By Erica Bishaf | Founder & CEO | CampfireSocial

Communities exist for member engagement and for your organization to remain close to your constituents. Engaged members are six times more likely to spend with your organization and drive event attendance – these are not stats to ignore!

There are many ways that organizations are breeding community today. They include DIY digital communities, leveraging social media sites, off the shelf community platforms, webinars, and even in-person meetings. All have their inherent benefits that bring people within your industry together to form meaningful connections. Yet not all work to drive deeper relationships that, in turn, can provide your organization with data, insight and revenue that can be used to create a richer member experience. Being thoughtful about your community approach is important.

Your organization should not spend financial and human resources on a community if your goal is to simply provide a member benefit. Rather, communities should only be deployed if you are looking to create a data-driven member experience. As you think through your community approach in our evolving and hybrid world, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from studying communities and how they impact trade and professional associations as well as event organizers.

Here are 10 elements that should be top of mind in your community selection process:

  1. Your organization is greater than the sum of your members alone. Communities should be inclusive of your members, exhibiting sponsors, staff, students and all who touch your industry vertical. Take your exhibitors for instance – they can provide more value than just check writing. Exhibitors can provide content, trends, and are incentivized to lead discussions as they want to use content and relationships to drum up new business. Everyone in your organization adds value. Be sure to provide them the mechanism to do so.
  2. Dialogue should start at the grassroots level. Allow your users to generate the conversations that matter most to them rather than trying to control the conversation by dictating themes or topics. People are more inclined to contribute when they set the stage for what they want to discuss. Plus, your organization will have the opportunity to listen and learn about what matters most to them. If you are concerned about spamming or inappropriate dialogue, you can find a solution that provides safeguards to report users or content and institute consequences for those who ‘misbehave.’
  3. Data, Data, Data – Including Social Listening. If your community platform does not provide you with behavioral and social listening data, run. That is an indicator that the platform does not understand your business and the power behind what a community can offer you. A properly designed community will allow you to understand how your ecosystem thinks, behaves and transacts every single day. Then you can redeploy this powerful intel to generate a more meaningful member experience and more community momentum. You have the unique opportunity to produce content that reflects what your audience cares about. Don’t lose this opportunity to allow your community to contribute to the growth of your organization.
  4. Don’t use LinkedIn. Ouch! We all love LinkedIn, and it is a phenomenal platform. BUT it is exclusionary in that only people ‘in the know’ can participate in dialogue rather than allowing the dialogue to live in front of your entire ecosystem 365/24/7. LinkedIn also uses data for its own purposes rather than leveraging the data and insight to produce an even better member experience (see #3). Why give away this valuable intel when you can own the voice of your industry?
  5. UX/UI Matters. Community platforms have changed over the years from Q&A forums to pure social networks. Modern audiences are used to social networks that allow for the dissemination and consumption of bite-sized content, the ability to tag connections, organize their content and leverage photos to engage. Your community strategy should resemble what audiences expect and allow for normalized behaviors. Keeping up with a modern user experience leads to increased participation.
  6. Invest in Human Resources. Communities are critical components of your member offering and as a result, should not be deprioritized. Given that community interactions lead to wholistic engagement with your organization including events, it makes sense to dedicate staff to ensuring that your community is properly moderated, the data is collected and analyzed, interactions are appropriately monetized, and that value continues to be cycled back to your users.
  7. Long Live the Conversation. Communities should encourage a mix of informative posts and in-depth discussions or groups. Posts may be just a post, but many posts may lead to a deeper conversation that can engage a multitude of your users (again members, exhibitors AND staff alike) for longer periods of time. These conversations are the ones that you need to be paying extra attention to. Leverage your social listening (#3) to understand what is so important and why this topic is top of mind and then use this intel to produce white papers, micro events, or even make this topic a focus for your next main event. These groups can be used to prime your audience for your main event and then keep the conversations that take place at your event alive indefinitely. Think of all the data you can collect!
  8. Profiles are Indicators of Usage. What separates a community designed for awareness vs. a true engagement tool is the use of a profile. When users have a profile, they are more inclined to participate. The reason? People want credit for their contributions. Without a profile, where is the incentive to participate? Be sure to make the profile creation process simple.
  9. Follow People Who Matter Most. Community members are used to the rules of the road for popular social networks. Experiences are curated based on the content and people you are connected with. This is equally important for your community. People are more engaged when content that matters most from the people who matter most to them is placed in front of them. Users are more inclined to connect with new peers when those folks mutually follow the same thought leader.
  10. People Love to Chat. Your community should offer a mechanism for side conversations. Many folks are rightfully sensitive about giving out their email and phone number, but they still want to take community discussion ‘offline.’ Many community platforms offer a chat function that contains conversations within the platform, creating a safe space to build a relationship.

Communities can be powerful when designed to reflect the evolving needs and behaviors of your constituents and your organization. When you offer the right tool, your members, exhibiting partners, students, staff and other key segments will embrace your technology, and act as true partners to contribute to the growth of your industry.

Erica Bishaf is the Founder & CEO of CampfireSocial, the first-of-its-kind private professional network and marketplace platform designed for trade and professional associations and trade show organizers. She is a 20+ year award-winning strategy and insights veteran who has worked for consumer packaged goods companies such as Kraft, Nestle, Kimberly-Clark, and MillerCoors.  In 2015, she started her own consultancy where she worked on strategy projects for associations and event organizers including Freeman, GES, the American Library Association, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA), the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), the National Retail Federation (NRF), and more. 

Posted by Editorial Staff

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