Saturday, December 10, 2022

Read Between the Lines of Your Twitch Chat

Comments from viewers are a big part of the Twitch streaming experience. In the entry Up Your Showmanship on Stream, I spoke about how you can always give a dynamic response to even the least dynamic chat messages. This is a subject worth exploring a bit more, however. Many streamers take chat messages too literally in my opinion. Just because the question someone asked only really warrants a one-word answer doesn’t mean your answer actually has to be one word. It’s your stream, and you can talk about whatever you want. This person’s question is merely a jumping-off point for whatever you want to talk about. In my view, questions on a livestream aren’t really meant to be taken literally, but rather as a suggestion for larger conversations. In this entry, we’ll look into how you can read between the lines of your Twitch chat.

Many people aren’t naturally very talkative, and this applies to Twitch chat as well. Sometimes they can’t express what they really mean. I often try to see the intention behind whatever the person said, and instead of responding to the question they asked, I respond to the question they wish they asked. Even if someone asks what you think of as a stupid question, it’s always within your power to lift them up, instead of pointing out their question’s flaw and knocking them down. The entry How to Flesh Out Stream Ideas touched on how standup comedians use the philosophy of ‘Yes, and…’ to ensure they’re always building on the jokes of others, rather than shooting down ideas. This is a hugely helpful mindset when dealing with comments on a Twitch stream. 


I got a lot of hate when playing 
this one. 

In the past, when I used to work for another company and each broadcast would have anywhere from 100 to 1,000 concurrent viewers, the comments would fly very quickly, and they weren’t always very nice. From early on however, I decided that I would try not to shut down even the nasty remarks. I was trying to help grow the company’s brand, and I wanted to ensure that everyone felt like a part of the show. I also knew that when people say mean things, they aren’t necessarily mean people at heart. So I’d take a comment in which someone said, “You’re horrible at this game. Please stop trying,” and instead of reading the comment word for word, I’d say something like, “[viewer username] sees room for improvement in my playstyle. Definitely let me know if you have any tips!” Not with irony or condescension, but with real genuine interest.

For some reason, people would also get really mad that I had a job where I played video games for a living. They’d say, “This guy is terrible. He’s so annoying. Why did [company] ever pick him to do these videos?” and several much more vitriolic versions of the same idea. This of course hurts to hear, but I’d try to take it in stride. I recognized that these comments often had a deeper unspoken meaning, and I’d respond with something like, “[viewer username] has a great point, I’m lucky enough to get to do what I love each day and get paid to do it!” And then I’d go into a story about how I was able to build a body of work and get hired by a company to make these kinds of videos. I’d give tips for other viewers who might want to start a career doing the same thing. I wouldn’t brag, preach or put down the original commenter, but would actually thank them for bringing up such a helpful subject. 


These kinds of responses would usually have one of two effects. First, they would often get the original commenter to turn their attitude around. Many people on the internet don’t really consider the consequences of what they say, because they feel anonymous. But when you put their comment in the limelight and give them a bit of attention, they quickly realize that they’re having an effect. Believing the best in someone is also a strong motivator for change. Notice that in the above examples, even though the original comments were pretty mean, I wouldn’t treat the commenter like a mean person. Rather, I treat them as someone nice who maybe asked a question they didn’t intend to be hurtful. I ask the question hidden within their question, rather than the question itself. And psychologically, if others see the good in us, we want to meet those expectations. This causes the chatter to come around, start posting other more positive comments, and sometimes even apologize, even though I never said they did anything wrong. 

Paint the chat however you want. 

The second effect of this kind of response is sometimes even more important than the first. Because of the way I phrase my answer, the chat becomes flooded with a higher volume of positive comments than negative. In the first example, I asked for the commenter’s tips for the game. This often gets other viewers talking about their own strategies, in addition to the person I asked, and populates the chat with more constructive comments. In the second example, by talking about my own tips and tricks for becoming a professional livestream producer and video host, people are more interested in asking about how to get into that world themselves. People in the chat are suddenly engaged in talking about something far more interesting, and might even begin to police themselves. If the original commenter persists in being negative, other chatters (who are now more interested in the new topic than the previous negative one) would actually ask the negative person to stop. By creating a topic where positivity is more engaging than negativity, you’re turning that negative person into a minority within the chat. And it’s much more difficult for that negativity to gain a foothold when nobody else is on their side. 

The way you respond to a comment is kind of like planting a seed. If your most recent response is negative or dismissive, negativity is going to grow. But if you plant the seeds for interesting conversations, you’ll soon see the positive effects of that choice.  


Since starting my own personal Twitch channel, these kinds of mean comments very seldom come in anymore. The amount of viewers and chatters is much smaller, and I don’t really have to go out of my way to please everyone watching either. But the same principles often come in handy for me, even at a smaller scale. Whether someone asks a question that only really requires a one-word answer, or they make some unintentionally cruel remark like ‘You look/sound really tired,’ I’m always able to spin it into something more interesting. Don’t forget however, that just because something can be spun into a better topic, doesn’t mean that you have to spin it, or deal with it at all. I put up with a lot when I was working at that high level of streaming, and I found ways to make the job easier to take. But that kind of constant negative bombardment still takes its toll, even if you spin it to make the show itself better. In my personal streams, I don’t care as much whether every single chatter stays around. If someone is being intentionally mean, I will often timeout or ban them. Like I mention often throughout this podcast, stay true to the priorities of whatever kind of show you’re trying to make. And if you want to raise engagement on your streams, try keeping this subject in mind. It’s always better to read between the lines of your chat. 

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