When you invest in providing a forum space for your community, there is no worse feeling than launching and hearing crickets chirp for days on end. A solid in-person event strategy can increase community engagement, even before your first event takes place.
The theory behind this is pretty interesting, so I’d like to explain social capital before giving you a few strategy tips. In communities where the collective value of social capital is high, people are more likely to say hello to strangers, to be well-mannered, to interact as equals and to do something nice for someone, “just because.” They do this because they trust the rest of the community is doing it too. Social capital is the rising tide that lifts all boats. In other words, when others invest social capital in our community, we expect to do the same ourselves.
Community members expect these exchanges to balance out over time. By nature, they feel obliged to return a favor (whether asked to or not) and don’t like feeling as though they are indebted to anyone. Therefore, the more you appreciate your members, do *actually nice* things for them and love them, the more likely it is that your members will love the community back.
This is what makes events such a great way to kick start engagement. By creating events to get to know and have fun with your community members, you are investing in that community. Creating a memorable, fun experience is probably the most valuable way to create social capital, especially when trying to form new ties. Those new ties want to continue to bond and the logical place to do that post-event is in your forums. Community members can follow up on conversations they had at your event or lead discussions about topics related to the event.
There isn’t a “right” type of event that builds social capital. Anything you feel fits your community is probably the right choice. Whatever you decide, here are some tips for forum conversations:
- Discuss the event before it happens. Give people helpful information and encourage others to do the same if they know of great parking, the best outfit to wear to feel comfortable during the event, or what part of the event is getting them excited.
- Include your community in the planning. If you are planning a larger event, you might want to start forum conversations around arranging travel schedules and helping attendees find other with common interests. If it is a smaller event, you can go as far as asking for speaker requests or venue suggestions.
- Cross-pollinate your community communications. During the event, make sure people know there’s conversation happening online. By mentioning several times, you’ll help community members remember to look to your forums to find out who they connect with at the event and what people are enjoying.
- Keep the conversation going. If your event was a party, make sure it’s easy for people to stay in touch. You never know, people could have been making business happen or starting friendships at your event, help nurture those connections! If you had speakers, let people know they can ask follow up questions in the forums. It’s a much safer space to ask a question than standing up in front of everyone at the event!
- Don’t stop! Getting community members to meet in-person is a great way to help them bond. If your forums are thriving, they’ll be making plans to meet up anyway (I guarantee it), so make sure you are a part of the action.
Sarah Lang is the Director of Community and Support at Ticketleap. She got her start in community management working on an innovation platform and has worked in all kinds of communities since then. She believes the best way to foster deeper relationships with community members is to meet with them in-person.