Web chats are good for:
- providing an accessible, live forum to field questions
- opening a dialogue with an online audience
- discussing a specific topic
- understanding specific concerns and issues
Web chats are also:
- open to everyone, not just the intended audience
- lightly moderated
- used by anonymous participants
- a permanent record online
- Always aim to host the webchat on an independent website: for example a charity, patient group or other relevant organisation. This adds more credibility to the event.
- Plan a webchat at least two weeks in advance, in order to promote the event to as many people as possible and ensure there is adequate support for you on the day.
- Encourage people to submit questions in advance and have some answers prepared, to publish as soon as the web chat starts.
- Aim to answer as many live questions as possible in the allotted time.
- Answer questions directly and succinctly (one or two sentences should be enough).
- Provide links for further information before and during the chat, for example:
- Respond to questions in the order in which you receive them.
- If two or more questions are broadly the same, it is acceptable to refer the participant to an earlier answer i.e. ‘please see my response to [name here]’.
- Tell participants how they can contact you again after the chat, by using:
- Twitter @dhgovuk
Webchats should follow the Department’s moderation policy.
Promoting the webchat
Promoting the chat in advance is crucial to ensuring it is effective. Participants will need lots of reminders and it is very useful to invite questions in advance and gauge people’s tone and level of interest.
You should consider using as many different channels as appropriate to promote the chat:
- the DH twitter profile (using an appropriate hashtag, for example #behanwebchat)
- stakeholder communications
Any promotion should describe the purpose of the chat, the time and date it is taking place and a link to where it will be happening.
On the day
Here’s an example of a typical webchat format:
- Hosts/interviewers: ask questions received in advance and during the chat
- Guest/interviewee: answers questions and leaves comments as appropriate
- Moderators: check incoming comments and questions and publish as appropriate
- Social reporter: publishes live photos to Twitter
- Policy officials and press office as required
- Typists may be required for the host and guest
Keep the number of people in the room to a minimum: ensure that everyone who is there has a practical role to play in the chat. Too many people in the room can risk slowing down the speed of responses and creating an intimidating atmosphere for the guest/interviewee.
2. The interviewers will put questions (prepared and those received in advance, and live, from the public) to the guest. This will get the chat started, and allow time for the live audience to ‘warm up’ and start submitting their own comments and questions.
3. As the host asks a question, they type it on to the website.
4. As the guest answers, they type the answer on to the website.
5. The moderators will read comments and questions as they are submitted live, and publish them in line with our moderation policy.
6. Towards the end of the chat one of the moderators will publish a message to say that there is five minutes left, and encourage any last-minute comments or questions.
7. When the chat concludes either the moderators or the interviewers can publish a message to say thanks, and something like ‘we will try to answer any outstanding questions at a later date.’ It is very important that we do not commit to answering every outstanding question individually, after the webchat has closed.
What makes a good webchat?
- Responding to a comment or question on average every two minutes.
- The ratio of people watching the webchat online, to those asking questions, should be approx. 3:1.
- All webchats should attract an audience of at least 50 people. For Ministerial webchats we would expect at least 100 participants in order to make it a good use of the Minister’s time.
Evaluating a webchat
It is crucial to follow up every webchat with a clear, concise evaluation.
The evaluation should include five bullet points. Here’s an example:
Your webchat was seen by approximately XXX people (page views on the website + watchers (measured by CoveritLive) + active participants)
You published a comment or answered a question every X minutes, which is in line with best practice/better than average/not as frequent as the audience might have wished for (delete and expand as appropriate)
The hashtag was mentioned XXX times on Twitter, and had a potential reach of XXXX (use Tweetreach or similar to measure this)
Positive comments included: (give an example of something someone has said about the event, and their name)
Suggestions for follow up activity are... (these could include another webchat on a similar topic, an article on the website to answer some of the unanswered questions left by participants, or a short video to explain some of the issues in more detail)