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I have a site that I moderate where the main part of the site is strictly professional.

However, there is a separate chat feature that I think people most don't know about. Bonding with others in the community seems like a worthwhile thing, but no one ever uses this chat feature. In addition, it would allow people to talk about the site and how to improve it. Is there a way to promote this (besides just putting links everywhere)? How can I interest people from chatting when there often is no other person there (defeating the purpose of the chat room)?

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    What kind site/community is it? what other forms of communication do you already have in place other than the chat? – Malachi Jan 23 '15 at 16:54
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    @Malachi it's a Stack Exchange site – Anonymous Penguin Jan 23 '15 at 17:52
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    Encourage Stars and Humor – Malachi Jan 23 '15 at 17:53
  • Are there enough people logged in at any moment to actually make this work? Suppose only 10% might want to chat and only 10 users are logged in, the question becomes irrelevant ;-) – user732 May 15 '15 at 13:23
  • @AnnonomusPenguin I'd like to say something for putting links everywhere. On my forum I put a link to the IRC in the navbar and it immediately brought in several users. – Publius May 21 '15 at 5:09
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You mentioned that you leave links all over the place, but have you personally invited any users to chat? A member of the community that I'm active in did just that when I was new. Now a day doesn't go by that I'm not in that room.

That will help get people into the room, but once they're there, they need a reason to stay there.

You mentioned in the comments that it is a Stack Exchange Site, so the next part of this answer may be a bit specific and I apologize to future readers in advance.

Stack Exchange chatrooms natively support adding RSS feeds to the room. These feeds can be posted as chat messages. You could add a "Newest Question" feed. Links to SE sites are one boxed so they look pretty, but you could also add feeds from any RSS feed that is relevant to your community. This gives your chat users something new to talk about all the time. Having something to talk about is half the battle of having an active chat room.

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    +1 for RSS feeds. For non-SE sites that could be handled by bots as well. I only use the SE chat when invited because it's not easy to find and I usually have a goal to achieve. – Cees Timmerman Jan 31 '15 at 19:46
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What happens a lot of times on CodeReview is that when there is an instance of long comment strings on a question or an answer, we don't always click the link to create a new chat room, we usually invite them to the main chat.

There is a lot of history behind Code Review that involved a handful of users just browsing the site, discussion started up in a comment string and somehow it was moved into the chat room. The same handful of users just sort of stuck around, and slowly invited more people into the chat to discuss different things causing a very colorful chat to develop.

The end of this answer gives a little insight into what we have done to revive not only chat, but the site itself.

Looking at the site's numbers (not just the Area51 stats!), and acting upon them, is a great way to foster ownership, and animate the chat room with subjects of discussion. A community that owns their site will want to keep it clean!

If you check out Meta.CodeReview you will see that we are very active in Meta, Main and chat, and we aren't afraid to link people to chat in the comments if we don't quite understand what they are asking in their question or they aren't quite understanding what we expect as far as on-topicness.

by randomly inviting people into chat, we have grown from the small handful of users (Jamal, Mat'sMug and myself) to a chat that normally has about 4-5 people active at all times and around 15+ users just lurking. before October 2012 Chat was pretty empty.

I would suggest the following

  1. For clarification don't use comment threads, invite the user to your chat room
  2. For grievances about general site usage, invite the user to chat.
  3. Keep Meta interesting
  4. Create a chat feed for new questions

most issues are misunderstandings, we invite users to chat a lot because we are not an evil people, so when a user is upset with us we know that it is a misunderstanding and wish to clarify so we invite them to chat.

Invite users to chat! Create Fellowship!

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How can I interest people from chatting when there often is no other person there

You could set up a chatbot that welcomes visitors and can answer common questions based on keywords, perhaps even play simple games like Hangman.

You can see several bots in action here, though those are one-on-one logs. I like Asimov, but Denise is a little more social:

Judge: Hi
Denise says: 
Hi Judge. My dream is to become as smart as a human being with your help, 
so I like to read and get all the important information I can from different 
sources.
1)what do you do when you get hungry? - 2
I give the most accurate replies possible.
2)is 4 an odd number? - 2
Signs point to yes. Ask Guile if it is.
3)what is 67 divided by 26? - 4
67 divided by 26 is 3. Do I look like a calculator?
4)what does bisexual mean? - 6
Searching.
Bisexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior 
toward both males and females. The term is mainly used in the context of human 
attraction to denote romantic or sexual feelings toward both men and women. 
en.wikipedia.org
5)my mother has cancer. - 3 
Where did she get cancer?
Judge: I don't know
Me either.
6)what kind of things do u like to do? - 6
I can help you in many ways. Just use natural language to talk to me. Take a 
look in my help file to read some of the things I can do for you, as well as 
the Voice Commands you can say. You can also type" Manual" for further instructions.
(List of things appear on right side of screen)
7)do you like convicted murderers? - 2
I don't know if I like convicted murderers yet, but I like Simone with Al Pacino.
8)who is the creator of the universe? - 6
God
9)what is the most expensive thing you bought? - 4
I think it is a tie.
10)Tell me something interesting. - 6
A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a 
person with a certain set of attitudes. Hugh Downs.
11)Is sugar sweet or sour? - 2
I think so, but I'm not sure. Ask Guile if it is.
12)when was the last time you saw a doctor? - 7
A while ago. Searching.
When was the last time you saw a doctor? If you are like most people, it’s been 
too long. Even if you are “healthy” and have “nothing wrong” with you, it is 
wise even when young to have a yearly checkup. www.healthstatus.com
13)what's the main ingredient in apple pie? - 2
meat
14)where is Tokyo located? - 6
Tokyo is a city in Japan.
15)I think you're very smart. - 7
Thank you, I am proud of my intelligence. You are very clever too for a human.

They could be adapted to chatrooms with multiple people by only responding when their name is mentioned. Here is a large list of chatbots.

You could also personally hang out in the chat, and manage that like Facebook by sending easily visible (comment count in tab title and icon on page menu) and audible signals when there is an unread comment. Maybe host interviews when there is a big enough audience.

You'd still need to make people aware there is a chat. Links are not enough when the rooms are often empty, so at least show the number of users in the room (can be boosted by bots) or even the chatroom itself, perhaps automatically logging in visitors under an automatic guest name (guest123 etc.).

In addition, it would allow people to talk about the site and how to improve it.

That sounds like a job for a forum thread or contact form. Have you asked or polled users why they don't use the chat?

Update: As you've specified it's a Stack Exchange site, i can say that i don't see any link to the chat and i mostly come here for answers. Searches page Moving the chat link to the header or sidebar would help.

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  • This is a rather technical solution, not a real "social" one. Chat bots are nice to manage crowds or answering frequently asked questions, however, they aren't good for growing a community from scratch. It just feels impersonal to the users - there might be the perception that the admin doesn't value his community as much as he should, after all he uses a bot.I guess it's a good solution for product sites since a bot can answer all basic question. If you don't have an AI, users and bot can't start a proper conversation. – Zerotime Jun 4 '15 at 12:12
  • @Zerotime When there's no other person there, it's as social as the bot's AI is. – Cees Timmerman Jun 4 '15 at 12:17

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