As community professionals, we all want to ensure our community members can access each other to stay connected and engaged. But if your community comes together via offline events, this can be a tricky thing to master.
In these cases, how can community professionals best serve their members and the organizations they represent?
This week, we talk with two event organizers to understand how they build events that create deep connection and keep their members connected outside of their events.
Both events are rooted in ideologies that individuals identify with on a deeper level, creating an underlying connection between attendees that developed into a solid lasting community. Keeping members connected and engaged is critical for the events’ success every day of the year. Below, we’ll cover some key components to keep in mind if you’re managing an event or offline community.
1. Create Mission Alignment
Creating alignment between the event’s mission, the business/community overall, and the people you want to attract is a very important first step to offline community success (as explained by CMX’s Community Strategy Canvas). You find alignment by thinking high-level about why your community exists, what the goals are, who members are, and the culture you’ll create.
For Jeff, East Meets West’s mission is to “provide attendees with the tools they need to understand and assimilate wellness practice into their lives”, provide better care for themselves, and stand comfortably at the intersection of ancient wisdom and modern living. Jeff says about the event, “We focus on educational workshops and talks that connect people with their purpose and their passion.” People are drawn to the mission of this event because there isn’t another like it that is easily accessible. This is a unique value proposition for members.
For Amy, YxYY’s reason for existing is to bring together innovative thinkers passionate about, well, anything. They’re looking to talk with others about their ideas and find ways to make each other’s dreams for a better future into reality. In her experience, “The mission needs to be clear, and the intention needs to be clear in order to get the ethos out there.”
The takeaway: For community builders looking to extend community beyond the event date, first clearly define the event’s mission, the attendee’s goals and motivations, and the culture of the event that you want to keep growing. When you build the online community space, it’s important to remind people in that space of this mission at every turn, whether it’s in how you moderate, circulate content, or keep everyone updated. Constantly reinforce why you are all there.
2. Put a Code of Conduct in Place
In Ligaya Tichy’s article, Beyond Guidelines: Setting the Stage for Good Behavior in your Community, she explains five ways you can set the stage for good behavior in an online community.
Similar to making an internal effort to keep the community peace, Amy and her co-founders at YxYY have created their own Code of Conduct for the event. Holding members to this code ensures everyone is treated with respect, the event can occur peacefully and individuals are held accountable for their actions.
As a member of the YxYY community, this code of conduct builds trust in the event, its organizers and other attendees that is critically important.
There are several resources for creating a code of conduct for your event, including a comprehensive overview and open-source template from the Ada Initiative.
The takeaway: Set the stage for success at your event by having a code of conduct, just like you would in your online community with guidelines. Then extend that code of conduct into your online community post-event.
3. Find Creative Ways for Attendees to Connect
Proper event wrap-up should always include some sort of way for event attendees, now members of an event community, to stay in touch. In more formal settings, the exchange of business cards can suffice but for events like East Meets West and YxYY, that may not quite cut it. Leaving it up to your event community to connect and stay in touch is like leaving a big box of engaging, creative opportunity on the table.
Amy reflects on her experience after the first YxYY, “the thing that surprised me the most is the online engagement didn’t stop after the event.” Some attendees make super fun, informal business cards with silly pictures and fake titles. Others carry around empty envelopes and write the names and addresses of the people they meet so they can send a letter after the event is over.
In Jeff’s case with East Meets West, post-event connection could very well be what aids the event’s growth and popularity. When talking about staying in touch, Jeff mentioned, “I’m intending to have people meet and be encouraged to stay in touch after the event; keep each other accountable for their health goals or whatever other goals they may have in place.”
The takeaway: It’s not always about engaging people in one central hub after the event. Depending on your resources, it’s a good start to give people creative freedom and suggest ideas for staying in touch one-to-one. Don’t create friction where you could create connection.
4. Experiment with an Online Hub
Amy and her team created a Facebook group prior to the first YxYY event, which she considers the “crux of the online community”. It was designed to connect people who wanted to contribute and keep real-time announcements and information in one safe, dependable place. For Jeff, he’s aware of the demand for a way to connect online, however East Meets West is still searching for the right platform fit.
Due to the nature and content of both these events, there hasn’t been a direct emphasis on online community building – but what if there were? It’s clear that there is a demand, and opportunity, for professional community management involvement for event and offline communities.
The takeaway: Try a low barrier to entry solution like a Facebook Group for your event. You may be surprised what further connection happens there.
Consider how the quality of the content, and the salience of the experience would improve if there was more buzz being generated and recorded by the community during the rest of the year.
As community professionals, it may be time to consider how we can support these communities by offering guidance, support and even some of our time.
A good place to start is by doing some reflection on what kinds of events you’d see yourself attending. Keep your mind open to locations outside of where you live. Do any come to mind that you can envision yourself getting more deeply involved with? If so, reach out to an organizer, offer your expertise in lieu of a ticket or as a donation in support of the event’s success.
From there, similar to what you’d do when building a new community, develop a strategy. Allocate your resources, and get an understanding of what tools your community may need. Then, coordinate with the event organizers to keep things on-brand and in integrity.