Clever Carly: How to Leverage Your Meeting’s Online Community

Ask these four questions before building your event’s digital meeting space

Hello, dear planners!

As technology and live events continue to meld together, I’ve been thinking more about how this partnership can further magnify a meeting’s goals. And where attendee participation is concerned, I think the cornerstone of this tech-meet-world relationship is a meeting’s online community. 

It used to be that attendees could only interact with an event at an event—but not anymore. With the internet, people can start engaging with a meeting long before the day of—but how many events cultivate a proper space for them to do so?

An online community is basically a digital meeting space: Attendees can gather there to talk amongst themselves, connect and learn before, during and long after your meeting has ended. But all of that conversation and engagement doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. And as with other marketing strategies, an online community is just that: a strategy. It takes planning and effort to build such a space for conversation. And if you’re just getting started, I’d suggest starting with these four questions:

What’s the purpose behind your meeting’s online community?
Just as your meeting has a purpose, so does its online following. Are you just trying to create excitement among attendees and boost ticket sales? Or is your online community a way for guests to network, connect and stay in touch after the activities conclude? Whatever the answer is will govern the structure of your event’s online community. For example, if the goal is to only increase attendance numbers, your strategy will likely rely on sharing content to hype potential attendees up. But if the idea is to use your online community to foster and cultivate new relationships, its internal structure should reflect that, incorporating messaging features so that attendees can communicate. 

Where will this community live?
So, now you know what your community is tasked with—but where will the people gather? It might seem like a big budget production to host an online community, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, about 66 percent of attendees will engage online throughout an event, so you could capitalize on that without having to invest in hosting the community on your own platform. Instead, you’d encourage guests to interact with your meeting on social media by creating an event hashtag that would organize all related posts into one spot, so both you and attendees can track the conversation in real time. For Network meetings that require more in-depth participation from attendees, try an event app designed with matchmaking and messaging capabilities. 

How should I start building my event’s online community?

The answer, of course, will depend on the goals of your meeting community and where it will live. Let’s say social media is right for your event. In that case, a unique hashtag and solid marketing strategy might be enough to get people talking. More likely than not, though, a more built-out plan will be required, and at the heart of this plan is the attendee experience. From a technical standpoint, attendees will need an intuitively designed online experience that makes it easy for guests to contribute to the conversation. And from a human perspective, they’ll want incentive to want to contribute, which brings me to my next point …

What should my online community engage around?
The golden question! As I said before, an online community isn’t going to just appear, and simply building it won’t guarantee a turnout. In order to create a successful online community, you have to look beyond what it means for your meeting and tap into what kinds of opportunities it could provide for your attendees. That is, the shared interest of your event is important, yes, but is it enough to motivate people to participate—and participate long term? Probably not. So, what is it about your event in particular that will keep them coming back? Maybe the incentive of your online community is that guests get exclusive meeting perks not available anywhere else. For example, an event with speakers might extend the opportunity for attendees to engage and interact with said speakers through the community. Or, maybe guests who participate online will have special access to resources, reports or other materials. Whatever extra benefits your event offers, that’s what you should highlight—and what will keep people coming back.

Although there are many metrics for meeting success, attendee engagement is a big one. Motivating such participation can take a village—albeit sometimes a digital one—but providing an online community where attendees can do so can make all the difference.

Plan well,
Clever Carly