Changes With LinkedIn Groups Reveals Association’s Weak Link

I use LinkedIn enough to know it could one day be a serious threat to traditional associations (if it’s not already). That’s why LinkedIn’s addition of more dynamic functionality to its discussion groups, it has once again raised the bar for professional networking among members of an industry – and this, in turn, puts more pressure on associations to add value to their members beyond what the members can get for free.

LinkedIn changes the game….again!

Guest article posting by Terrance Barkan of GlobalStrat – Article based on his point of view from a discussion on ASAE’s ListServ (Marketing Section)

The new LinkedIn features will give the community a more active role in deciding what they want to feature. Members of a group can now rank and vote on discussions on the fly, making it much easier to remove spam-like messages, to elevate topics that are of interest to the community and to make the discussion forums more valuable, even when the users do not necessarily make written comments.

The reason these changes are important to the association community is that the growth of peer-to-peer professional online communities continues apace. When LinkedIn or other social platforms add features and functionality for free, the changes will add more and more pressure to traditional association models by eroding the difference between what a paid member in an association has access to and what that same person can now access for free in an online community.

This has been a long time in the making, but the pace of change is heating up. Most organizations/associations are using public social sites like LinkedIn and Facebook in two primary ways:

  1. To attract new potential members by first engaging them in a free, open group
  2. Using the public groups as an additional tool for member engagement. Associations also fall into one of two camps regarding these public sites: a.) closed member only access that has to be administered by the association or b.) open membership for members and non-members alike.

So far most of the response has been that associations have been happy with the results they are getting in terms of recruiting new members through these public platforms but have expressed dissatisfaction over the time required to manage and monitor them properly. The jury is still out if this is a net benefit (i.e., enough new members versus the time allocation required and which could be used for alternative efforts).

Both public and private communities are, in my opinion, going to be needed, and the two should complement each other. Associations need to understand the changes LinkedIn and other social networks are making to their structures and integrate them with the organization’s overall social media strategy. Associations can be left behind when they are missing big missing pieces to the puzzle, such as a lack of a clear strategy, lack of measurement and the lack of understanding of the time, labor and attention a true social media effort will take.

The Five Best People to Lead Your Online Social Networking Community

We’ve talked quite a bit here on the blog about social media and how to engage members in an online community, but who needs to lead the charge? Association staffers are logical choices for online community administrators and organizers, but they are not necessarily the best placed to consistently seed conversations and spark discussion about industry topics on your social network. In fact, we’ve found that that the most successful online event-based communities are driven by carefully selected and highly energized members of the association’s professional community.

With all of the potential champions, you’ll have far better responses to your request for involvement if you personalize the invitations. Instead of sending out “hey everybody!” letters to the entire committee, take the time to call up each volunteer to explain how to “socially” interact in the community and what you’d like them to do. You’ll get a better response, and you’re more likely to make the volunteers feel valued.

Five Potential Champions for Your Online Community

  1. Speakers/Presenters
    You invite speakers to come to your events to share their expertise and energize your attendees. Thus it makes sense that these industry experts would also energize your online community members. Ask speakers from your past events to take a special role in leading conversations, responding to questions and posting resources. The speaker cements his or her relationship with future attendees, and your online members feel more connected with your programs and education. It’s a perfect trade off.
  2. Active Volunteers
    Generally your board directors, committee members, chapter leaders, PAC organizers and section volunteers are some of the most engaged members in your organization. Tap them to help lead discussions about their specialties, and ask them to identify and engage key leaders in their areas.
  3. Young Professionals
    It’s kind of a given that young professionals may be more likely to adopt the new technology of your online event community, but you can give their involvement a little extra push by tapping a few up-and-coming young professionals to help achieve your social media objectives.
  4. Veteran (and Retired) Members
    You can really make some headway in engaging multiple generations of your members by asking more seasoned members to lead some conversations. Look for members who have built reputations after years in the industry, and ask them to chime in with the expertise they’ve earned. Even a retired member is an excellent option. Sometimes these people are looking for ways to stay connected via social media (and they have the time).
  5. Consultants and Vendors
    Sure, these members have an agenda… they want to get their names out there so they can find more business. But these members can be some of the most knowledgeable in your industry, and as long as they follow the guidelines for smart social media interactions, they’re likely to keep people engaged with both frequent interactions and intelligent commentary.

Any other online community / social media champions you can think of?

Who’s Who in Your Online Community

An online community that centers on an event has all the major players of a traditional live event. You have presenters finishing their PowerPoints minutes before their session begins, attendees searching for the right breakout sessions, sponsors who want to see and be seen, plus exhibitors who want to engage attendees.

You’ve probably dealt with many live events and know how these people interact with you and each other, but here’s our take on the way these groups may engage online and benefit from your social networking online event community. As well, we’ve included some ideas to help you help them.

Presenters

Presenters at events are the thought leaders, the buzz creators and usually the main purveyors of valuable information. Online, they can be all that and more. In your community, ask your speakers to upload content (such as their presentation materials), start conversations about their topics, interact with attendees who have signed up for their sessions and more.

Outside your community, ask them to blog about their speaking engagement at your event (with links to your event community and conference pages). Have them create short, informal YouTube videos (like this one from Beth Kanter) that give away “nuggets” about what they will be sharing at their event. As well, ask them to share updates with their social media followers.

You might find if useful to include these types of social media activities into your presenter agreement. This becomes a guideline for your presenters to follow and will help your online event community thrive.
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Attendees

When they really dive in to an active online community, attendees are going to love it. Many attendees place a high value on the networking opportunities at live events, and an online event community offers networking to a much more advanced degree. In addition, attendees love to be able to research their sessions to determine their best itinerary. They’ll also enjoy downloading material in advance, participating in discussions and meeting up with people who share their interests.

In your event community, be sure to ask your attendees engaging questions such as:

  • What problems do you hope the event will shed light on?
  • What are you attending?
  • What’s the one session that interests you the most and why?

Ask them anything that gets them talking. And realize, not everyone will talk.

You might create a team of social media champions who are already active online and at the peer level with other attendees. Sometimes conversations are better started at this level and attendees feel less like you are trying to force them to engage online.

One thing you can give attendees to make them feel special (and to promote your event) is an online social conference badge. Which is merely a banner ad promoting your event. This badge can say something like, “I’m attending XYZ. Are You?”

For more tips on getting attendees involved,
check out 5 ways to Make Your Members Feel at Home in Your Online Community.

Here’s an example from the Theater industry: TCG National Chicago.
Here, over 65% of the total face-to-face attendance (748 attendees) participated online using a Conference 2.0™ event community:
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Sponsors and Exhibitors

Sponsors and exhibitors attend events for one main reason: to make connections that will lead to business. At live events, they frequently take a back seat in the industry discussions because they frequently spend more time in the exhibit hall than in the sessions.

When a sponsor or exhibitor gets involved in an online event community, they can really create relationships and participate in the education. Vendors can bring a high level of expertise to your event community.

They keep up with industry trends, know the hot topics and can provide meaningful insight into active discussions. They can also provide valuable tools to attendees by sharing information about their products and services that allows potential clients to research their options before the live event. For them, social media and online networking is a great way to build brand and start the relationship process online before the face-to-face interactions occur.

Sponsors and exhibitors may be a factor in helping your online community stay active after the live event as they continue to engage online to stay connected to their contacts after the event.

In addition, the companies themselves can use social media to help promote your event and online community to the rest of their contacts. Like your presenters, ask your sponsors and exhibitors to blog about issues relevant to solving attendee problems. Ask them to inform their following about your event, but remind them a good content marketing strategy goes miles further than trying to “sell” to their audience.

The best way to prepare sponsors and exhibitors for your online event community is to help them understand the community guidelines before they get involved. Check out the Dos and Don’ts of Participating in an Online Event Community as a guide for your sponsors and exhibitors, as well as other attendees.

Be sure to take care of this group as they a major source of revenue for your event and can bring a strong, positive experience in the online community while providing the solutions attendees are looking for.

Social Networking for Exhibitors: Joining the Conversations at Events

Earlier this year I wrote a list of online community do’s and don’ts for vendors and exhibitors who want to get involved via social media. The key we mention over and over again is that an exhibitor has to become an authentic, living, breathing, listening part of a community, not just a broadcaster from the sidelines. I’ve tried to practice what we’ve been preaching, and I regularly join chats on Twitter to discuss important issues in the association and meeting communities.

One of my favorite chats (#eventprofs: Tuesdays 9-10 am and Thursday 12-1 pm Eastern) recently discussed the ways exhibitors could participate in social media for an event, and I found myself sharing the ways we participate at the 10+ events Omnipress exhibits at every year.

In true Twitter form (less than 140 characters each)…

Here Are My Top Six Ways Exhibitors Can Use social media:

  1. Spend time in breakout sessions to learn about the industry, then blog and tweet to bring awareness to the event itself.
  2. Blog and tweet about tools your company will offer that will solve attendees’ problems.
  3. Blog, tweet or survey to discover what problems or solutions attendees want to learn from you on site.
  4. Follow hashtags and community members to catch top trends and discover who’s attending (that’s called listening, by the way).
  5. Build relationships with attendees and others well before the event so they retweet and post your information.
  6. When you’re at the event, tweet and blog about visitors to your booth – what their challenges are and how you helped.

And speaking of listening… your turn!

What are the ways you like to see exhibitors involved in an event?