In my role as a Community Manager, I talk to a lot of people online as I work through my day. Whether it’s responding to a tweet, commenting on a blog post, answering a question on LinkedIn, or even responding to a post in a forum, I’m chatting with people from all over the globe on a daily basis.
The funny thing is, I’ve never met most of these people. They know details about my life, but we’ve never shared a cup of coffee or looked each other in the eyes. Often, I’ve never even heard their voice.
While there is a lot of chatter about online communities, less is said about how to connect your online community members with each other, or with you, offline.
Here are three ways live events can help improve your online community.
1. Discovering Something New
I recently attended SXSW in Austin, TX and met a lot of people in person that I’d had the great fortune of chatting with online, sometimes for years. I discovered a lot more about these people than just what they share online, and as a result, I now have even more to chat about with them when we do connect in the digital world.
Though there many people who don’t seem to care what they say online, there are also just as many that are hyper-aware of the fact that what they say online stays online forever. Those members of your community may be unwilling to talk about certain topics online, and live events are a great way to discover new things about them, and about all members of your online space. This is a key way that live events help improve your online community.
Live events are an excellent way to get people talking and you can help spark that conversation by asking attendees to share a few personal details on their nametags. If your community is based around an affinity for cars, for example, why not ask people to put their favorite make, model and year on their nametag? For food-centric communities, how about their favorite home-cooked meal? Even details like where you grew up, your favorite color, your astrological sign, or a pet peeve are interesting facts to find out about people, and all are conversation starters.
2. Making Connections
Think of an online community as a big summer BBQ. Your job as the host is to make sure everyone is having a great time, everyone knows where the bathroom and other important locations are, and that people aren’t feeling left out or lonely because they have no one to talk to.
The party host is at the center of the action, just as a moderator is in an online community. If they’re not paying attention to the community when things are happening, they may miss an opportunity to connect with someone.
Live events offer the chance to introduce community members to one another face-to-face. You have a great introduction point already in mind (since you think they’ll get along for some reason or another), and it’s often easier to say, “Hey, Lisa, meet Stephanie, you two both really like skiing and mentioned going to Colorado this coming winter” offline, than it is to make the same introduction within your community online.
Evernote is a great tool for keeping notes like this handy. Whenever an idea like that hits online, jot it down and save it for later. If the two members you want to introduce are at the next event you throw, make that introduction happen! If not, see if an opportunity arises to introduce them some other way, perhaps even within the community itself at a later time.
3. Solidifying Connections
Here’s the tricky one – bonding. Bonding can happen both offline and online, and it’s more an effect of communicating with people than an action you can do to help people connect. Live events are great tools to help your community solidify their online connections, bond a bit, and walk away feeling like they know a bit more about someone then they did at the start of the event. In many ways, introducing people who you think would get along and providing opportunities for members to discover common interests for themselves are the steps you can do to help them solidify their connections.
For example, I went on a cruise last year with a number of other people working in social media (mostly relative strangers), and now keep up with many both online and offline, even making a point to visit them if I’m in their area of the U.S. We bonded on that cruise ship.
As small of an act as it may seem, looking someone in the eyes and having a conversation adds a lot to a relationship.
I challenge you to brainstorm ways that you can bring your online community together offline. Plan an event, even if it’s a small one, and see how your community benefits. Watch how those members interact with each other before meeting in person and after.
See for yourself how live events can improve your online community.
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