Successful meeting planners do more than plan meetings – they create communities that keep attendees engaged before, during and long after the event.
That is the contention of digital media experts Kristin Zurovitch and John Pollard, both of Sonic Foundry, who delivered a session called “From Meeting Professional to Community Concierge: How to Engage Attendees 24/7/365”at the recent PCMA conference in Orlando.
The goal, according to the presenters, should be to make events an extension of a vibrant community rather than the community being an extension of the event.
Community concierge managers
Planners should become “community concierge managers, someone who is the glue between events, who cares and nurtures attendees so they become a year-round community,” Zurovitch told Travel Market Report.
In that role, planners become “engagement advocate, matchmaker, conversation stimulator, evangelist, listener and brand champion,” she said, adding that community managers are similar to moderators in televised debates but with a louder voice.
Keep it interactive
Managing a community involves finding the things that lend themselves to post-event engagement, according to Zurovitch.
“If you can do that on a long-term basis, you will create a vibrant community,” she said. “The goal is to look at ways of creating a feeling of interactivity among associations or customers – helping individuals find like-minded folks or to find colleagues with a specific expertise.”
Many times, according to Zurovitch, planners will be the conversation stimulator, getting the dialogue going by seeding questions. Then the conversations will happen organically.
What makes a community?
Following are the components of a community, according to Zurovitch:
• Place – an online platform where community members feel comfortable interacting with peers. This is where members share their thoughts, failures and successes.
• Content – this is what should be under discussion. Content might be photos and video; topics that emerge from Twitter feeds; crowd-sourced subjects and more.
• Engagement – keeping interactivity going between events. For example, members might connect with others before an event and make plans to follow up at the meeting; after a meeting, they might discuss what they learned. Videos and photos are also good post-event community builders.
Planners seeking to create and maintain communities should start small, using free or inexpensive community-forming platforms such as Ning, Zurovitch advised. Other places where a community can be hosted include: Pathable.com, Lithium.com and Facebook. Or planners can build their own community sites, then use a mainstream site such as Facebook to feed into it.
Also, planners should get buy-in on their community efforts from top management. That's more likely to happen, Zurovitch said, “if the investment is small and returns are shown quickly.”
From start to finish
Essential to the success of an event community is to set goals before, during and after the meeting, Zurovitch advised. Here is what she suggests:
Before. “Before an event, planners can crowd-source content or have attendees connect with one another on subjects they may want to discuss at the event. Then the site should be used to promote the event. If you can help people make connections ahead of time, they come to the event engaged and ready to get involved in the conversation. That benefits your conference. Events are getting shorter so connecting more quickly is really important.”
The site should be used before a meeting to prepare attendees to make the most of the event. This might include short webcasts on what to expect or presenting a Top 10 list of things attendees should do before they come.
During. “There might be a password-protected area for actual (not virtual) attendees where sessions can be streamed and where attendees can find each other on site,” Zurovitch advised.
After. “After the conference, all of this content should be put to work to keep the dialogue going,” she said. “What did you learn? What was your big aha moment? This helps attendees make themselves accountable.”
Year-round community, said Zurovitch, can be leveraged to prove to organization leaders that the value of the event is not just counted in revenue but in “creating a degree of stickiness throughout the year. The more sticky, the stronger the relationships with your company as well as within the organization.”