4 Ways to Energize Your Online Community With Live Events
Community “IRL” – 4 Ways to Energize Your Online Community With Live Events
Community “IRL” – 4 Ways to Energize Your Online Community With Live Events

Everything’s going great. You’re successfully running your online community of customers, partners, influencers, developers, bloggers, and others in the sphere of your company’s ecosystem. But you’re still thinking, “How do I supercharge the passion I know is locked in all these awesome advocates online? How do I help my community create more meaningful bonds beyond their keyboards?” Those are great questions and here come some answers!

We are social beings. As powerful as online community engagement can be, nothing replaces personal, face-to-face networking, meetings, and the impromptu hallway conversations (or late night after-party meetups) that happen when people get together at in-person events. While your community members have made great connections online, you can help them make lasting and powerful bonds by encouraging members to get together “in real life” at meetups and events. Let’s call it “Community IRL!”

It’s likely your company hosts an annual customer or user conference to bring together your best customers and broader ecosystem to hear about the latest and greatest solutions and services. As a community manager, if you’re not leveraging those customer/partner events as part of your community strategy, you are missing out on a powerful way to energize your community! Here are four ways to make that happen.

1.Pre-Event – Build Buzz in the Community

First of all, make sure your community knows about upcoming events and that they know they are welcome and encouraged to join. Start with a calendar of upcoming events, but your editorial/community management team should feature stories, videos, and links about events that are particularly relevant for the community. These are table stakes for getting the word out to the community.

Your upcoming event will have experts, product managers, and thought leaders presenting topics relevant to your community. Create an incentive program for your speakers to blog in the community about the topic they’ll be presenting at the event. Work with your event content team—they’ll know all the speakers and will have regular communications with them as the event approaches. Make sure writing a blog is part of the communication going out to speakers. Make it easy for them with a template for what their blog could look like, confirm that your speakers all have login access to the community, and consider creating extra prizes for the blogs with the most shares, likes, or views.

This is a win-win for everyone:

• Your event team gets great “content marketing” promoting the event.
• Community members feel connected to the event and learn more about interesting topics that will be presented.
• Speakers get real-time feedback from the community through comments, likes, and shares (and may modify their content based on comments).
• You’re adding valuable content to the community for members to share with colleagues and on social media bringing them back to the community and growing interest in the event.

Run some Google Hangouts with speakers and event staff in the weeks leading up to the event and broadcast them on the community homepage. It’s easier than you think! Plan to have 4-5 of your top “speaker rock stars” join each Hangout to talk about their topics at the event. Have a leader introduce them and keep the conversation going. Run it live on the homepage using the Google Hangout “On Air” feature, and make sure to promote it ahead of time in the community and on social. I ran several of these broadcasts live in the community ahead of our SAP TechEd events and we had close to 1,000 live streaming to learn more about the upcoming event.

2. Bridge Your Reputation Systems

You likely have a reputation system or gamification in your community; maybe you have leaderboards, missions, badges, and other ways to encourage members to contribute. Make sure you bridge your online incentives to the physical events. You could have a badge for registering, a badge for attending, a badge for doing certain activities at the event, joining meetups, etc. Include the year on each badge so members collect a new one each year they join.

We created the badges shown here for online community members registering, attending or participating in specific activities at SAP TechEd. Event badges add to the cache of going to your top events—and help create more buzz in the community to drive attendance (and revenue).

Make sure the content at your events maps to the content in your community as well. People that are leaders in each topic area will be well known in the community and can then meet up with their peers and experts at the events. When speakers write blogs about their topics, they should post in the relevant topic areas and tag these blogs to make sure members that are interested can see them, comment and react.

3. Share the Event Experience With the Whole Community

Events are a natural way to create compelling content for your community. In one place and time, you have customers, partners, employees, influencers, and experts. If your event team is planning to stream video from your events (like keynotes, breakout sessions, or expert interviews), that’s great! Give those video streams plenty of presence in the community. Invite your global community members to be part of the action. Anyone that was unable to travel will feel like they were part of the event—and make an even greater effort to attend in person next time!

If there are no official plans to stream video from the event, there are still ways to share the experience with your community. These days, there are a bunch of ways to live stream video content. You can use simple mobile streaming in Facebook Live or Periscope to streaming services like LiveStream or uStream. Members of your community team going to the event can broadcast live, or encourage community members to stream important moments in their experience back to the rest of the community.

Another important way to include your community in live events is through social media. I could write an entire blog just on social media best practices for events. But the key things to remember are to make sure you have a unique hashtag for the event and communicate the hashtag (everywhere!) to the attendees as well as to all community members, even if they’re not attending. That way, attendees can share their experiences on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and everyone can follow along, get a sense of what’s happening, and interact with attendees. In fact, the combination of a live video feed with the Twitter stream of your event hashtag is an awesome way to experience an event while following the live discussion as it happens!

4. Continue Engaging Post-Event

So you’ve had an amazing event with inspirational speakers, great networking, met new people, solved problems together, and you’re all getting on planes to go back to your regular lives. Don’t let that energy drop! Do everything you can to keep that energy alive, keep the conversation going, and build on the great new relationships customers, partners, and others have built at your in-person event. Harness that energy and keep it alive online!

Here are some more ideas:
• Ask your speakers to blog again – have them post the results of their session and talk about what they learned and the relationships they built at the event.
• Create a “coffee corner” area or a unique tag in the community for the event so members can share their experiences in blogs and videos.
• Post replays of all your live streamed video from the event in the community. Give it exposure on the community homepage and newsletters.
• Have your social media team post-event recap blogs in your community. The content can nearly write itself by including best tweets, best Instagram posts, etc.
• Create a gamification challenge for community members to write a blog sharing their event experiences in the community. Have them post pictures, topics they learned about, informal get-togethers, new colleagues they met, etc.

Are you ready to give “Community IRL” a try? The challenge now is up to you!

Put together a list of events your company runs where you could use some of these approaches to energize your community audience. Work with your event team to see which ideas could benefit you both. It’s an opportunity for a real win-win. The event team will love the idea since it helps them get the word out, build excitement, and inspire members to get registered for the event!

Let me know how it goes!

About the Author

Chip Rodgers
Chip Rodgers is an accomplished executive leading digital marketing, demand generation, large customer events, community marketing, social media, and growing pipeline. Chip is a passionate learner, tracking the industry and market changes and has been successful motivating teams trying new approaches to reach audiences in authentic ways. Chip has an MBA degree from the University of Chicago and an undergraduate degree in Engineering from Northwestern. A Chicago native, Chip resides in Philadelphia and enjoys time with his family, sailing, tennis, and music trends. You can find Chip active on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

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