When Huffington Post launched its always-on companion video site, HuffPost Live, it was determined to take full advantage of the power of audience engagement.

While that previously meant allowing users to post comments on stories or join live chats, HuffPost Live decided to go a step further.

“With HuffPost Live, we are trying to create a social video platform,” explains Roy Sekoff, co-creator and president. “We’re looking for something with deeper meaning, where engagement is key.”

To accomplish that, HuffPost decided to let readers become on-air guests rather than just inviting them to post comments. The move was seen as a risky one: “There is a big difference between leaving a written comment and letting people come on the air; it’s an entirely different skill set.”

But Sekoff and his team were betting on a Skype-savvy population to pull through for them. Because so many consumers are using video chat, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts, they were confident the experiment would attract more polished, video-friendly guests.

To sign up, users visit the site’s “Green Room” and can browse upcoming topics. A prominent button on the page invites then to “be an on-air guest.” Potential guests then submit videos of themselves explaining why they would be a good guest for an upcoming segment. They also suggest topics for discussion, which has helped HuffPost Live expand its already far-reaching coverage.

During the site’s live, on-air chats, viewers can participate with Tweets, e-mails, or videos, all of which are incorporated into the conversation.

The format has worked better than Sekoff and his team had dared hope. In the first six months online, HuffPost Live welcomed some 6,500 guests. And the engagement is well beyond what Sekoff says they could have achieved using staff members alone.

“This has brought an incredible variety of perspectives to the subjects we cover and has added tremendously to the conversations that people are having,” Sekoff says.

Again flying in the face of tradition, HuffPost Live allows the segments to go beyond the quick three- to five-minute exchanges seen on television programmes. The segments are 15 to 20 minutes long, which Sekoff says gives the topics more time to “breathe and lets people have a real exchange instead of working in sound bites.”