Community platforms do not equal community

We had the opportunity to present a session to IAEE‘s Expo! Expo! conference in New Orleans about “Building Your Tradeshow Community Online”.  The slides are below.

The presentation applies to any event community. We talked about the ecosystem – what your open community online actually looks like. We discussed skill sets for community building, the importance of finding small groups, and the role of champions in scaling your efforts. We talked about barriers to participation. More on that in a minute.

At one point in the presentation, we talked about the fact that while building a private event community site can be one tactic in your social media arsenal, this by itself does not community make.  It’s always tempting – and a big mistake – to start with the tools.  You can create a really nice site, seed it from your database, but that does not by itself mean that your community will change their behavior and move into the site. (Here are some of the reasons why).

I came up with what I thought was a nice analogy for this:

Street SoccerYou may know I am a huge futbol fan – probably annoyed everyone who follows me on Twitter after I live tweeted every World Cup game. :)

But imagine some children regularly playing soccer in a quiet street in your neighborhood.  They love it, they meet every day after school and play until dark.  One day a generous company sees this and thinks, these kids have talent.  They need a real pitch to play on.  Let’s build them one!  Yay!   But the best place to build that pitch (or field, or soccer stadium) happens to be on the other side of town, because there’s a flat stretch of land there, and it’s near shops and restaurants where people could go afterwards, and there’s a whole bunch of reasons why this particular spot might be attractive to sponsors.  It has great long term potential.

So they build the stadium and invite all the kids and their families in, while of course setting some ground rules for behavior.

But here’s the thing.  Some of the kids are willing, but not able.  Maybe their parents work and they just can’t get a ride over there every day.  Maybe they can’t afford the soccer strips and gear that’s required.  Maybe, once the shininess wears off,  it just feels like an unfamiliar place to play, more corporate, less friendly, run by adults and not by kids.

And other kids are able, but not willing.  Their parents could give them rides, even take some other kids with them.  They can afford the strips.  But they don’t want to bother.  Why?  Maybe they don’t feel like having someone new telling them what to wear and when to play.  Maybe because their buddies are still playing over here in their old neighborhood.  Maybe even the cool kids, who want to do things their own way.  They think, “why would I waste my time heading to the other side of town, when my friends are over here?”

Think about it.  As an organization, you need to go where your people are.  No matter what.  And once you’re a welcome participant in those external spaces, then you can start thinking about what value a private community might have for them.

And while you percolate on that, you need to figure out what about your own private site will provide undeniable value that your stakeholders just can’t get anywhere else.  And you need to help them overcome the hurdles that you are setting just by creating this site.  You need to provide a whole bunch of buses to drive those kids to the new field, every day.  You need to provide snacks.  You need to show them how much you value them and what’s in it for them.  You need to care for them – and not just for the first few days or weeks.

And maybe then, they might stick around.  And if you’re lucky, they will bring more friends with them.

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