I recently recapped an AMA we hosted with Andreesen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans during Business Insider’s IGNITION 2014. In this post, I wanted to walk through the process for running an AMA in your own community.

What are AMAs?

AMAs, or Ask Me Anything, are Q&A-style discussions wherein a guest is brought in to answer readers’ questions in an online forum. Readers have the opportunity to ask questions about the guest’s area of expertise and everything in between. The fine folks over at the BetaList and Rocketship.fm provide great examples of running AMAs from start to finish.

Finding your dream AMA guest

reddit demonstrated how powerful and engaging AMAs can be as the likes of President Obama, Ken Jennings, and other well-known figures stopped by to answer users’ questions.

Think about your own community for a second. Who are the stars, the experts, the authorities? If you run a movie community for instance, that could be a producer, writer, director, or an actor.

Rocketship.fm is a podcast about entrepreneurship where they regularly invite entrepreneurs to share their story about building a company. Since they were already inviting notable entreprenuers for interviews, some of their guests stuck around to answer listener’s questions.

Pitching an AMA guest

When you’ve identified several people you’d like to invite for an AMA in your community, this is what your pitch should include:

Who are you and what do you want from me?

Quickly let the person know who you are and what you want. If you know a a mutual acquaintance, mention that person as that can grab their attention.

Example: Hi, my name is Tony and I oversee the community over at Swifties Unite. I was wondering if you’d be interested in a 30–60 minute AMA with our readers?

Why should I do this?

Example: As the largest online fan communities in the world, Swifties Unite has over 20 million avid Swifties who worship you. With your upcoming 1989 album release, this AMA would be a great opportunity to get fans (even more) stoked for the year’s delivery from the heavens.

Setting the Stage

Once you have a confirmed guest, the next step is to prepare for the AMA. Schedule a date and time. Send a calendar invite as a helpful reminder for your guest, especially if they agree to this weeks in advance.

Other things to consider:

  • How long should this run? AMAs generally last around an hour or so but be sure to ask your guest how long he/she is willing to stick around.
  • What happens if there are no more questions left before time runs out?
Completed Disqus Profile

Technical requirements: Here’s a quick checklist of things to have prepped in advance:

You could also add the guest as a moderator on Disqus so that their comments will include an easy-to-spot badge.

If an AMA starts and there are no questions posted yet…

Empty Crowd

My biggest fear when planning our recent AMA was that at the appointed hour, our guest would show up and find no questions to answer.

“Oh, looks like I’ve done my job. Cheerio!”

To prevent this, I recommend publishing the discussion at least a day in advance to encourage readers to start posting questions early. You (or your guest) could also post a comment welcoming reader’s questions and feature it so that it shows up at the very top of the comment thread. 

Featured Comment

 On the page itself, be sure to introduce your guest (who is he/she? what do they do?) and announce the scheduled day/time when the AMA will commence.

How to Run an AMA

The curtain has been raised, your guest is ready to answer questions, the questions are beginning to pour in. The show has commenced.

At this point, it’s up to your guest’s discretion which questions he/she will answer. Your role will primarily be as a moderator and to enforce your site’s community guidelines (you have one right?).

As more comments are posted onto the thread, you can also change the sort order to identify the newest comments. This will help prevent certain comments from falling through the cracks.

Wrapping things up

Wrapping up an AMA

After an exhilarating Q&A, the AMA comes to a close as your guest is now utterly exhausted from your readers’ countless questions.

At this point, post a comment thanking everyone for participating in the AMA. Feature the comment so that it appears at the top of the thread as a reminder. For late-shows, they’re out of luck unfortunately however, there’s absolutely nothing stopping your guest from returning later to answer some more questions. Also, summarizing the AMA in a follow-up blog post is a great way to highlight the best parts and gather feedback from your readers (eg. who’d you like to see next?).

If you've hosted an AMA in your community, how did it go? If you haven't yet, who would you like to invite for an AMA and why?

Check out more tips here!