Online Communities Pick Up Where Conferences Leave Off

I’m sure that many of you reading this have been to face-to-face conferences. These are usually sponsored by a company or organization that you are related to in some way. There are presentation and events, but you really go to network. You go to learn, but you learn most through conversation, not presentation. For a few days, you are part of a learning community associated with the organization.

The organizers know this too. They know socializing is important and provide events with food, alcohol and plenty of room to socialize. They make it easy to learn names and affiliations. However, at the end of the event, the organizers pack up their handouts and displays and start planning for next year. The large-scale networking stops.

I’m writing to say that the networking doesn’t have to stop when the conference ends. An online community can pick up where the conference leaves off- offering attendees a place to keep learning and networking. Here’s what I mean…

Organizations have an opportunity to serve the real-world “community�? of attendees by providing a web site that enables them to continue networking between conferences.

Opening an online community after a conference can keep the attendees engaged and connected until the next conference- when relationships among attendees will be even stronger. Further, the organization can use the community to improve future conferences.

  • One key to success is to roll-out the online community at the conference and integrate the community into the events and presentations. In this case, a presenter could say “If you’d like to continue to discuss this, I’ll be responding to discussions in the XYZ forum of the online community after the conference.â€??
  • Also, each attendee should leave with information about the online community- how to find it, what is expected, where to go for help, etc.
  • Another key is to assimilate the conference experience. Instead of name tags, member profile information should be displayed. Instead of classrooms, discussion forums manage discussions. Instead of cocktail parties, there should be a place for off-subject discussions. A directory of members should allow them to find, recognize and keep track of one-another.

It's all about giving members of a real-word community an online home where they can network, learn and converse on their own.