October 23, 2020

Building Communities: How to Keep Professional Events Engaging in the Age of Remote Work


The pandemic has changed the way work is done, and talent leaders must now master new approaches to recruiting and managing employees. While the pandemic has thwarted many traditional in-person events, recruiters and HR pros still need to connect with their colleagues to keep up with the trends and ideas shaping the future of work. Virtual events can be an effective avenue for those connections.

If you are hosting a virtual event — or are in an area where hybrid and live events are feasible again — it’s important you know how to make the most of it. Creating attendee communities for your events can help facilitate peer-to-peer learning and foster stronger networking. These communities allow participants to engage in the kinds of deeper conversations that aren’t otherwise easy to start in large virtual events.

Here are some tips to help you create effective communities:

Prequalify Attendees

Professionals with diverse portfolios and interests may be attending your event, so it’s a good idea to set up smaller communities based on shared interests to foster more effective learning and networking. To place attendees in communities where they can meaningfully contribute to and benefit from the conversation, you’ll need to prequalify them first.

Prequalification can be done through short surveys that attendees complete during or after event registration. Focus on gathering information about areas of expertise, roles, work experience, and basic understanding of industry issues. This information can be used to group attendees into the communities that are most relevant to their knowledge and interests.

Create Communities Around Specific Topics and Jobs

Your event may include networking hours during which attendees can meet one another and chat. These sessions are useful, but they’re also limited by time and may not provide everyone with the opportunity to network effectively. Creating active online communities for attendees grants them unlimited hours of networking before, during, and after your event.

Topic- and role-based communities can better facilitate learning and networking. You can create both public communities that anyone can join and more focused communities where access is restricted to those who meet specific criteria. Assign a moderator to each community — public or private — to ensure that discussions are kept within the designated topic area.

Topic-Specific Communities

Based on the information gathered during your pre-event survey, you should be able to identify some popular topics that many attendees have expressed interest in. These topics can form the basis of successful topic-specific communities. The less popular topics can be brought to a general forum instead of given their own communities.

Role-Specific Communities

Many professionals naturally gravitate toward colleagues who have similar experiences as their own. For example, C-level executives may be more interested in connecting with other C-level executives, while HR pros might want to talk shop with other HR pros. Meet those needs by creating communities where people can engage with one another based on similar professional circumstances.

Adopt a Virtual Platform or Mobile App

To create and maintain active attendee communities, you’ll likely need a virtual event platform or mobile event app that supports this functionality. Specifically, you want to look for an app that supports multichannel conversations, live chat, and video calls, as attendees will need multiple ways to engage with the members of their communities. Some apps and platforms also support polling and gamification, which can spur more dynamic interactions between attendees.

For your own purposes, you may also want to look for a platform that includes data analytics, lead retrieval, and reporting capabilities. Remember, your attendee communities aren’t just about networking. You can also monitor conversations to discover new industry trends and innovations. You can even follow up by using this information to create white papers, reports, and other useful content for attendees as event takeaways.

Introduce Gamification to Encourage Participation

Don’t assume that attendees will swing into action the moment you set up a community. Plan to actively motivate people to participate through incentives like gamification.

For example, you could give special recognition to those who make the most valuable contributions, ask questions that generate conversations, or provide information that attracts the most attention. Offer these individuals the chance to win service subscriptions or other access to products provided by your event sponsors.

Some event platforms may also support the creation of special badges to recognize attendees based on their contributions — e.g., “Top Contributor,” “Expert,” “Thought Leader,” etc. The chance to earn such designations can be an incentive in itself, which will further boost participation. As an added bonus, these titles allow other community members to easily recognize key influencers.

Keep the Conversation Going

Just because the event is limited to a specific moment in time doesn’t mean your attendee communities have to be. You can sustain community engagement beyond your event by asking moderators to regularly post updates and start new conversations, such as asking participants how they are implementing the lessons they learned from the event.

Even if engagement is relatively low after the event, it’s a good idea to keep the community open. That way, when your next event arrives, members can come back to read useful comments and reconnect with the people they met previously.

Jordan Schwartz is president and cofounder of Pathable.

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Jordan Schwartz is president and cofounder of Pathable, an event app and website platform for conferences and trade shows. He left academic psychology for the lure of building software and spent 10 years at Microsoft leading the development of consumer-facing software. Frustrated with the conferences he attended there, he left Microsoft in 2007 with the goal of delivering more value and better networking opportunities through a next-generation conference app. Jordan moonlights as a digital nomad, returning often to his hometown of Seattle to tend his bee hives.