Presented by Incubation Lab: CoveritLive - In the Wild

This week, the Presented by Incubation Lab series shines the spotlight on popular liveblogging tool, CoveritLive. Richard Baniewicz, Online Director for WHYY, weighs in:

CoveritLive is a web-based application used for liveblogging and online question and answer sessions. It allows stations to publish text, images, videos, polls, and more, and is one way to engage users around station events, productions, and other topics.

WHYY started using (experimenting with really) CoveritLive in May 2009, when we hosted our first event – “H1N1 Q and A.” Since that time, we’ve hosted around 25 additional events, including a recent Q and A with organic gardening expert Mike McGrath, host of our radio program “You Bet Your Garden” (WHYY is a joint licensee), on spring growing questions. Upcoming CoveritLive events include Q and A’s on the dangers of sugary beverages and how to get your kids to sleep.

We have not used CoveritLive to liveblog an event. However, we have considered using it to liveblog during the airing of a local production - and then following up the liveblog and broadcast with a Q and A featuring people key to program. At this time, we’re waiting for the “right” people to work with. We want them to be willing and local, but with regional or national recognition, and social media savvy - this last because we want to leverage their networks.

What have we learned?

1. Focus
When planning your event, make sure it has a focus. Our experience has been that the broader the topic, the less successful the event. We stay away from open forums and broadly defined topics like ‘gardening chat’ or ‘healthy eating’. Instead, we’ll focus on fall harvest or our recent “All About Fish” Q and A.

2. Preparation is essential!
Although setting up and deploying a CoveritLive session is easy, a successful event requires preparation. Be sure to gather all of your ancillary content (videos, poll questions, prepared text, images, etc...) in a central place. Use the ShowPrep folder to store and organize this content.

If you have special guests connecting - especially if they are doing so remotely - be sure they understand how and when to connect. Check in with them beforehand to be sure they’ve received invitation emails (these can - and do - end up in spam filters and junk folders). At WHYY, we launch events several minutes before the official start time just to be sure our guests are on-board. If there are problems, we can handle them before the session starts. You can also use these extra minutes before starting to ask your users to submit questions in advance - a way to prime the pump.

Be sure your guests can contact you via telephone (and you them) for last minute trouble-shooting.

3. Promote, Promote, Promote
Your CoveritLive event will be not be successful if no one attends! It’s critical that people know about your event. Use all of your usual means of promotion - air, website, social media sites and the like. Encourage your fans and followers to share with their own networks.

Be sure that special interest groups focused on the topic of your event know about it. Use twitter hashtags to spread your message and reach people searching for particular topics. Be sure that your guests and their organizations are posting to their networks and fan pages.

4. Use the tools
Once your event is underway, you’ll want to make good use of all the prep work you’ve done. Guest is talking about a great Thanksgiving turkey recipe? You have it standing by right? With a photo? Now’s the time to insert them directly into your live event.

Conversation starting to lag? Drop in that poll (or create one on the fly). Nearing the end? Now’s the time to publish those links you’ve been sitting on.

5. Be flexible: Let the audience guide you
One thing we’ve discovered is that, no matter how much you plan and shape your event, sometimes your audience is going to drive it in an entirely different direction. While you do have control over this - you can selectively choose to publish (or not) certain types of questions and comments from your users in order to keep on track - often times it’s better to “go with the flow.” After all, if you’re not giving the audience what they want, it’s a simple click on their part to move on. Keep them engaged. I’ll bet you’ll be able to transition back to your planned agenda easily.

At the same time, don’t feel that every question has to be answered. If you’re talking spring planting, you don’t have to take fall harvest questions. Already answered that healthcare question? You don’t have to revisit it. Users can visit the archive afterwards for that information.

6. After it’s over
Once your event concludes it doesn’t have to disappear forever into the depths of the internet. Consider what its long-tail value may be. Watch your analytics. You may find that certain events continue to generate traffic as people search your site. Make sure they can find it. Perhaps you’ve hosted a session that has some value on a recurring basis (seasonally, yearly, etc...). Dust it off next year if appropriate.

Learn from your experience. Experiment with times of day (remember your audience though - students may not be able to make that noon chat), topics, guests, and content to see what works for you and your users.

The Presented by Incubation Lab Blog Series tackles the digital media topics that matter to stations, while highlighting and celebrating the online efforts of stations. These regular profiles of products, people and trends can provide you with inspiration and potential collaborators for your own projects.

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