Friday, May 3, 2019

Finding the Flow of Your Twitch Chat

You now have people chatting in your streams and having a good time. Using some of the concepts we've discussed in the previous entry, you've been crafting your community into something you can be proud of, and viewers feel more welcome in your shows. When it comes to your personal interaction with the chat, the typical rule of thumb is that more engagement is better. But I've found that this is not always the case. You should certainly be getting to know everyone in chat and responding to comments during your shows, but every stream has its moments where the action on screen should take precedent. In many instances, engaging with your chat too much can actually hurt your performance in a game, or even damage your channel's identity. I want to help you identify the flow of your own Twitch chat, and then help you to refine the way you interact.


There are many different kinds of Twitch channels, and each will have its own flow of chat. Someone who is painting with oils on canvas will likely only look at their chat during set intervals, not wanting to constantly break their concentration. Someone doing requests for songs to play on guitar can't interact with chat at certain times even if they want to, because they're in the middle of playing. These kinds of streams are blessed with a natural cadence. The audience implicitly understands when the streamer is capable of even looking at their comments, and it's within these established windows of time that the host chooses what to read, and how to respond to it.

Whether your instrument is real or fake, your chat
implicitly understands that you can't read
comments during a song.
If you're playing a video game, walking around in IRL, or doing a Just Chatting stream however, there are virtually unlimited opportunities for you to both look at and respond to your chat. And while 'maximum engagement' is the generally accepted strategy, I find that a truly refined show in these categories will still have its own style for when to engage with comments. This means setting a cadence for responding to chat on your shows, establishing times when the chat knows that you will or will not be responding to comments, and finding interesting ways to keep people engaged throughout.

All of this will first depend on the kind of show you're trying to make. Are you focused on playing very skillfully? Then you probably shouldn't attempt to read chat in the middle of combat in Apex Legends. If you're walking around and doing an IRL stream, certain moments could be better for talking to chat than others- don't interrupt someone you're talking to in real life in order to respond to chat, for example. For me personally, since I focus heavily on story-based games, I never talk or even glance at chat during cutscenes or story-heavy moments. This creates less engagement at certain times, but it strengthens the overall brand of the channel. People can rely on a natural rhythm for chatting, and can trust that on my channel they'll always be able to watch the cutscenes uninterrupted. This ultimately makes the shows more enjoyable for the kinds of viewers who tune in. Identifying what about your streams is crucial to the identity of your overall channel is the first step. You want to establish what can be interrupted by engagements with your chat, and what can't.


If you're playing Dark Souls for the first time, you're
probably going to want to concentrate when
you fight these guys.
One of the biggest mistakes I see streamers make in their engagement cadence is attempting to read a comment at the wrong time, and then blaming the commenter for having spoken. For example, someone fighting a tough boss in Dark Souls. They glance at chat while in battle, read a viewer's comment, then look back over at the game just in time to see their character get smashed with a giant mallot. They then either get mad at the chatter, upset that the person broke their concentration, or they make a playful note of how that chatter 'jinxed' their boss run. Neither of these is OK. You as the streamer are responsible for when you read chat, and shouldn't make someone feel bad for having engaged.

This same concept applies to any skill-based game. If you're playing Overwatch, you should have the discipline not to look at your chat during a high-stakes battle. In Fortnite, there are certainly more relaxed moments that are perfect for discussion, but when you're furiously building and fighting other players you shouldn't have your focus split. People shouldn't be discouraged from chatting during moments of intense concentration on your part, but instead given different opportunities for engagement.

Returning to the live music stream example, a guitar or piano player could have different chatbot commands for viewers to activate while they play their instrument. A command full of fire emojis, excited faces or crying faces could be used during different kinds of songs, or even different moments within those songs- a sad refrain, an exciting chorus, or a skillfully played solo. An IRL stream could encourage a sort of 'prop hunt' concept within their chat, asking viewers to post a certain emote set every time they see something in the background: an animal if they're streaming from a zoo, a boat if they're at the beach, or a certain kind of hat if they're on a crowded Tokyo street. On my shows, I actively ask people during boss battles to 'send hearts' as a show of encouragement, knowing that I typically won't be able to read normal comments, but could see the hearts coming in from the corner of my eye and thank the chat for them. In these examples, by having moments where you as the streamer are not expected to engage with chat, you're also not shunning people who are interested in actively chatting on your stream. Instead, you're giving them different and more varied ways to become a part of the show.

Like in some video games, the world has lots of hidden objects.
Why not let your chat join in searching for them?

Experiment with different cadences for your chat interactions- you might find something unexpected that suits your channel well. This will not only help you to concentrate more on what you're doing on-stream, but will give the audience more opportunities to get involved. Some people watching don't always want to come up with questions or comments to write in chat, but they do want to support you as the streamer. You may find that people who don't normally chat during your streams will come out to post emote sets during tough battles, if you make that a part of the experience. Talking to your chat and answering questions is always important, and you should be trying hard to build connections with your community. But despite what many others might tell you, it's not necessary to be available for immediate response to chat at all times. In moments where it's difficult for you to engage, you shouldn't fight against the current and attempt to respond to everything. You need to find the flow of your Twitch chat, and sometimes that means engaging less in certain moments in order to ultimately create more engagement overall.

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