After two weeks of doing a daily “conversation” using fantastic software system Cover it Live, I wrote this post talking about how it was coming along. Well, it’s been over 5 months now, and time to update on what we’ve learned.
The main thing we’ve learned is that we still enjoy it. Very important.
Over the months we have refined how we run it and we have tried several things to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s nice to have that sort of freedom. For instance, we moved our chat time from 9am-10:30 to 9:30am-11am. Yes, we go for a full 90 minutes. This may change over time, but we found that a shorter show sometimes hinders a discussion that’s just getting good.
I was asked recently for advice on how to run a daily CiL show, so here’s how we roll:
- We have two people run it each morning: a host, @georgeayoub, who is our senior columnist and me. I act as the ‘gatekeeper’ although I jump in and promote things, answer questions, provide links to stories we’re discussing, and a bunch of other things.
- We schedule guests as often as we can. We scored a bit of a coup when the mayor of Grand Island agreed to be a bi-weekly guest on the show and she’s been a real firecracker Other guests have included City Council members, educators, various board members, the Governor, a couple of state senators, and our own reporters. This week is Education Week on the show and we kicked it off with our education reporter as Monday’s guests, then we have three teachers for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from different grades and schools, and we’ll end the week with the Mayor.
- When you have a guest, take advantage of Cover it Live’s ‘Queue’ function. We spend the first 30 minutes of the show building up questions in the queue so they will be ready for the guest who arrives at 10am and answers them for 30 minutes. The final 30 minutes we will either carry on the discussion, or resume one that may have started before the guest arrived. We’ve discovered that very often, the guest will stay longer than the allotted 30 minutes and answer more questions. We love when that happens
- Our host will usually ask the guest the first question and ask them to tell us about themselves. Then we allow one question through at a time, allowing the guest time to answer thoughtfully. Sometimes this creates ‘dead air’ if the guest types slowly. But we fill in by letting the readers know some topics of upcoming questions, or reminding them of other things we’re promoting.
- When we don’t have a guest scheduled, we try to have a specific newsy topic to go over, but sometimes we do end up with a sort of free-for-all discussion on several topics. But that’s okay. Great discussions and good information can come out of that. So don’t be afraid of free-form days now and then.
- We do our best to keep our readers on topic. We’ve had several readers try to change the topic in mid-discussion by throwing out a ‘How about those Cubs’ type of comment. Of course, I don’t mean they want to talk about the Cubs, but often a reader has many trains of thought leaving the station at the same time and they try and drive all of them into our discussion at once. This is where gate-keeping and private messaging abilities built into Cover it Live comes in handy. Many times I will just send a quick private message to a reader asking them to try and stay on topic or tell them politely that we’ll move on to another topic if time permits.
- What about readers who get… worked up on a hot topic? Well, just put your jackboots on and moderate them. Try and let them know privately that personal attacks etc will get them nowhere, and failing that, simply ignore them. Try to keep your cool – not always easy to do – and be as polite as possible. Use your best judgment if you think a reader is getting out of hand.
- If a topic warrants, run a quick poll. Example: When the awesome John Hughes passed away unexpectedly, it came up in the show. So we ran a ‘name your favourite Hughes film’ poll which generated some nice, nostalgic discussion.
- Finally, archive, archive, archive. So many times we’ve wanted to go back and check something and our archive has been invaluable. Cover it Live offers an enterprise archiving system that you can use, but we had already set up amgishow.com. I just chucked up a WordPress site, used some plugins for the calendar/upcoming guests and I post each day’s show on there. We have learned that people who cannot be with us in the mornings will read the replay almost daily and it is much appreciated.
So what are we doing to generate revenue? Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. We want to have sponsors. Our numbers are better than when we started, and we’ve got street cred, and respect as being a good source of information. Feedback on it as been phenomenal and we are appreciated in the community. But our viewer numbers are slow to grow and I think it’s down to the time of day we’re on. Weekday mornings when most people are working isn’t conducive to growing a large audience. I don’t know how daytime TV does it. So it’s hard to “sell” us for sponsorship. We average over 800 viewers per week and some weeks are better than others.
Right now, we’re running a huge treasure hunt and giving away prizes each morning on the show using trivia and it has produced a spike in our numbers. So I’m wondering if we offer drop-in ads through a show for a lower price than say, a banner ad, and the sponsor also offers a gift card. I wonder if that would fly when the treasure hunt is over… Hard to say.
I think if this format was done in a larger market (and maybe it is, I’m not sure) than viewer numbers would be higher and sponsorships more likely.
People have told me that there is no time to do this sort of thing. An hour and a half out of a reporter’s day can be a lifetime. I don’t know what to say about that. We’re lucky to have someone like George on our staff. He’s well-known in our community, and we’ve got a small Online department that I live in so I can run the technical stuff. It’s a squeeze on our schedules, but somehow, we just made it a part of our day and it works.
So there you go. Next time someone asks me how we do this thang, I will be able to point to this post. Thanks for reading!