Anni Marquard

Administrerende direktør, stifter & kreativ ildsjæl Mere om Anni

When we switched from traditional webchat to SMS chat in January 2022, offering 1-1 conversations in our online counseling, Cyberhus, it was with the hope of creating positive changes in terms of accessibility, user base, and especially the quality of the relationship we have with the young people we encounter. Now, two years later, with a backpack full of experiences, it’s time to examine whether the hopes were fulfilled and what has been surprising.

It was necessary to make a change

The reason for choosing to switch chat channels can be traced back to Cyberhus’ history, starting in 2004 when digital counseling services were scarce. We aimed to provide young people with the opportunity to seek support and advice in a safe and anonymous online environment, making it easier for them to connect with an adult counselor. It was about making help more accessible to those who were hesitant to call or meet face-to-face.

Fast forward about 10 years and over 20,000 chat conversations. Around 2014, we noticed a clear change in how young people used our chat. There was a growing number of young people needing more than just a single 5 or 10 conversations, a group we now refer to as “loyal users.” While not necessarily a large group, when one loyal user averaged more than 100 contacts, they dominated the majority of the 1500-2000 annual inquiries.

Initially, loyal users were occasional, but by 2020, we had a conversation with a loyal user every time our webchat was open. In 2021, loyal users accounted for over half of all inquiries, making it challenging for other users to connect with a counselor.

This led to decreased accessibility for the broader group of young people we aimed to reach, prompting the need for change.

Increased Accessibility

One notable advantage of the switch is the increased accessibility for our users. They can now start a conversation anytime, 24/7, without worrying about limited opening hours. This resulted in a smoother, user-friendly experience where users have full control over when they seek advice or contribute to the conversation. Approximately half of the user communication occurs on weekends and after 9:00 PM, outside the opening hours of our “old” webchat.

Another interesting observation is that the shift to SMS chat has changed the gender distribution in the user group. Overall, 35% of all inquiries to our SMS chat from 2022-2023 were from boys and young men, a significant increase compared to the roughly 25% in the webchat from 2019-2021. This shift is likely due to increased accessibility.

Fewer Conversations, More Young People

In 2023, we conducted just over 300 SMS chat conversations, significantly fewer than the previously mentioned 1500-2000 webchat conversations annually in previous years. However, these numbers can be deceiving. Before the switch, inquiries from loyal users represented the majority of our conversations. In 2021, for example, a single loyal user contacted us over 300 times, accounting for almost 20% of the total annual conversations. After the switch to SMS chat, a single conversation can span a longer period. The previously mentioned loyal user contributed only one conversation in 2022, but it involved more than 2000 exchanged messages over several weeks.

More than 80% of our conversations conclude within 1-2 days. Another 10% conclude within a week, and 5% within a month. The remaining 5% extend over a more extended period. Looking back, we can now see that there was little space for the 90-95% who needed fewer conversations. Now, we encounter a broader range of young people despite the seemingly different numbers.

Better for Those Needing a Longer Relation

We are pleased that the switch has allowed us to advise anyone seeking help, reaching a more diverse group of young people. With SMS chat, we have a tool that better meets the needs of loyal users. They no longer have to start anew every day but can continue the ongoing dialogue in the same thread, with the entire history available. This significantly improves the relationship between the loyal user and the counselor, providing the counselor with a better understanding of the user’s challenges and needs.

More Time for Reflection Leads to Better Quality

While the number of conversations has significantly decreased, the quality and diversity of the conversations have improved. Switching to SMS chat has allowed for deeper and more meaningful discussions. SMS chat provides more time for reflection for both the counselor and the young person since communication is asynchronous. The young person is not pressured to provide immediate responses to the counselor’s detailed questions, reducing stress and allowing for more thorough consideration of answers. This creates a space for the young person to express feelings and thoughts at their own pace.

The counselor also benefits from this asynchronous approach by having time to formulate thoughtful and precise questions, enhancing overall communication and counseling. In summary, SMS chat enables a more flexible and relaxed dialogue, where the young person has the freedom to answer questions when they feel most comfortable, and the counselor can provide support with greater thought.

Not for Everyone

Despite experiencing many benefits, we must acknowledge that SMS chat is not suitable for everyone. Young people who prefer synchronous conversations and desire immediate interaction with a counselor may find the asynchronous nature of SMS communication challenging. It’s important to recognize that SMS chat does not meet the wishes and needs of all users. By switching from web to SMS chat, some users may have opted out of our 1-1 chat counseling. However, users still have the option for synchronous webchat conversations, group chats with a counselor and other users.

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Seniorkonsulent med speciale i digitalpædagogisk ungerådgivning Kontakt Niels-Christian

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