What are your best practices with the Ask an Expert feature?


(Alena Rybik) #1

I saw Liz and HAWK touching this topic in "What are you working on right now?" thread and thought it'd be good to create a separate thread to discuss it (apologies if such a thread already exists, I could not find any). It's a great feature for any community and I think that a lot of us have tried it.

My question is, what are you best practices / lesson learned? Also, which platform have you used and liked / haven't liked? Do you run it in real time (chat or video hangout) or first collect questions and then conduct an interview? How do you reuse shared content afterwards? What are your tips on finding experts and engaging them? Do you do anything in particular to ensure that (good) questions flow in?

I've hosted a similar feature using our forum software before but I was not very satisfied with the outcome, and I'd like to ramp it up.

 

 


(Sarah Hawk) #2

I started running 'Talk with the Experts' sessions at SitePoint about 6 years ago, and spent years refining the process.

The platform was the trickiest bit. The key factors were low barrier to (or guest) entry (people didn't want to have to sign up), text based (the majority of experts didn't want to appear on video), and ease of exporting a transcript. I trialled several text-based chat apps, none of which were very good. Some threw errors all the time, some didn't allow you to @tag people, others didn't allow exporting of transcripts. I ended up designing a custom platform which we built based on Kiwi IRC. It was brilliant, but has now been retired as they don't have the resource to run them.

Even with a great platform, there were issues of time zone (with an international readership it can be tricky to find a time that suits your greater audience), reliability of experts etc.

At UXMastery I currently run a series called 'Ask the UXperts'. I've gone back to basics, using a Campfire chatroom. It works fine, but is very basic and isn't perpetual, meaning that I have to continuously jump in with 'Welcome to those of you that have just joined us...' (which I then have to edit out of the transcript). I always run a Skype text chat session in tandem with the expert, so that I can queue questions for them. That way they can concentrate on answering, rather than having to filter through the noise. You'll find plenty of transcripts of sessions on uxmastery.com if you're interested.

Main lessons learned:

1. Don't run them to a schedule. If you commit to doing 1 per week/fortnight/month you put undue pressure on yourself and end up settling for less than ideal candidates. 

2. Get some seed questions off your expert before you start so that if things are quiet (or going off topic) you can steer it in the right direction.

3. Have someone on backup if things get busy. Our sessions ranged between 25-250 members and I never knew ahead of time how busy it would be.

4. Advertise the session well. We put a banner up at UXM (there is currently a live one up at community.uxmastery.com), as well as the expected social media stuff.

In the past I have attempted putting up a forum thread first to collect questions, or to give people that won't be able to make it the opportunity to ask them, but that has never been especially successful.


(Alena Rybik) #3

Thanks a lot for sharing your experience and lessons learned Hawk, it's extremely helpful. I find the platform bit the most challenging as well. I've been playing around with Teamspeak Cleint, since all our players are comfortable with it, but it's cumbersome to save transcripts and it has some other issues. I've checked your Ask the UXperts series and Campfire looks all right, plus the signing into the chat room is very easy.  I might give it a try, although it feels a bit expensive for one session per month. Which plan do you have? You said that you'd sometimes have up to 250 members, but the Max plan includes only 100 chatters. How does this work? I've checked your latest transcript, nice and smooth!

I always run a Skype text chat session in tandem with the expert, so that I can queue questions for them.

This is interesting. Do you do it simultaneously? So, they basically do not participate in the discussion, but reply to the question you choose for them?

In the past I have attempted putting up a forum thread first to collect questions, or to give people that won't be able to make it the opportunity to ask them, but that has never been especially successful.

That's how I've been doing it and I am not too fond of this approach either. The dynamics of the live chat is not there and it feels dry.

Get some seed questions off your expert before you start so that if things are quiet (or going off topic) you can steer it in the right direction.

I am definitely going to start doing this one.

 

 


(Jessica Malnik) #4

@Hawk and @Alena: There are some amazing tips in this thread. :)  

A few points to add. First, I think Wistia does a really great job with their Ask their Expert AMAs. It's super great content and well integrated within their community. 

https://wistia.com/community/posts/uact/ama-chris-and-trevor-on-lighting-on-the-fly

In addition, I have currently been piloting Ask the Experts community hangouts for the last few months. We use Google Hangouts on air and bring in a panel of between 3-6 "experts" to talk about a specific topic related to ecommerce and SMBs. 

Ex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppz4a2xRenw

Hawk pretty much touched upon two of my biggest struggles. 

Time zones: I have lost count of the amount of flack we received from angry UK community members, who want to participate but can't because the event is held in more US and Australia/New Zealand friendly times. 

Seeding Questions: 

I've also not had much success with fielding questions in advance in our forum. I've found using the Q&A feature within Google Hangouts works better along with having some seeded questions we come up with beforehand in our back pocket to get started. 

The thing that has worked much better is creating a recap, and posting that in our forum for further discussion. 

Curious to hear everyone's thoughts? 


(Sarah Hawk) #5

 I might give it a try, although it feels a bit expensive for one session per month. Which plan do you have? You said that you'd sometimes have up to 250 members, but the Max plan includes only 100 chatters.

We currently use the max plan for 100 chatters, which has been fine at UXM. The larger groups were at SitePoint, where we have a larger audience, and those sessions were on our custom platform, which was unlimited. The good thing about Campfire is that you can start with a low plan and if you hit the max allowed, it prompts you to upgrade on the spot. We had to do that during our first session, which turned out to be more popular than we had planned for – always a nice position to be in!

This is interesting. Do you do it simultaneously? So, they basically do not participate in the discussion, but reply to the question you choose for them?

Yes, simultaneously, but only so they have a list of questions to refer to easily. They still take part in the organic chat, but the queued questions means that they have an ordered list to refer to without having to scroll back up and sift through looking for unanswered questions. In our custom platform there was the ability to 'star' lines of chat, making the questions easy to see at a glance. Campfire doesn't do that.

The thing that has worked much better is creating a recap, and posting that in our forum for further discussion. 

I love this idea, but I haven't had any success with it to date. We don't even get comments on the blog post of the transcript, although the traffic is good so people are reading them.


(Sarah Hawk) #6

If anyone is interested in seeing one of these sessions in action, I am running one this week about Designing Successful Projects. More info on the time etc here. It's free and everyone is welcome, even if you just check it out for 5 minutes to see how they function.


(Nick Donoghue) #7

I've not doing many of these types of Q&A or clinic sessions - keen to pick up on something mentioned:

How did you find using text chat for Q&A - I've had some experts prefer to use webinar/phones to save time lag on typing long answers to complex questions. Keen to see if you've all come across this and how you've got round it.

 

Cheers

Nick


(Sarah Hawk) #8

I choose to use text chat because it is much easier to get experts to take part, especially across time zones. People are happy to fit in an hour between other activities, without have to worry about how they look. Some people do them from bed! The other thing is that the technology is easier to wrangle.

I get around the time lag by having more than one expert, or by queueing questions for the experts in a back channel so that they don't have to concentrate on the chat. I encourage them to respond in several small bites, rather than a huge chunk of text. I also make sure that I encourage participants to help each other out so that an organic chat forms around the specific questions/answers.


(Nick Donoghue) #9

Thanks Hawk, that's very useful. Some of the experts I've been talking to of late are Government Agencies - hence a bit nervous about posting text answers in chunks (must be read multiple times before being posted into the community domain). Like the bite sized & multiple approach though, will try that.