From Virtual Events To Virtual Business Communities

May 31, 2010

Increasingly, virtual event planners are keeping their virtual events “open” year-round.  The model is evolving from a focus on the annual live event to a focus on the overall business environment, which has live events scheduled throughout the year.

Hence the progression – first, the virtual environment is kept open year-round (“Come in, we’re open”).  From there, virtual event planners become virtual community managers to evolve the environment into an active and engaged community.

Your virtual business community is quite similar to a social network (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.).  Thus, look to those social networks for effective community building and networking tactics.

Content

“Traditional” content forms the foundation of your business community: on-demand webcasts, videos, documents, articles, etc.  That being said “non-traditional” content is what makes a community shine and prosper – it includes other members and their associated user-generated content (e.g. 1:1 and group chat, message boards, blogs and old-fashioned community discussion).

Users may be drawn into your community for the professionally produced content – what makes them stay, however, are the connections with other members and the business conversations that unfold.

Draw them in – with Email

Some community sites (e.g. Facebook) are fortunate enough to have members login as their first stop on the web each day – today, it’s not likely that a virtual business community can achieve the same loyalty.  The key, then, is to provide community members with reasons to return, login and participate.

Email may be considered old fashioned by some, but it still works.  Want proof?   Look no further than Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which all use email effectively to notify members of activity and bring members back into the community.  Examples:

  1. Facebook – I receive email when a Facebook friend has commented on my Wall posting – additionally, when I submit a comment on a friend’s posting, I receive email when subsequent comments are posted.
  2. Twitter – I receive email when new users follow me on Twitter; in addition, when a user sends me a “direct message” (DM), I receive an email with the text of the DM.
  3. LinkedIn – When I comment on a LinkedIn Discussion thread (in a LinkedIn Group), I can opt in to receive email notifications on subsequent comments posted.  This way, I’m instantly notified as other group members comment on my comment, with the email containing the text of the submitted comment.

For your virtual business community, utilize similar email notifications to alert members of new activity and draw them back in to the environment.

Once they’re in, keep them Engaged

Now that you’ve successfully drawn members into the community, keep them active and engaged.  Build tools like the Facebook Status Bar:

The Notification component of the status bar is an area that I check each time I login to Facebook – I want to know who’s “liked” my comment, picture, video or link – and what they wrote about it.

Notifications keeps you engaged once you’re in – and can even serve to draw you there (in the first place).  I occasionally login to Facebook solely to check for new Notifications!

Mobile Integration – Draw them in, from their device

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. provide a variety of mobile apps, developed by the companies themselves and by third party developers.  With mobile apps and mobile clients, members can stay constantly connected to their social networks and communities – they can always stay “in touch”, literally and figuratively.

With a virtual business community, mobile integration does not need to be about 3D spaces, multimedia or immersiveness – things we often associate with virtual events and virtual worlds.  Some day, we may be able to experience full immersiveness on a mobile device.  But in a business community, it’s more about user-to-user connections at a more basic level – e.g. the likes of Twitter @replies and Facebook wall discussions.

Conclusion

Our industry still centers around the occasion-based virtual event – as event planners begin to morph into event-based community managers, they’ll need to map out tools and technologies to keep their communities active, engaged and coming back.  Should be a fun ride.

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