Is your website ready for a chat room?

by Martin Reed on 26 March 2008 in Articles

Set up a chat room

Many community developers hope to introduce live chat features into their community website at some stage. Online chat rooms can be a fantastic addition to a website if they are well moderated and well used. This article will take you through the steps you need to consider before you add a chat room to your website.

Figure out why you want a chat room

Never add a chat room to your website just for the sake of it. You need to decide exactly why you want to add this extra community feature. Do you want to install a chat room to increase the stickiness of your website? Do you want to install a chat room to increase your site’s popularity? Are your members requesting this feature?

Make sure you have a specific reason why you want to add a chat room to your website. If you are able to come up with a valid reason for the new feature, it is far more likely to succeed.

Do you have the traffic to support a chat room?

For a chat room to be useful, it needs to be used. Chat rooms require significantly more traffic than a forum, blog or social network in order to be successful as they depend on visitors using the chat room at the same time. If your site receives 1,000 visitors per day, that is less than 43 visitors per hour which equates to less than one visitor per minute. How long do you expect someone to sit in an empty chat room before they leave?

Of course, it is possible to have a successful chat room on your website even if your traffic levels are not particularly high. You can schedule chats at a certain time each day – that way your visitors are far more likely to see more than their own reflection when they log in. You can also spend time sitting in the chat room yourself – when a new visitor logs in, engage with them and have a conversation. Not only are you giving this visitor a great impression of your community, you are also holding them in the chat room, increasing the chances that another visitor will soon log in.

Do you have the time needed to support a chat room?

Chat rooms require a lot of work – not only in terms of promotion, but also in terms of moderation and ongoing support. You must have rules for your chat room – whilst forums may be able to get away with formalised rules for a certain period, with a chat room it is important for you to have clear rules and prominent safety guidelines from the outset. You need to determine in advance whether your chat room will be moderated, and who will do the moderating.

Arguments and abuse occur far more frequently in busy chat rooms – the fact the conversation is ‘live’ results in many people acting on impulse. The last thing you want is for your previously good natured community to be damaged by an abusive and unwelcoming chat room. You’ll also need to put in place an abuse reporting mechanism and ensure you (or a staff member) are available to investigate complaints of abuse or appeals against bans or ejections.

Conclusion

Chat rooms can add huge value to any website. They are fantastic at attracting, engaging and retaining members – but only if they are well moderated and popular. An empty chat room, like an empty forum, is a poor indicator of your commitment to your community. An abusive chat room can destroy your site’s reputation.

Before adding a chat room to your site, decide why you want one. Then ensure that the chat room is used, and has a positive atmosphere.

Your thoughts

Have you introduced a chat room on your website? How successful has it been? Why did you decide to add online chat to your site? Has it benefited your community? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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{ 27 comments }

Simon Brown March 26, 2008 at 10:10 pm

And when deciding what time to schedule chats you should remember to look at your traffic logs.

dave March 27, 2008 at 11:55 am

I’m in the middle of making a sports chat website at the moment and indeed, it’s clear that engaging visitors is going to be the key. The critical mass looks like it’ll be big and the need for moderation means that registering and logging on are required – an extra barrier to building a user-base… help!

Anon March 27, 2008 at 2:08 pm

@martin: nice article again.. haven’t checked out your blog for a while now :/

@dave: before you start a chat, you may first try to run a forum and have a look at the user/registration process.. if it runs quite well… and you have a userbase at all, you should start installing some chatroom – not before

Louisiana March 27, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Great thoughts here.

I wish I could have a chat room. I just don’t have enough traffic on any one site to do it. Like you said, nobody wants to sit in an empty chat room.

Scheduling a fixed time for a chat is a really good idea though. I may think some more about that.

P.S. Your site here really is awesome! I truly mean that.

Simon Brown March 27, 2008 at 4:38 pm

~Dave, you could let them register without posting and if you want to ban them – just ban their IP address.

Chat March 27, 2008 at 6:00 pm

From my experience chat rooms are extremely hard to start up. You always have to have a constant flow of traffic because its true that chatters do not wait for people to chat too.

I have run successful chat rooms in the past, but usually is always a struggle. I decided to add a chat room to my website because out of every niche online chat has always been my strongest interest, Reflecting all the way back to when i used to chat on various networks in the 1990′s.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone who wants to start a chat rooms is make sure you have lots of dedicated sociable hosts that you trust, that take shifts(maybe have 2-3 hosts at a time, most of the time). Don’t over do it with hosts though, no one wants to join a chat room and see 10 hosts at one time, chances are they will just get scared away. The key to all the times I ran successful chat rooms was having good hosts, and of course traffic to bring people into the chat room.

Domaining March 27, 2008 at 9:21 pm

I’ve never thought of setting up a chat room. I have a couple of questions:-

What are the advantages of a chat room over a forum?
What chat software do you recommend?
Do you really have to have a forum as well as a chat room or can you have a chatroom on its own?

Thanks

Simon Brown March 27, 2008 at 9:51 pm

~Domaining, you can have a chatroom on its own but for one to succeed you really need a strong community – one stepping-stone along the way to achieving a good enough community for a coatroom is a forum.

Chat March 28, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Domaining

I would say one of the strongest advantages to a chat room is the live interaction. Your community members can “chat” in real time, getting into some deep conversation.

It all depends on the type of chat you are looking for. avatar chat seems to be popular among teens and older chat networks. There are java chat and flash applets. I would recommend finding an applet that connects to an irc network so you have operator controls / moderation controls. You should just play around with a few until you find one that you like.

Lots of sites on the internet have chat rooms and no forums(or started out with no forums just a chat room), so i would say you don’t need a forum, you just need traffic that wants to chat. It probably would be easier to introduce a chat room after a forum has been established and gets popular.

-Cody

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 29, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Simon – Excellent point! There is no point scheduling a chat time if the time you choose is your website’s quietest period! It is also worth remembering that traffic patterns vary from site to site – don’t copy your competitors’ chat times; check out your own site statistics for your site’s busiest times.

Dave – You don’t necessarily need to force users to register in order to use the chat rooms. At Just Chat, people can simply login without registering and I am sure this is one of the keys to the site’s success.

I wouldn’t launch a brand new site with a chat room – start off without one, then introduce one as you gain traffic, repeat visits and loyal members.

Anon – Welcome back, I agree with your suggestion for Dave. I had to edit your name and remove your link, as I am sure you can understand.

Louisiana – If you have a close-knit community of loyal members, you don’t necessarily need a huge amount of traffic. Float the idea of a chat room with your members and see how they respond. If it is positive, work out a specific time for a chat meeting and take it from there.

Cody – You make a good point about the need for moderation. Sure, you should have moderation to cover as much of the day/night as possible but the last thing you want to do is have too many! People won’t feel comfortable using a chat room in which 8 out of 10 chatters are staff members!

Domaining – You raise some good questions and I will probably address them separately as entire articles. For short answers though, chat rooms allow immediate interaction and as a result can be far more effective at engaging your visitors. Visitors will often also stay on a site longer if it has a popular, welcoming chat room and will also be more likely to return, and return more often.

I use ParaChat chat software and can highly recommend it. You don’t need a forum and a chat room, but you may struggle to make a brand new site successful with a chat room alone due to the amount of traffic required. Start off with a forum/blog then introduce chat as you build a loyal member base.

Cody – You make a good point about choosing a chat solution that is right for your visitors. Graphical animations and sound effects will be popular with a younger audience but would drive more mature members up the wall! Choose with care!

Smiley March 30, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Chat sites are very hard to set up. My forum is getting very popular, people love it, I can sit back and watch that grow now with minimal input from myself.

Still struggling with getting the chat rooms off the ground, though. There’s always 10+ people in at any given time, and at night (about 2 AM) we get a flood of Americans, such as last night we had 26 people in at 4 AM.

It doesn’t sound many, but to a new chat site.. those numbers are very important!

I’m not on the forums as much anymore, I try spending all my time in the chat, meeting & greeting new users, trying to convert them into regulars.

I’ve fled from Chat-Forum, they killed my site. My regulars demanded the flash chat client back, to my surprise. So, they got what they asked, and I’ve had several older regulars return (who left because of Chat-Forum!)

New users seem to stick around longer, too, than they did with Chat-Forum.

This was a great article as always, Martin. But if you’re wanting to create a chat community.. it’s kinda hard to do without a chat room !!

However, I do agree that it’s a mistake to pay big money for a chat client that isn’t going to be used. It’s a waste of resources and that money could be used for something more useful in the time being, such as forum promotion, search engine submissions and such likes.. so my advice to people wanting to create a new site, it’ll take you months before you get a loyal regular base.. so start off with a small, free chat room. There’s plenty out there offered for free.

Then once you’re getting 10 or so people at any given time and plenty of new visitors popping in and out, invest in a paid chat room that you can personalize to impress your current regulars and retain more new people!

Smiley March 30, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Sorry, double posting again but just saw what you said to Dave.

“Dave – You don’t necessarily need to force users to register in order to use the chat rooms. At Just Chat, people can simply login without registering and I am sure this is one of the keys to the site’s success.

I wouldn’t launch a brand new site with a chat room – start off without one, then introduce one as you gain traffic, repeat visits and loyal members.”

^^ I agree completely. I can’t stand sites that force you to register to use a chat room. As long as you have a good moderation team, letting people login without having to register is the way to go. I know many site owners like to force people to register because they feel it’s “safer” .. which really is a much lazier option than training a moderation team.

It’s the same with sites that hide their message board forums from non-registered users. What’s the point? What have they got to hide?

I have a sort of friend who owns a forum, he’s had it for 2 years now…. and the owner is actually baffled as to why it’s dead. When you log on to the board all you can see is ONE forum that says “YOU MUST REGISTER TO VIEW THIS BOARD” …. and he really truly is baffled as to why it’s dead.

I had a few forums on my boards hidden away. “Members photos”, “Sex advice”, “Relationship advice”, “Health advice” and “Members lounge” .. in my mind this was so the members had a bit of privacy, but I’ve recently opened them up to the public because how many visitors must I have had that have looked at the boards and thought I didn’t have a health/sex/relationship forum so never bothered signing up?

Web users a lazy.. they won’t register unless they’re certain it’s worth it.

Simon Brown March 30, 2008 at 3:47 pm

~Smiley: Why not just make those sections visible but force users to register to see the threads inside?

Smiley March 31, 2008 at 12:07 am

Because then visitors would get frustrated that your boards are locked away, if they can’t see the quality of the threads how do they know it’s worth signing up?

Chat April 1, 2008 at 4:22 am

“Web users a lazy.. they won’t register unless they’re certain it’s worth it.”

Not in my case, I get lots of members registering everyday and even uploading photos upon registration; But they never seem to stick around very long, they just register and take off. I wish they won’t even register at all lol.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 2, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Smiley – Having at least ten people in your chat room at any time is an excellent start. When I started up Just Chat, I was overjoyed when I logged in to find people chatting without any ‘help’ from me or other staff members!

I really don’t know what went wrong with Chat-Forum. For years they offered a great product with great support. Then they launched a ‘new’ version that was just awful. I think it just goes to show how important it is to involve your customers/members in the development process.

Cody – Looks like you have a problem with your site’s content then. If people are joining then leaving, you are not offering them enough to make them want to stay! Have a fresh look at your site and see what you can do to make it impossible for anyone to want to leave!

Smiley April 3, 2008 at 3:46 am

Ha yes it sounds silly but it’s a great feeling when you log in and, bam.. new people! It’s an even better feeling when you join the chat room to find your regulars encouraging the new people to converse, asking them questions, welcoming them to the community.

I do demand that my support team welcome each and every new user personally. A simple “Welcome to the community, , if you require any assistance please feel free to let me know :) hope you enjoy your stay!” … I expect this from the staff.

But logging in to find regular members mimic the staff and do it on their own accord.. that’s a great feeling.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 8, 2008 at 10:37 pm

Smiley – It doesn’t sound silly at all; I remember the feeling, and it’s great!

Carl-Johan Sveningsson April 28, 2008 at 7:59 am

Very interesting indeed, I am however a bit more curious about what technologies people use.

As I am currently running an independent initiative for the Swedish Young Scientists Foundation not strictly connected to one site or such, I have opted for two complementary technologies – IRC chat and Skype public chat, trying to cover as much as possible of the audience and have them return as it should plug in to their everyday IM programs.

I have realized that maybe this reasoning has it’s flaws as well though, such as that many are not used to IRC nor Skype, to which I will initially create a ChatZilla install-and-connect screencast to show just how simple it is – but do you think I should opt for some other technology, such as maybe Jabber web chat or even more obscure chat rooms?

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 30, 2008 at 4:41 pm

Carl-Johan Sveningsson – I think you need to choose the most user friendly and accessible chat solution for your audience. Try out all the technologies you are considering through the eyes of someone that has never accessed a chat room before. Get friends and family to take a look at what you are considering and ask for their feedback. Make sure that whatever solution you go with is easy to use, reliable and scalable.

dan May 11, 2008 at 7:01 pm

I use it only on 1 community, it’s a persistent shout-box. We never had to moderate except remind people not to do the wallpaper effect… The issues I see with it are more psychological – the shoutbox tends to be active only by a selected group of people, we struggle with how to get more people there..

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Dan – I am still not convinced as to the benefits of shout-boxes; they just don’t seem to add any value to a community website. What do your members use it for, and what function does it provide that your forums don’t?

Tara Nigma May 22, 2008 at 11:00 pm

I run a blog site called Psychic Chat Online and have found that although most of the community is full of beautiful and down to earth people, there is still an unusually high percentage of very disturbed people who will diligently use and chat, forum or PM system to harass our members.

I’ve heard this is similar in the paranormal community as well. Sites like Anybodythere.net and I Am Haunted have definitely had problems with this soft of thing.

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 25, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Tara – Hmm I wonder why psychic chat rooms would attract a higher than normal number of abusive users; maybe the troublemakers think it is more fun to bully people with interests in those kind of subjects. Do you moderate your chat room? I am sure that if you ensured a staff member was present as often as possible you could significantly reduce the amount of abuse, and make the chat rooms far more pleasant for your members.

nice guy July 21, 2008 at 3:11 pm

I would setup a forum instead of a chat room. I believe that would make more qualitative content from participants, also being available for anyone to read at anytime, not just during a chat session.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm

Nice Guy – Forums are probably easier to develop than chat rooms, simply because they do not rely on simultaneous connections to be successful. That being said, it is still a challenge to develop a successful forum!

Matt F August 23, 2008 at 1:49 pm

A chat room is great for a social networking or online dating. Users want a connection straight away. A chat service adds that extra dimension for websites with active members. Its a far better option than a forum in that a chat room is in now time. The chat rooms on my site are set up and operated by the members so this cuts out my involvment as far as moderation goes.

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