Politicians are increasingly getting used to talking to their constituents online, especially during election season. They’re doing Reddit AMAs and virtual town halls to answer questions and enter debates with others. But until recently, there haven’t been many good platforms for doing so. CrowdHall hopes to provide a platform that anyone can use for these types of communications.
CrowdHall was created as a way to enable politicians, public figures and organizations to hold town hall or question-and-answer sessions online. Unlike other options out there, the CrowdHall platform can be used to curate and moderate questions as they come in, allowing the respondent only to respond to the themes or queries that are most important to them.
That helps to solve the Reddit Ask Me Anything problem, where a large group of vocal users have their questions bubble up to the top — but they might not always be the most relevant to the discussion at hand. It also has a more refined look than some of the other discussion platforms out there. Oh, and CrowdHall also has the added bonus of letting users respond to questions not just via text, but also with other media, such as photos and video.
While those who create discussions won’t have the benefit of a huge engaged audience like on Reddit, there are plenty of tools to reach the people who are most likely to participate. CrowdHall co-founder Jordan Menzel told me that those who set up discussions can add them to newsletters and other communications, and also use social-sharing features to distribute to Facebook or Twitter.
CrowdHall is in beta now, but hopes to offer a freemium model for users who wish to take advantage of higher-end features in the future. Right now CrowdHall sessions happen on its own page, but the company will enable them to customize pages with their own branding, as well as to embed the discussions on their own websites. One other feature that could be enabled is the ability to create private chats, which would be perfect for internal discussions of topics within companies.
The platform has been leveraged to host town halls and discussion forums for agencies, politicians, and public figures such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Senator Boozeman, Senator Brown, and economist Jeffrey Sachs. It’s also been used by organizations such as LivingSocial, People Water, SparkPeople, Teach for America, United Way and Columbia University.
In addition to Menzel, who is the former Assistant to Secretary Madeleine Albright, CrowdHall was founded by med school dropout Austin Hackett, and designer and developer Nick Wientge. The startup has raised $700,000 from investors, including the Las Vegas Tech Fund, The Brandery, Vine Street Ventures, Calvin Soh, Greg Kidd, Social Starts, John Tan, Northwestern Capital, as well as assorted friends and family.