We spend a huge amount of time and effort organising virtual events, generating interest, and driving attendance. But, too often, when the events are over, the spike in community engagement - all that buzz we experienced online - simply evaporates. Until the next time.
This sort of makes sense with in-person events, but in the online world, different rules of time and place apply. Here, we have the opportunity to keep people connected and engaged between live, or 'time-based', events. And in doing so, we increase the value - and extend the lifecycle - of the event content. We can keep the conversation going in a seamless way.
The main challenges of using virtual event platforms
Creating sustainable connections
How do you find potential connections that you want to engage with before an event? How do you stay connected with them afterwards? Virtual event platforms are not designed for longer, ongoing discussions or engagement beyond the event. This means that connections die quickly or move out of your view to platforms you don’t own or control, like LinkedIn. Plus, if organisations use multiple virtual event platforms to run different types of events, people have to reconnect at each event and can’t continue networking.
Continuing the conversation
How do you leverage all of the great content and keep collaboration flowing before and after the virtual event? How do you keep attendees and breakout groups connected and create a knowledge hub of content to be leveraged all year long?
We all rushed to virtual events, but now it is time to take the next step. Let’s look at how we can broaden our virtual event strategy to include more continuous audience engagement.
Enter the era of dedicated online community platforms that provide a continuous connection and potential engagement layer around your virtual event experience. This will drive future successful events, which in turn will drive a thriving, more productive and impactful community. Organising your events with(in) an online community platform provides added value and engagement, as it allows you to:
- Keep conversations going all year long and provide continuous connections, delivering long-term value for your participants and retaining your audience.
- Engage attendees before and after the event. Allow attendees to submit the questions and topics they would like to see covered before the event, and use the questions from your chat log that you weren’t able to answer during the session after the event to create ongoing conversation in your community. This way you provide a knowledge hub related to the session that allows your attendees to discuss ideas with each other, ask to share notes and find the recording and presentation material in one place.
- Involve the speakers and experts in the online discussions as well. Encourage them to ask for input on their sessions before the event and to create a discussion thread immediately after the event for a follow-up Q&A.
- Provide a continuous knowledge hub for your community: Share presentations and additional resources in a resource library in the community and offer recorded sessions from past events on-demand, increasing event audience and organic promotion of future events. You could consider charging for these session recordings.
- Engage attendees in between events by running “Ask me anything” sessions, having staff and presenters available in the community to answer questions on an ongoing basis. Ask some other subject matter experts in your community to help your presenter identify questions and keep the conversation flowing.
- Attract more attendees to your events by promoting events more organically, using word of mouth marketing from past attendees and content from past events to create some serious FOMO.
- Offer high-value sponsorship options throughout the year. With a community, you can try different and longer-term monetizing strategies, including: sponsored ads, content and discussion posts, sponsored events and white papers, sponsors paying for access to the community, getting a sponsor to pay for the community platform, and many more.
How to integrate events within your community?
Open Social, for example, now offers an extension which directly integrates Zoom and Big Blue Button events within its community platform, which means members don’t have to follow external links or leave the platform to join a live webinar or video-call, ideally facilitating regular online meetings, ongoing discussions and continuous connections around community-generated discussions and content. As different types of events probably require different virtual event platforms, you can also integrate the community by letting participants sign up to both the event- and the community platform in one effort and facilitate pre- and post event conversations on the community platform.
And this is just the start. Online community platforms offer many benefits beyond live events. For example, you can:
- Connect people around topics of expertise and interest, keeping them engaged around the subjects they care about most.
- Maintain rich profiles of people in a network that you own enabling you to personalize your communication.
- Identify the needs and wants of your audience for content and topics, continuously improving your relevance.
- Create more frequent, smaller and personal live online meetups allowing people to interact.
- Gamify the Experience to further encourage engagement. Reward user activity and engagement by giving points for posting and commenting and give them a badge or certificate for attending your event or other milestones, and unleash the competitive nature of your users with leaderboards.
- Create added value by using ideation and crowd innovation tools, real-time collaboration tools, and editing content together.
- Provide resources and tools beyond events, facing specific challenges. For example, Open Social’s BIO Coronavirus Hub is a public platform open to anyone to connect with medical experts or workers in need of supplies, ensuring continued response to the pandemic.
- Provide continuous education (also on demand) by integrating custom eLearning modules that guide members through educational material with quizzes to keep your members learning in a fun way.
- And even celebrate birthdays together to add something fun and social.
Especially for existing communities of association members or volunteers it makes great sense to organise your event within an owned online community platform.
Superglue or Pritt Stick?
A note on the “glue” that connects your community
For a community to thrive online and justify investment in an online community platform there needs to be a certain degree of organic need to interact, meet, connect and share knowledge, driven by a common purpose or goal of its members. This is the crucial starting point! This 'need to meet' should be beyond three days per year at an in-person event or conference, as members are used to.
However, needs are changing. The way we interact has changed forever by the current turbo-charged digital transformation. Next to this, it is important to note that it is becoming increasingly easy for potential competitors to gather communities online. And lastly, it is important to be forward-looking and take the expectations of new generations into account.
It should also be noted that there is no one size fits all; these exact (potential) community and interaction drivers need to be identified, a community strategy created, and community managers and ambassadors assigned, in order to facilitate and amplify the natural glue between members of your community.
If the potential is there, an online community platform can be an ideal tool to facilitate and amplify your offline community in an online setting and increase its impact by facilitating more frequent interaction and more effective collaboration. I also believe that it can provide solutions to many of the challenges of changing engagement and business models a lot of associations are currently facing.
If you organise regular online events, starting with thinking of your online event strategy as a continuous community building strategy instead of just an online version of your in person event is a great place to start.
About the author
With 20 years of experience in the international association meetings industry, Mathijs Vleeming is contributing to the transformation of community building as Strategic Consultant at Open Social and an AMI Expert Contributor on the subject of online communities.