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.
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?