One of the most popular social media trends right now is the “Ask Me Anything” session, where influencers, celebrities and other prominent figures will candidly answer questions submitted by followers or fans in an online forum. But AMA sessions aren’t just for famous individuals. Businesses can also leverage the trend on any social platform as a culture- and trust-building activity.
A leadership AMA session can give CEOs, department heads, new employees and others the opportunity to ask and answer questions internally among their team members or externally for a wider audience. This helps boost transparency and allows employees and customers to make more personal connections with a business’s leadership.
Below, 15 Forbes Communications Council members offer their unique ideas for how organizations can leverage AMA sessions, as well as important considerations to keep in mind.
1. Consider What Your Business Would Gain From An AMA
AMA originated on Reddit, a popular and widely used forum for discussing all topics. Organically created, AMA is now a tool that many organizations use to promote new services, products or content. As with all marketing, if a leader decides to pursue an AMA campaign, focus on answering this question: “What do I want to gain by doing this?” – Thu-Lynn (TL) Nguyen, InterLinc Mortgage
2. Decide Whether You Will Allow Anonymous Questions
Be clear about how questions can be submitted and how leaders will determine what to answer. Consider a platform such as Pigeonhole, which allows employees to see all questions and upvote top choices. However, an important consideration in planning an AMA is whether you will permit anonymous questions. If you do, you’ll get more “real” questions, but you will risk questions becoming pointed and overly negative. – David Grossman, The Grossman Group
3. Make Sure Leaders Feel Comfortable Answering Every Question
The success of an initiative such as an AMA session depends on the culture of the organization. Do the people really feel comfortable enough to ask the leaders anything, and more importantly, are the leaders okay with answering each and every question? I have seen these work best when the conversations are live, light and authentic. – Jyoti Khan, Bricks & Clicks
4. Invite A Customer To Your AMA
Host the AMA with a customer—it will provide value and perspective to attendees. You’ll plug your features and benefits over those of competitors, but having a customer there will balance the scale with objectivity. Consider who you are inviting. You want your guest to be unbiased but not negative. Look for customers who love your company and will be honest about any feedback (in the nicest way possible). – Yael Klass, Similarweb Ltd.
5. Host AMAs With Employees From Acquired Companies
AMAs are important in the feedback process. At times, stakeholders will share more in a live forum or smaller group session than they would via email or in a large town hall setting. AMAs are great for leaders to embrace, but they’re equally important for communicators. An effective strategy my team has deployed in the past is to host these small sessions with employees from companies that have been acquired. – Kris Pugsley, Skyworks Solutions, Inc.
6. Prepare Your CEO For All Types Of Questions
These types of sessions are a great way to engage employees, but preparation is key. If you’re opening up your CEO (or other top executives) to this type of activity, you need to make sure they’re prepared and comfortable answering any and all questions. You definitely don’t want someone going off-script and saying something that could potentially hurt your company’s reputation. – Lynn Kier, Diebold Nixdorf
7. Set Expectations Of Vulnerability And Transparency
To position an organization in the most optimal environment to achieve success, CEO leadership is critical both inside and outside of the company. A great channel to amplify your CEO is through something like an “Ask Me Anything” session. Before you commit to this, it’s important to level-set on how vulnerable and transparent they are prepared to be, because this will make or break the business. – Camille Weleschuk, ATB Financial
8. Make Meetings Available Virtually
We use AMA sessions internally to give our teams the opportunity to engage with senior leaders. With global employees, making these meetings available virtually is key. We use the Webex platform to elevate the experience and improve security and collaboration for participants, and we also rely on it for our “Ask the Expert” sessions, which allow customers to engage with solution experts. – Monica Koedel, Cisco
9. Start With A More Controlled Format
Some organizations are hesitant to introduce employee feedback formats such as AMAs. To get started, ask employees to submit AMA questions via an anonymous form on the intranet or employee app. Pick a couple of questions every month and record a short video highlighting the answers. This gives leaders more control and preparation time, but it is still a start to a more authentic and meaningful conversation. – Frank Wolf, Staffbase
10. Introduce The AMA Subject To The Audience First
AMA sessions allow the audience to directly engage with a team member or member of the leadership team, but unless they’re familiar with the person, the audience needs to know who they are before the AMA. Introduce them first to your audience with posts, videos or unedited stories. Then, announce the AMA, and your audience will be much more interested to know what the subject of your AMA has to say. – Melissa Kandel, little word studio
11. Brand The AMA As A ‘Truth Session’
One idea could be to brand it as a “truth session,” in contrast to the growing market of ambiguous data these days. Keep in mind, all participants must be comfortable with this concept and even embrace the process of “unearthing” information, regardless of whether they agree with it or even like it. If an organization can do that with unadulterated love for truth, the event will be a smash hit. – Boaz Santiago, Legally Remote, PLLC
12. Introduce An AMA Slack Channel
There could be a dedicated AMA Slack channel where you have a new host (a department heads, board member or anyone else you invite) to answer questions each week. For such sessions, it’s best to have a moderator who will be picking the next host and general topics for questions and maintaining a positive atmosphere. – Tatiana Dmytruk, SWIDIA
13. Make It An ‘Ask Me Almost Anything’ Session
Humans are wonderfully unpredictable, so establishing a session rule up front is important. AMA sessions are relationship-building opportunities via thoughtful questions and honest answers. However, if someone asks an uncomfortable question, you don’t have to abruptly end the session or give a canned response if you have already established it as an “Ask Me Almost Anything” session. – Deetricha Younger, Deetricha Younger, LLC
14. Do AMAs To Help People Get To Know New Employees
AMAs work especially well with new employees. By allowing members of the company a chance to get to know the “new person on the block,” you allow the “ice” and any awkward tension to be broken. Let each team member ask questions until everyone has asked their question. Building a culture of acceptance is vital to the success of any growing firm. – Christian Anderson, Lost Boy Entertainment Company
15. Amplify Your AMA Across Other Channels
Boost buzz and reach by repurposing the best sound bites and quotes from your AMA across other channels. For example, if your AMA is a video interview, adapt the content to create a Q&A on your blog. If your AMA is on Twitter, create a video with text overlay for your website or YouTube. Be ready with a few questions created in advance in case you need to kick-start the action or experience a lull. – Sheryl Seitz, Plus One Robotics