Tools for Chatting with Your Online Community

Live chats are extremely valuable for growing your online community and creating trust between you, the company you work for, and the people who make up your community. Keep in mind that these sessions require a bit of a commitment as you have to promote the event, invite the community, and moderate the chat. There are a number of tools available to facilitate chatting with your community members.

Many forums host regular chats with team leaders or prominent members of the community. Simply create a host folder for the live chat and use the forum’s announcement folder to alert the community to the day and time.

On the day of the chat, create a thread where community members can ask questions and you or your guest of honor can respond. The beautiful thing about forums is that the transcripts remain in the folder for members to view on demand.

Skype

A live Skype conversation is easy to follow, and you can even save the transcripts and post for community members to access later. What sets Skype apart from other chat methods is that members have to commit in advance so you can individually invite them to the chat.

If you have a regularly scheduled chat, most members can save the account so that they don’t have to receive invites every time. Choose a different topic for each chat so that they’re not a free for all and bring in special guests to make them more interesting.

If a community member has a question that needs an instant response, you can arrange a Skype chat via voice, video, or text. Most community managers don’t list their Skype names as they don’t want to be pinged throughout the day. Skype does come with Invisible and Do Not Disturb settings so you can make it clear that you’re not available, if you’re too busy.

Twitter

You may have noticed your friends and followers using hashtags (#) to follow particular topics on Twitter. Hashtags work especially well for live chats because they allow anyone to search for and isolate the tags in their Twitter applications.

For a popular example of a hashtag chat, check out #blogchat every Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Use Tweetchat.com or Tweetgrid.com as an easy way to participate in Twitter chats.

Facebook

Many Facebook communities host chats for their members or those who “like” their pages. In fact, participants can keep track of the chat from their own Facebook status pages. Because Facebook updates tend to fall off status pages after a while, it’s best to announce upcoming chats every day for a week in advance. At the time of the chat, start a post to receive questions and comments from the community and respond in kind.

Be mindful of posting too many posts on your community Facebook page. Members will unlike the page if they see to many status updates from a brand. For a Facebook chat, try and use the same post or thread for a Q&A so members statuses aren’t cluttered with posts from your brand.

Online groups

Both Yahoo! and Google allow you to create groups. Groups allow you to keep conversations going without having to worry about members’ schedules. They’re simple to use; community members can sign up just by clicking a link. For a moderated group, you have to approve each new member. But moderating a group is recommended over letting people in without approval, because unmoderated groups are spam magnets.

The downside of groups is that you receive an e-mail every time someone posts a question or response.

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