Shiny Object: HipChat

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October 20, 2014 by Beth

Communication Challenges

Last summer, I was knee-deep into a consulting project with Kendal King Group (I’ve since joined the team full time to launch an internal retail marketing agency called Velocity).

Our team is spread out geographically, with the corporate headquarters in Kansas City, an office in China and a substantial portion of the team in northwest Arkansas. While video and conference call solutions such as GoToMeeting and Skype serve our needs for company-wide and departmental meetings, one of the biggest challenges for KKG is our day to day, internal communication among team members. Our phone system doesn’t feature direct dial to individual extensions, and frankly, it’s not even a smart investment to make that conversion.

We had frequently discussed the time wasted when we would call office to office, go through the formalities of saying hello and asking one another how they were doing, requesting the person we needed to speak with, being placed on hold while that person was tracked down and so forth. It’s not that we don’t enjoy and respect one another, but sometimes basic politeness can kill productivity.

One example: two of us were working on a project in Kansas City, and had a quick question to pose to two colleagues in Bentonville. We called each team member’s office – no luck. The phone rang back to another Bentonville team member, who kindly stopped her own work to put us on hold and walk around the office looking for the people we were seeking, in the process asking several others if they had seen them. Ultimately, 6 – 8 team members (and probably their thought processes and momentum) were interrupted, 15 minutes went by and we still hadn’t found our response.


The Solution: HipChat

As a huge fan of Buffer and a devoted reader of the Buffer blog, I ran across this November 2013 article on tools to help remote teams work together more effectively and without wasted time.

HipChat was built as a private instant messaging tool for businesses and launched in 2010. In essence, it is a handy internal chat system.  Several of us began experimenting with it in July 2014, and it was particularly helpful since I was still working off-site as a consultant to the team.

If one individual is working on a project and needs to ask a quick question or request an asset from another team member, HipChat is snappier than email, text or a phone call for seeking a quick bit of information since you’ll skip the formalities of greetings and phone transfers in favor of a quick response.

Today, Kendal King Group has an active business account with HipChat. The service is free for unlimited users (although a premium option is available, it’s more functionality than we really need).


Deploying HipChat

An admin or individual user can set up an account and dedicated dashboard (i.e. in less than ten minutes.  Each user will set up their account (username + email address), or they may be invited by a company admin.

It’s best to get a small group (i.e. a forward-thinking team or department) actively using and adopting HipChat enthusiastically before rolling it out company-wide.  New tools can feel like they are being shoved down everyone’s throat when they are arbitrarily rolled out.

HipChat also works well for groups – I used it to communicate with other freelancers and set up an account for Magpie Marketing so that I could work with different partners on different client projects by setting up rooms.

There is tremendous benefit to installing HipChat on various platforms – users will be able to receive notifications when someone messages them even if they are out of the office. HipChat can be used and accessed several ways, which all work together seamlessly:

  • Web: access the company or group’s dedicated dashboard in your browser.
Image via Keep Calm-O-Matic, which is possibly the most under-utilized tool in business today.

Image via Keep Calm-O-Matic, which is possibly the most under-utilized tool in business today.

Pro Tips

Teamwork: Users can join company-wide chat “rooms,” (ours is the KKG Water Cooler), and small groups and individual teams can set up rooms for specific departments and projects.

Shared Assets: PDFs, documents and visuals (yes, including emoticons and giant Hello Kitty birthday messages) can be shared within HipChat. Within each room, there’s a handy at-a-glance sidebar where users can easily see attachments or links shared in that room.

Less Pressure On The Inbox: All chat rooms have “history,” so if a team member has been traveling they can jump into a group chat room and see history rather than reviewing numerous emails.

Searchability: A recent update to HipChat included rolling out several new and helpful features such as search – so when you know that you discussed something you’ll be able to find it easily.

HipChat functions best if it is active and you remain automatically signed in at your work station throughout the day, for example by placing it on a PC desktop or adding it to a Mac dock and selecting the options “Keep in dock” and “Open at login.”  Users are less likely to habitually use the service if they have to locate the program and login, and more likely to find it useful if they can quickly ping a team member with a question the moment it hits them.

Like anything else, this tool is only useful if it is used.  Happily, HipChat is incredibly simple to understand and deploy, and there are no barriers to using it which would make it challenging or cause team members to feel like it’s just another item on their list.

Check out their latest ad above to summarize all my enthusiastic words. Here’s an article on maximizing HipChat as well as recent product news as well as an article from the makers of HipChat about how it has affected their company culture.  I’m not the only one loving it – even Twitter (the irony) uses HipChat internally:


Can you think of an area of your life where HipChat might be a smart solution?

While Magpie Marketing (the entrepreneurial endeavor) has happily segued into my role launching KKG Velocity with Kendal King Group, the Magpie Marketing blog remains alive as a holding tank for business and marketing posts, and it will continue to be a resource for tools, apps and the latest shiny objects.  I can still be reached for marketing and consulting services, training and speaking engagements at Kendal King Group (beth{at}kendalking{dot}com) or via LinkedIn and Twitter, and I blog when the spirit moves me at The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress.


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