5 Steps to Building Community at EventsMay 12, 2015
The following post is attributed to Sherrie Rohde, the Community Manager for Magento.
I love events. If you’ve met me before, then you know this to be true. In fact, one of my good friends, and long-standing community members, recently walked up to me at an event and told me to stop smiling so big before I hurt my face. True story.
When you’re part of an event team, you’re attending events with a purpose, and your purpose is to build community during the event. You don’t want to build just any community, you want to build a lasting community that helps your ecosystem or organization continue to succeed.
Here’s are five key things I’ve found to help me be successful in building community at events:
1. Do your homework before the event.
I know, I know, the title is “Building Community During Events,” and I’ve gone rogue already. Bear with me. Doing your homework before the event is crucial to your success at the event and beyond. After all, you don’t want your event community to fall to pieces post-event, am I right?
- Start with a list of goals. What do you want to achieve?
- Then look at what connections you need to make and which relationships you need to maintain or strengthen.
- Don’t just stop there, reach out in advance to let them know that you’ll be attending and look forward to meeting up. Perhaps even set a specific time and meeting place for during the event.
As with most things in life, a little preparation beforehand will help make building community at events an even greater success.
2. Focus on your community members.
It sounds so “duh!” right? The truth is, events are hard work. By the time you get to D-Day, you’re exhausted from planning and preparing. In addition, you have a list of goals to accomplish during the event, partners and sponsors to keep happy, responsibilities to carry out and that little voice in the back of your mind telling you to stop and take notes so you remember how to report on the event afterwards. (I intentionally left out sleep, let’s just be honest with each other here.)
You can even start to connect community members with each other before the event. Start monitoring the event hashtag, if you have one, and maybe even consider creating an online space for the community to connect in advance. This can help newbie attendees feel more excited about your event as they will start making friends they can then look forward to meeting up with while they’re there.
Look for people tweeting that they’re attending and reach out to tell them how excited you are that they’re attending, then connect them with a community veteran you feel they’ll have something in common with. It sounds so simple, but it will mean so much.
When I was working at a recent conference, our entire event team was reminded that no matter what was happening, it was crucial not to relay any stress to attendees. I truly appreciated this reminder and have kept it to heart ever since. This is where focusing on your community members comes in. No matter what, take the time to stop and say hi. Introduce yourself to new faces and those off by themselves, make sure everyone is involved, at their comfort level, and enjoying the event.
There’s a good chance you won’t remember all of them, but there’s an even better chance they will remember their interaction with you—whether good or bad.
3. Help the community connect with each other.
It is simply not possible to be everywhere at once, for all the reasons listed above plus our simple human lack of omnipresence. This is why it’s so essential to help attendees connect with each other. Take every opportunity to connect attendees, sponsors, partners and speakers with each other wherever it makes sense. Remember how you spent every waking, and sleeping, hour preparing for the event? As I mentioned before, this should have included researching your community—combine that with truly listening and you have a great toolkit to connect the dots in your community. After all, sometimes serendipity requires a small piece of our assistance.
Beyond introducing members to each other, you can also help them connect through a little bit of recognition and friendly competition. We recently used Zoomph’s social wall at an event, and the community, all of active Twitter users, absolutely loved it. We had the board displayed in presentation rooms between speakers, in the registration area, in the sponsor marketplace and even in our party venue. The community took pictures of themselves on the display and excitedly checked in to see who was topping the leaderboard, and of course subsequently trying to take over it.
Helping the community connect with each other creates value for them and their businesses as well as makes them feel good about your event and want to come back.
4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
This sounds a bit ironic given my previous comments about lack of sleep before and during the event, I get it. You will be short on sleep, it’s a given, but you do still need to remember to take care of yourself, even during the event.
A little over two years ago, during our annual Community Manager Appreciation Day broadcast, I had the honor of getting some face time with Natalie Villalobos, previously the Community Manager for Google+ and now Women in Technology Advocate at Google. She said something that has truly stuck with me ever since:
“The more balanced I can be, the more perspective I can get, the more nourished I am, the more I can serve my community.” —Natalie Villalobos
Sometimes this means stepping away for a few minutes to get some fresh air, even during the event. Sometimes it means not being the last one at the party so you can get enough sleep to still be alert and at your best the next day. Let’s face it, it’s hard to stay friendly and welcoming when we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Your event responsibilities are still important, and you shouldn’t ignore them, but there are moments you can find to simply breathe and restore your energy.
Take care of yourself: you owe it not only to yourself, but also to your community.
5. Don’t stop at the closing remarks.
While it’s true that not all communities last forever, they all have a time and a place in our lives, you put your heart and soul into this new group of BFFs and you want it to last beyond the closing remarks and after-parties.
Take it online. If you were building community online leading up to the event, do it again afterwards. Monitor the hashtag for people experiencing event withdrawal and reach out to them. (Yes, this is a real thing.) Look for event recaps and display them prominently in your community space, giving recognition to those who created them.
Keep in touch. That list you made before the event has probably been updated during the event as you met people you didn’t know would be key going forwards. One tool I love for this is Nimble, a social CRM. Nimble allows me to not only follow our community across social networks, but I can also set reminders to make sure I keep in touch if I’ve forgotten to do so.
Plan local meetups. Meetups are arguably also events; however, if we’re talking about building community at a larger annual event, monthly or quarterly meetups are a great way to keep the community strong throughout the year.
Get creative about keeping in touch with your community. Every community is unique and what works for me might not work for you, but if you take the time to get to know your community, you’ll be able to figure out what they need.
If you’re looking for a few more tips, because these five just aren’t enough, check out our #CMGRHangout episodes: Planning Community Events and Moving from Faves to Hugs to hear from a few other experienced community professionals.
What’s helped you build community at events? I’m always looking for new ideas! Tweet me @SherrieRohde with your suggestions