as "interactive" events, how much interaction do your audience members really have with the presenters and other audience members? In a 60 minute webcast, the presenters will typically dedicate 20 minutes to Q&A. You will be lucky to get through more than 2 dozen questions in one live event. Also, during the presentation segment, you are really depending on your presenters' communication skills to keep your audience interested. Face it, a few interactive polls will NOT wake up an audience member who's dozing off. And only so many people are willing to burn away one hour of their precious day for a chance to win that iPod.

A live chat event, on the other hand, is all about audience interaction. Ideally, your presenter should be someone your audience members desire to have real time access to. In the high tech industry, your power users will have a desire to be the first to know. And in a developer's community or technical community, real time access to a tech guru is a very real reward you can present to your community members. Recently, we have had a very successful chat event in Juniper's J-Net Community, and global community members stayed up till well past midnight in their local time zones just to interact with our experts.

Let's not forget about the logistic benefits of a live text chat. Compared to live media streams or screen capturing sessions, text chats have lower chance of technology and talent related failures. VIP's are also much more willing to volunteer for live chat events. After all, you do not need presentation skills to type. The conversation pace of live text chats set an informal tone, and the grammar and spell checker from your word processor should be able to prevent your presenters from sending out any embarrassing mistakes.

Of course, this is not to say that live text chat is the be all, end all solution for live events. Live webcasts and video streams definitely have their values when events are conducted correctly. However, if you are looking for a simple and efficient way to energize your online community, I believe it will be worth your time to take a look at this often overlooked live event tool.

Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or thoughts on conducting a live text chat. In future blog articles, I will outline some of the success strategies I've used in the past for live interactive events.

1 comment:

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