Tony Karrer's eLearning Blog on e-Learning Trends eLearning 2.0 Personal Learning Informal Learning eLearning Design Authoring Tools Rapid e-Learning Tools Blended e-Learning e-Learning Tools Learning Management Systems (LMS) e-Learning ROI and Metrics

Thursday, May 14, 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.


Sue Waters said...

When I run webinars I look at them more as I'm facilitating and guiding the conversation as opposed to presenting.

You could say I take a very Web 2.0 approach and don't try to control where the conversation happens; I just want it to happen. If people feel the need to twitter than so be it.

As a facilitator in a webinar I would probably be at the extreme (compared to some) of doing everything possible to get people talking with each other in the chat area, writing on the white board and using the mic. With letting go sometimes it can be amazing to see where the conversation goes :)

Personally I'm not a fan of people constantly tweeting what is being said during a presentation. However saying that I've engaged in some amazing conversations as a result.

Ranelle said...

Glad to hear someone else that finds conversations on Twitter annoying. As I follow my usual group, occasionally, someone will begin a chat. I then have constants messages that have nothing to do with me or my interest but, I have to sort through all their messages to find any others that are relevant. I have unfollowed a couple of people who abused this and I couldn't take the clog of a one-sided conversation in the Twitter channel. I feel that if you have to reply more than two times, it's a chat and should be moved to the appropriate channel.

Clark said...

Tony, I agree partly. I definitely think that if there *is* a chat channel in a webinar, that's a better place for the chat to occur, and in our last Corporate Learning Trends, we did converge on that. If there's not, e.g. clueless webinar runners or F2F sessions, it's really valuable (as you cite, sometimes great value hearing second hand reports).

I'm also sympathetic to the issue of a chat in twitter creating a lot of noise. But there're also the upsides you mention, serendipity and getting new folks. I suppose it at least partly depends on how you read twitter, thoroughly or just dipping. For #lrnchat, you could just filter that out (at least with a reasonable tool :).

So, reckon we're still experimenting, and will have to converge on best practices. Definitely like your suggestions to webinar tool providers.

Doug Smith said...

I agree that Twitter is NOT a chat channel, especially with so many viable alternatives.

I will also unfollow people who chat on Twitter instead of posting relevant, interesting comments for all followers.

And yes, it's time for webinar platforms to address the issue and install easier profiles, giving people multiple channel choices via the profile links.

Delia Couto said...

I work for a Toronto-based webcasting provider, ePresence, and we're actually in the planning stage of a major development project that will include redesigning our webcast templates for greater customization and modularity using Adobe Flex.

Your thoughts on integration with Twitter and better profiles are very well timed and much appreciated! I can especially see the Twitter chat channel making a perfect module that may be turned on and off by the webcast presenter at their discretion.

I hope you don't mind that I've added your ideas as a development ticket here:

In the coming weeks, our development team will be reviewing all feature requests and voting on which of them can be implemented for our next release. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to let us know!