IBN: Defining Excellence in Electronic Recruiting


Electronic Recruiting

Our Rate Card



Please Click On Our Sponsors

Please Click On Our Sponsors

Recruiting News for the Human Resource Professional

Please Click On Our Sponsors

Please Click On Our Sponsors

Please Click On Our Sponsors

Please Click On Our Sponsors




Click On Our Sponsors

Click On Our Sponsors







Find out more
About IBN

Got a news tip?
Tell us at

Our Rate Card



Trends Reports



It is better
to not be on
the web than
to be on and
not know why

John Sumser

is more
it seems.
John Gall


The Electronic Recruiting News is a Free Daily Newsletter For Recruiters, HR Managers, Advertising Agencies and Clasified Advertising Operations

Home | ERN | Bugler | The Blogs | Blogroll | Advertise | Archives | Careers
(February 09, 1997): This article is by Richard Selzer, publisher of "Internet-On-A-Disk" and author of "The Alta-Vista Search Revolution" (the definitive book for Alta-Vista users).

How to Make Business Chat Work

by Richard Seltzer, seltzer@samizdat.com

"Business chat" sounds like an oxymoron. But when done right, it can draw active and involved users repeatedly to your Web site and help you build an archive of high-quality, low-cost content that will attract more users.

Actually, there are two related classes of software, both of which can be used for holding online discussions involving multiple people: chat and forum.

Web-based chat software allows numerous people to exchange text messages simultaneously in the same "session." It is often used for quick, casual, anonymous one-liner conversation. As soon as you type your message, it's available for others in the same session to read. When a dozen or people actively participate at the same time, it gets very difficult to read what is said and even more difficult to follow the multiple threads of conversation. You need to read fast and type fast, but if you do, and if the topic is up your alley, the experience can be exhilarating and stimulating -- whether you are flirting or flaming or brainstorming.

Web-based forum software, like notes and bulletin board, allows people to leave messages which will be read later. In this case, writers have the time to reflect -- there is no time limit. They also can give their messages titles and indicate if these are answers to previous messages or new threads of thought. Typically, readers can view the list of messages available, with their threaded relationships shown. Often they can also have highlighted the titles of those messages that they haven't read before. And the messages can be saved indefinitely and can be searched. Here it is possible to carry on an extended, thoughtful, multi-person correspondence.

The only problem with forums is a matter of human nature -- we tend to procrastinate. We know that we can post and read there anytime that we want, so there is no urgency. If a conversation really gets going, then the momentum can carry it along. But it is often difficult to get that kind of interactivity going. The discussion needs to reach some critical mass before it becomes compelling. Yes, we intend to participate, just like we intend to follow through on New Year's resolutions; but more often than not, it just doesn't happen.

Chat on the other hand has immediacy. And when a chat topic is scheduled for a particular time, you either connect or you miss it. Chat also can generate energy and enthusiasm and stimulate useful ideas because of the element of live interaction.

The ideal would be to combine the immediacy/urgency of chat with the ability to save the discussions in threaded form, so those who participated can catch up on what they missed and what they need to reflect on further, and others who weren't able to connect at that time can see what was said; and so all can add their followup thoughts and continue the discussion in a more leisurely and reasoned environment.

That ideal does not yet exist as a single push-button piece of software. But you can produce results like that if you are willing to invest the time and effort to do by hand what can't yet be done automatically. And from this one class of "collaboration" software you can fashion numerous modes of communication and numerous business models.

For example, you can set up:

  • open chat rooms -- live unscheduled chat sessions with random or self-selected sets of participants
  • matchmaker chat rooms -- live unscheduled chat sessions where the participants are automatically matched/grouped according to their tastes and interests (e.g., http://www.firefly.com)
  • celebrity events -- where a public audience gets an opportunity to interact with a celebrity at a scheduled time. (e.g., http://www.talk.com) This could be open to all and moderated, with selected questions going to the celebrity; or it could be partitioned with a manageably small number of people paying to actively participate and a larger audience in read-only mode.
  • team meetings -- where the participants in a chat sessions and/or forums are invited/selected by the leader, and only those on the member list or those with passwords can participate and the objective is to arrive at decisions and move ahead with work on common projects. The chat sessions are scheduled for particular times, and followup discussion takes place in related forums.
  • distance education/training sessions -- where there are content experts and students; once again the membership is limited, but the objective is learning. The chat sessions are scheduled for particular times, and followup discussion takes place in related forums.
  • product support and help desks -- unscheduled chat, with related forum, where people with problems and questions connect to get immediate answers, either from an archive of previous questions and answers or from a live expert.

"Business chat" -- the way I use the term -- is a scheduled public discussion where business people will share their experience and knowledge with peers. There is a host who sets the agenda and tries to move the discussion forward in fruitful directions. People with special knowledge about the subject are invited to connect and participate, but all are welcome in join in and all have equal status. All can post at any time; all can ask; and all can answer.

I started doing "business chat" last summer, when the Boston Computer Society asked me to host a regular session at the Boston Globe's Web site (http://www.boston.com). The Boston Computer Society has since dissolved, but my weekly chat sessions about "Business on the World Wide Web" continue. For a volunteer activity, it's been a lot of work, but I've learned a lot in the process. The following suggestions are based on that experience:

  • Schedule a regular time, so people will remember and return. When picking the time, remember time zones and work habits. Try to make it possible for much of the world to connect. I do it from noon to 1 PM US Eastern time. That works for the West Coast and is feasible from Europe, but it's midnight for folks in Malaysia (one person from there has tuned in despite the inconvenience).
  • Pick a general subject area, and then schedule particular topics for each week. These topics will probably be broad as you start, and become more closely focused based on your experience and audience interaction. Keep the schedule "tentative" -- be prepared to extend a topic for an additional week and move the rest of the schedule up, based on how lively the discussion becomes. (I've found that it's often in the second or third week on the same topic that the discussion really takes off.)
  • Let people know about your program. An initial note should explain the rationale, the audience, the format, the purpose. Then each week follow up with reminder notes. Make such messages as brief as possible. Distribute them to appropriate newsgroups and over appropriate email distribution lists. And begin to build your own chat-reminder email distribution list. Be creative and persistent -- you need an active audience to make this effort worthwhile.
  • Get listed at all sites that list live events of your kind. For instance, connect to Yahoo! Net Events, http://events.yahoo.com, click on "add event" and fill out their form. (While there, you should check out some of the events that they list to see what else is happening and get a feel for how they are run.) It can take weeks before your listing is accepted at Yahoo!, so this only makes sense for regularly scheduled events, not for one-of-a-kind special occasions. (Have the hyperlink from Yahoo! connect to a page that lists your upcoming topics and transcripts of previous sessions, not to the chat room itself, if that room is only available to you for a fixed time each week.)
  • If you have the opportunity, build an "anteroom" Web page. Here you would post all the information that you would like people to read before entering your live scheduled chat -- introducing the purpose of the session, yourself and other scheduled participants, and providing some brief words about today's focus, with hyperlinks to background reading.
  • If you can, establish a way for you to enter the chat room about 15 minutes before the general public is admitted. That way you have a chance to identify and take care of any technical glitches (this is not yet a perfect world) and also to enter a few introductory messages. You can then calmly await your audience (instead of fighting to dial in and get connected to the site in time).
  • Plan to spend about 5-10 minutes for introductions and 5-10 minutes for wrapup. So for an hour's chat session, you may have only 40 minutes of solid chat. But that front and back housekeeping is essential. Remember you are trying to give order to a medium that is essentially chaotic.
  • When people are coming on line, acknowledge their presence and try to draw them into the conversation, finding out their strengths and interests.
  • Encourage everyone to identify themselves with their real name and affiliation. (Remember, this is business chat, not a flirting session. These people may want to contact one another later). The software often allows you to enter several words as your continuing identifier. By example, encourage people to use their full name and email address or URL as their identifier, rather than a clever nickname.
  • At the end, solicit suggestions for future topics, solicit followup messages to be added to the transcript, ask everyone to provide email adresses and URLs. Then get them all primed to return next week.
  • Save the complete raw transcript of the session and edit it to show threads of discussion, and to add HTML coding, including hyperlinks to other sites mentioned and hyperlinks to the email addresses of participants. (I find that for a lively one-hour session with about a dozen active participants, it takes me anywhere from two to four hours to do the editing, depending on how continuous or fragmented the discussion was. And the result is sometimes as long as 20 single-spaced typed pages. To see what I mean, check http://www.samizdat.com/index.html#chat)
  • Post the transcript -- well labelled and organized -- at your Web site, and submit the URL to AltaVista (http://altavista.digital.com) and other search engines, so people looking for information of that kind will be able to find you.
  • Add new participants to your chat reminder list.
  • Send a brief email message over your chat reminder list, letting people know that the transcript is up, soliciting followup messages, and mentioning next week's topic.
  • As followup messages come in by email, post them with the transcript.

Keep in mind that in newsgroups the ratio of lurkers (those who just read) to those who actively participate is about nine or ten to one. Statistics are hard to come by for Web-based chat, but, given human nature, the ratio is probably similar. The transcript and the inclusion of followup messages in transcripts helps to draw some of these people out into the open and make them contributors.

By the way, if you run a business chat session at your site, you might want to set it up so participants, when joining, acknowledge that they are granting you the non-exclusive right to republish material from that session in other media, without having to get further approval from the participants. (Check with a lawyer, but avoid using legal jargon -- you don't want to scare people away or confuse them.) That blanket permission would allow you to include excerpts in CDROMs or printed books, or in other media, etc. Remember, the future of the Internet is "content".

Wish list for software developers:

  • Make it possible to add threads to live chat -- so participants can label their messages and indicate when they relate to other messages that have already appeared.
  • Provide both chat and forum capabilities in the same environment, and make it easy to build threaded transcripts from chat and post them into forum.
  • Make it easy to manage large numbers of participants. (America Online has a setup in their larger chat rooms that allows a moderator to filter questions from the whole group, passing them on to the scheduled speaker, and allows discussion among pariticpants in a single "row", but only the "speaker" can speak to everyone at once. America Online is great at managing chat areas -- that's probably their number one asset.)
  • Keep text as an option. Graphics, voice, and video will all, inevitably, be available as part of Web-based chat. I hope that all modes of communication -- including text -- will be able to coexist in this space. Different individuals express themselves better in different modes; give them a choice
  • Make it easy for an Internet Service Provider to buy one copy of the server software and then partition that capability into meeting rooms that they can rent. And make it easy for them to charge/bill for that service. Many business people will only need this capability for a few hours a month -- it's a natural for rental -- with "rooms" in a variety of sizes, perhaps up to the online equivalent of a convention center.
  • Make it easy for users of such a "rental" chat/forum facility to see what rooms are booked when and to reserve a room.
  • Make it easy to read all the input. Today, there are two basic modes of operation for Web-based chat. Some software, like that used by boston.com, requires you to keep clicking on an icon to refresh your screen and see the latest input. If you don't click you don't see anything new. Other software, typically using Java, displays each messages as it is entered; but in an active session the messages can fly by faster than you can read them. I'd like to be able to control the pace at which messages appear.
  • Allow users to display earlier messages, not just the current ones. The software boston.com lets me look back 30 messages. But I'd like to have the ability to scroll back through everything that has been said in a given session and hence have the ability to save the whole thing on my hard drive. (As it is now, I'm dependent on the technical folks emailing me the raw transcript a day or two later.)

The message for business people who are interested in using this capability is: Don't limit what you do to what today's software makes easy. Do what makes sense. If it takes time and energy to do housekeeping chores that you wish were automatic, still don't hesitate to dive in and gain the experience necessary to make this new medium work for you. Your business needs should drive the technology, not vice versa. The more you know first-hand about the headaches and the benefits of business chat, the better you'll be able to pick what's right for you as more powerful, easier-to-use software becomes available.

PS -- If you hear about a particular chat session and want to participate, connect to the Web site with your browser and see what's required. In many cases (like at boston.com), you don't need anything more than an ordinary browser. In other cases, you need a recent browser that understands Java. And sometimes you may need to download a extra piece of software (usually a "plug-in" for your browser, and usually free).

"Recruiter's Resolutions For 2003:

1. Finally, clear the resumes off my desk
2. Take a speed-reading course to get through resumes faster
3. Find three new places to source good people
4. Lower cost-per -hire (make that, determine cost-per-hire...then lower it!)
5. Find a talent Management system to help with all of the above.

We know what you're up against. And we've got the answer.

Hodes iQ, brought to you by Bernard Hodes Group. From adopting our talent management system or enhancing your own system to providing new sourcing strategies on the web, we have proven solutions to make your recruiting enterprise better. Find out how Hodes iQ and Hodes iQPost can help you in the new year and beyond.

Put Hodes iQ to the test.

Call 888.438.9911 or visit http://www.hodesiq.com today.

Home | ERN | Bugler | The Blogs | Blogroll | Advertise | Archives | Careers

Contacting Us:
Call, fax, write, email. We'd love to consult with you about your project.

Copyright © 2013 interbiznet. All rights reserved.
Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Electronic Recruiting News



  • 2003 Trends Whitepaper

  • interbiznet Bookclub

  • interbiznet Listings

  • interbiznet Trends

         - Bugler
           Daily Industry News

         - ERNIE
           ERN in Email


  • BlogRoll
  • Integrated Employment
          Branding Presentation
  • Trends Whitepaper
  • interbiznet Listings
  • interbiznet Trends
  • interbiznet Bookclub
  • Top 100 E-Recruiters
  • Presentations
         - Recruiting Then/Now
  • Recruiter's Toolkit
  • Seminar In A Box
  • ERN Archives
  • 1st Steps In The Hunt


  • Our Rate Card
  • Demographics


  • BlogRoll


    Stocks We Watch:
    Public Companies
    in Electronic Recruiting


         © 2013 interbiznet.
         All Rights Reserved.

         Materials written
         by John Sumser
         © TwoColorHat.
         All Rights Reserved.