Thursday, 14 May 2009

Twitter and Webinars

The last few online webinars I've attended there's been an interesting issue.  Many of the participants are Twitter users who are becoming used to chatting via twitter.  So, both the webinar tool (Elluminate, WebEx, Adobe Connect, etc.) have a chat stream happening and there's one going on via twitter.

There's some good information via Speaking Pro Central on twitter from a speaker's perspective including these great posts:

There are lots of good suggestions in these, but they don't really address the issue of how to present when the audience may be splitting their chat between the webinar tool and twitter.

In the meeting that I ran, I suggested that we would prefer that everyone uses the chat inside the webinar tool.

Advantages of the Webinar Tool

  • No switching applications
  • Everyone (not just twitter users) can see the chat
  • Avoids annoying people on twitter who don't want to see a flood of chat messages

Advantages of Twitter

  • Viral effect – may draw additional people into the webinar
  • Possibly engage with people who are not in the webinar
  • Accessible outside the webinar tool (searchable, etc.)
  • Comfort with the tool
  • Easy ability to follow or at least find out more about people who are interesting during the chat

I was planning to put in the advantages of both, but I can only think of the glaring disadvantage – you have to jump around a lot to see what's happening in both places.  You likely will have some people cut off from parts of the conversation.

Twitter Chat Annoying?

Actually, before I go any farther, I've got to ask:

Doesn't anyone else find the use of Twitter as a true Chat Channel a bit annoying? 

I expect twitter users to have a few updates and I certainly like when they tweet while they are listening to a presentation.  You often get some interesting nuggets.  But I don't like it when they start truly chatting because it turns into noise very quickly with messages that have no context.  Yes, you can go through the effort of filtering them out for a while, but that's annoying to have to do as well.

The annoyance level is not enough for me to say – don't use it for chat.  And I guess I'm going to have to come up with better strategies to handle this kind of bursty usage.

Short Term Right Answer?

So, what do you do when you are holding a webinar that has chat and where many of the users are twitter users as well?

For right now, I've been asking people to chat using the webinar tool.  And most twitter users are fine with that as the mode of operation.  Of course, they may tweet something that they believe people outside of the session would find interesting.

But I'm not sure if this is the right answer.  Thoughts?

Long Term Right Answers

Has anyone else noticed that webinar software vendors seemed to have stagnated their feature sets?  I've predicted for a couple of years that they would provide a 2.5D environment to give more presence to meetings.  Nothing.  Pretty much they are all looking alike.  Well, Mr. Webinar vendor, here's your chance to jump out in front of your competitors.

Webinar vendors should help us address this by providing outbound and inbound to twitter.  For outbound, we should be able to choose any or all of our messages or any links we see or anything like that during the presentation to be able to be pushed out into Twitter.  These will be associated with a hashtag for the event.  On the inbound side, the webinar chat should monitor the hashtag on twitter and pulls in any chats from outside right into the stream and associates it with the webinar participant or as an "outside" twitter person.  Basically, this uses twitter as an extended channel for the chat, but keeps a single view in the tool of the conversation. 

Which brings us to the other aspect of this – profiles in webinar tools.  I recently complained that even after all these years, tools like Elluminate and WebEx still didn't provide the ability to have people put their pictures and other information on their profiles so you could find out more about the users.  Come to find out they do, BUT its buried.  One of the big advantages of Twitter as a chat channel is that it extends seamlessly out to the rest of the social grid so that you can find out who this person is, likely see their blog, their LinkedIn profile, etc.  Why are profiles so buried in these webinar tools?  Yes, it takes a little bit to get set up, but with OpenId you could probably make this very easy for users.  Obviously to make the twitter thing work, users would have to provide their twitter credentials, so having this kind of profile information becomes more important.

Webinar Vendors should make it easier for us to go from your tool to find out more information about the participants including after the event and possibly link up with them via twitter, linkedin or other sites.  Heck, if you want to get fancy, you could probably take the online profiles of the webinar participants and show us all sorts of interesting things based on common elements of their profiles such as pages commonly linked via social bookmarking, common other groups/communities, etc. 

Think outside the walls of your tool – the folks in that session exist beyond the webinar.

Oh, and Webinar Vendors, you might want to look at as a model for helping entrants to update their status that they are attending the webinar at the start.  The hashtag and title might be there automatically.  Helps all of us get the viral aspects going. 

Not sure if any of the vendors will read any of this and I'm not sure if there's a lot we can do in the short run to work around the functional deficiencies of these tools.

Again, I'd love thoughts on this.

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