As everything begins to thaw out, both people and communities crave activity after a long winter indoors, and perhaps a stretch of social hibernation, too. It's time to open up the doors for fresh new events and meet ups.
A common misconception for online communities is that it simply replaces in-person connections. For Lesley Lykins, the community manager at the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), not only has the opposite been true, but fostering those live interactions has been at the heart of CXPA's community effort.
CXPA has gotten great mileage out of leveraging community in building a volunteer base to host and manage live events in more than 30 cities. "It's amazing the pull that in-person can have for the organization," Lesley noted in the Community Manager Handbook (which Higher Logic partnered with The Community Roundtable to produce this winter), and the community only strengthens the desire for those connections.
It's not really a surprise for long time social media types. The launch and early growth of Twitter led to the advent of the 'tweetup' as a means to connect people in real life who had only been connected 140 characters at a time. The two sides feed off each other - community done well bolsters connections that drive an interest in real-world meetings, and meeting live can lead to greater community engagement.
But "live" doesn't have to mean in-person, literally. Online hangouts, scheduled programs and other interactive opportunities can strengthen the relationships among community members. A key element in live programming for community managers is to enable the direct connections among members to flourish. One way to do that is through member-led programming, which allows you to heighten the profile of members and lets them demonstrate and develop their skills.
Getting members to provide programming does more than just scale you as a community manager by "filling a slot." Your key members' profiles are publicly elevated at the events (and by making transcripts, reports or recordings available afterwards), so you begin to create a self-sustaining group of experts who are more than just usernames in a directory. Those community experts can be a natural source of talent for champion and advocacy programs, too.
As with the advent of spring, we often have lofty goals for live events. We're taught to think big - the more people, the more valuable. Just as the biggest parties aren't always the ones you enjoy most, all programs and live events don't have to be venue-busting in size to have an impact. Hillary Boucher, from The Community Roundtable, noted smaller events provide value by letting members connect in a more focused, individual way. This often creates greater opportunities to ask questions and build stronger relationships.
Your content can drive engagement by bringing people to the community. But your programs and live events build the relationships that make communities strong - and your community will only flourish with a bit of both.