The live chat is, in a sense, the original social media – the Arthur Crudup to Twitter and Facebook’s Elvis Presley. I think I set up and conducted my first live chat in 2004, when I was a fledgling web producer at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The technology has evolved somewhat, but the idea remains the same: Get readers into a virtual room with reporters, experts and newsmakers to ask questions directly.
Back in the day, we used the earliest incarnations of CoveritLive to hold text-based chats with readers. Nowadays, newsrooms have a lot more options to do this, including Google+ Hangouts, UStream, Twitter chats, Facebook chats and enhanced text-based options via ScribbleLive and CoveritLive.
In my recent travels for Digital First, I’ve been teaching a little bit about liveblogging and chats – and learning a lot, too. In what I hope will become something of a regular thing here at ZJ, I’d like to highlight the work of some of my DFM colleagues and pass along best practices and how-tos for any other journalists who’d like to try out what they’re doing.
At the York Daily Record (in York, Pa., birthplace of the peppermint patty with the same name), business reporter Lauren Boyer has become a community fixture. While she’s active on social media, her best successes have come from a couple of older-school engagement tactics: Live chats and real-life meetups.
In early February, Lauren started organizing weekly CoveritLive chats with members of the community, beginning with a live chat with a local CPA firm to kick off tax season.
“This initial effort had only 30 live readers — but they posted A LOT of very specific questions about their income tax filings,” Lauren says. “This motivated me to keep it up, figuring the quality of the discussion — providing a public service to those few readers who tuned in — was more important at the beginning as people start to catch on.”
Lauren says a Valentine’s Day-themed chat featuring a local dating coach was the most engaged effort she’s seen so far. This particular edition had about 55 participants and was replayed nearly 200 times, making it one of the most-viewed stories on YDR.com.
Just last week, one of Lauren’s YDR colleagues, Sean Adkins, shared a particularly notable success story. Following a live chat with a local staffing firm, a local reader sent in her resume and was later offered a job earning $40K (now that’s community service!).
There are probably many opportunities for your newsroom to take advantage of free or inexpensive live chat tools. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- If a reporter has a big investigation or enterprise story published that got people talking, hold a chat with that reporter and/or some of the newsmakers involved in the story.
- Hold regular chats with your reporters and columnists. When I worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer, we had chats almost daily with a staff member. From the TV writer to the food critic and the various sports reporters, all of these chats were on a regular schedule and usually got a lot of participation.
- Open up a chat for your readers and staff to dish live during the big game/debate/local event.
- Hold chats with experts in your community on topics of interest like taxes, health care, pet care, gardening, relationship advice, cooking, etc
- Invite one or more local bloggers to participate in a chat about local issues or their blogging subjects.
Here are a few more ideas from CoveritLive.
Step-by-Step Directions to Setting Up A CoveritLive Chat
Matt Thompson’s tips on using CoveritLive for liveblogging and chats
This may be an old hat to some of you (much like the phrase “old hat”), so please share your experiences with live chats in the comments area. What tools do you use for your chats? What topics and people have worked best for you? What best practices could you share?
How to Set Up A Chat Using CoveritLive
On April 24, 2012
In Community Engagement, How Tos
Lauren Boyer, a business reporter at the York Daily Record/York Sunday News, contributed to the following step-by-step directions for setting up a live chat between readers and panelists using CoveritLive. Many of these steps would also work for setting up a liveblog on your site where multiple staffers could contribute and readers can leave comments and questions.
First: Go to coveritlive.com and create a (free) account.
Create a chat
Customize your embed code to the size of the chat window you want (make sure it will fit into your online story or blog template). Copy the code and paste it into whatever platform you plan on using for the chat (this might be a story file on your website or an entry on your blog).
If you are embedding the chat onto Facebook, WordPress or other sites that don’t allow iFrames, check the right box under the displayed embed code to get a custom code for you.
Set Your Panelists
Under Additional Options, click Add Panelist/Producers. Under Add Panelists enter your guest panelist’s e-mail address and press the green plus sign. Adding Producers would allow another person (presumably a member of your staff) to have admin access during the chat.
Then, click the green “Send Invites” button at the bottom. Click “Save” at the bottom of the screen.
Under Additional Options, you have these options available to add to your chat or liveblog:
Notify your panelist
After you’ve set up the panelists in CoveritLive, let them know that they should have received an e-mail from an application called “Cover It Live.”
Tell them it’s important to save that email, as it has the link inside that they’ll need to click on at the time of the scheduled live chat. When they click on it, they will need to enter a login or username. It’s easier to tell them to enter a new username, since they probably don’t have a CoveritLive account (your staff, however, should have accounts).
Once they click on the chat link on the date of the chat, it will open what Lauren describes to participants as a “90s-style chat room” or an instant messenger window.
At Chat Time
Sign back into your CoverItLive account. Under My Account on the left hand side of the screen, click Upcoming. Locate your chat under CiL Events, click Launch Event Now.
Note: If you’re on an account used by multiple people, click Settings on the left-hand side of the chat console and change your display name to your name.
Only you and your panelist can see the reader comments coming in to the right side of the chat screen. To approve comments, thus making them visible to the public, click the green plus sign on the individual comment. To send a private message to the sender, click the yellow key sign. To block a user, click the red circle.
CoverItLive Chat Screen View (Image: CoPress)
Inside the chat, you have a lot of options for what you can do to enhance the reader experience, like adding polls, uploading media, adding trusted commenters (like other staff), displaying a scoreboard and adding in options on the fly.
Ending Your Chat
Just Xing out of the screen won’t do anything. Go under Tools on the left side of the chat screen, and click option that says End Live Event.
Access Your Past Chats: Go to My Account > Completed Events. Select the event you want and click on the buttons along the top of the menu to see what options you have available.
Edit Entries: You can edit your chat after the fact here, if need be.
Save your Archived Chat: Keep this content around for others to see. You have the to either leave the chat on-screen for a user to replay or you can copy it all down as HTML and save it in a file in your CMS. This is a good idea if you want the chat to be searched by Google.
Check your chat stats: Log into the account and click Completed on the left side of the home screen. Click the button to select your event and click the “Statistics” button (looks like a pink, blue and green bar graph).