Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Live from your living room, it's Monday night!

Last night marked a first for me, and very possibly also for an outside organization as well.

In an effort to find new, fun ways of promoting our upcoming Taste of Home Cooking Show, we decided to host a live chat with a TOH chef. It was the first time I'd done one (though other people here at The Record and at The Saratogian have hosted them) and from what I'm told it was the first time any chefs from Taste of Home have participated in one to promote a show.

I've been helping to promote our May 14 show for a while now, but it never really occurred to me that anything we'd be doing would be something completely new. Admittedly, it was kind of a cool feeling. Even cooler: Because the chef who will host our show next month - Michael Barna - mentioned it to his higher ups during a call, they're considering making live chats something used at sites throughout the country.

I ended up speaking to Marc Padron about the chat a few hours before it was going to take place. Now, in retrospect, I should have looked up who Marc was before I called him - but I didn't. It turns out he's the National Business Development Specialist for the cooking school program.

So now, you know, I just have to hope I didn't sound like a total bumbling crazy person while we were on the phone.

Regardless though, he was very receptive to the idea and loved the concept.

When we do live chats (and by we I mean The Record and The Saratogian), we use the website Cover It Live - a free tool that allows you to setup a chat, embed the code right on your site, and let people comment and ask questions without having to register anywhere. (As the host, however, you do have to create an account).

We've had good luck with live chats covering topics like high school sports, and last night we had what I consider a good turnout. Grain of salt moment: I had no real basis for what I would safely consider a good turnout prior to the actual event.

Chef Michael responded really well to the idea. Initially when I proposed it to him, he said the most he'd ever done was a 3-5 minute recording to air on radio or TV and that setting aside an hour was uncommon. Keep in mind that his schedule is insane; this morning he left home for 15 days to do shows. He didn't hesitate in saying yes though - and I get the feeling that he and Marc aren't alone in their enthusiasm for not only TOH, but also for new ways to get the word out about it.

At the end of our live chat, he wrote "This is the first time Smart Media has done a live chat like this and I loved it. My fingers are sore but it was great!" I'm sure he'll have some good feedback for Marc as well... once his fingers heal.

In all, 18 people participated and there were a total of 67 comments/questions over the course of the hour. You can see a transcript of the chat by visiting here.

I like CIL because you can't beat the cost, it's very user-friendly (if you click on the link above you'll see that we simply placed the chat window within an article promoting the show), the chat log can be viewed after the event is over and they give you stats at the end - albeit somewhat basic ones - to tell you how many participants and comments you had. It also gives you the option to download an excel spreadsheet with said comments. Generally I'm not quite sure how I would use this (although for this instance it will be sent to TOH folks as part of the information they've requested) but hey, it's a nice option. For users though, the better option - and the option that's clearly easier on the eyes - is simply to look at the chat log.

I'm hoping to make these chats a regular feature on our site - whether they be with staff members in news or sports, inviting those who specialize in a field, or just moderating a community discussion. I'd love to hear from people who have hosted live chats - through either Cover It Live or through another means - and what topics, times, etc. you've found to be particularly successful or, well, not.

Even more though, I'd love to hear from the community: What topics would you like to chat about? Should we focus on local or national headlines? Would chatting with a reporter or specialist on a topic (politics, health care, etc.) be something of interest?

I look forward to hearing from you!



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