The real magic of enterprise social networking happens when you can use online and offline elements to augment each other. While Yammer creates a participatory environment for digital townhall events, or can even replace some digital and in-person events, have you also thought about using it for some larger-scale physical inter- and intra-company events and conferences? For our first annual conference YamJam12, we used Yammer to augment the in-person experience, help attendees build relationships, encourage thought-provoking discussions, communicate with attendees and encourage retention and sharing of content.
Have a purpose and an exit plan
This should be fairly obvious, but before launching any community, you need to figure out what this community will do, whom it will serve and how, how success will be measured, etc. Our YamJam12 community was designed to serve registered attendees, and we opened it up to a few virtual attendees who couldn’t join us, a couple of days before the event. Just as importantly, you will need to know what happens to the community after the event is over – by deciding this before you invite people in, you’ll be able to manage expectations. Will you keep it open or shut it down; for how long after the event will it remain open? Who will look after it?
Remember that a community is a living organism, not a static document. While it has great informational value, a community shouldn’t be approached as a broadcast platform — rather one to help its participants connect on shared values and co-create experiences.
Have community managers
Even though event-based communities can feel transient, they still require active community management. Without it, you face the risk of a languishing, anemic community that won’t reach its potential, and even pose a brand risk. A good community manager will ensure that people are deriving value, meeting each other, and that conversations stay productive. The community manager will also establish a transition plan to migrate members to permanent communities after the event wraps up. Communities don’t run themselves; it takes work and understanding of human dynamics and value systems. Ideally, it’d be someone who knows your company and your community well.
It’s always helpful to recruit an unofficial community manager (or a few) from the community, to partner with the official community manager. Sometimes, you will make a formal ask, and sometimes this person(s) will emerge. We have found this approach extremely effective; in the past, we’ve approached community members to become unofficial community managers and lead discussions leading up to the event. For YamJam12, we had a couple of members who took on this role unofficially.
Integrate into signup experience
One of the most important steps to a successful community is member vetting and timing of entrance. Whom will you invite and when? Give the community a few weeks to congeal before the big event, but keep in mind that invitations too far ahead of time may cause the “empty bar” problem.
Build invitations into your process from the beginning, not as an afterthought. Consider the pros and cons of automatically loading registrants vs. asking them to join after registration. Leverage all the channels at your disposal: email, social, inclusion on the event landing page, and even physical signage. Whether you invite registrants through a digital or a physical channel, do some campaigning and let people know the benefits to them.
For YamJam12, we automatically loaded all registrants. While this reduced friction of clicking the “Join” button, we would’ve seen higher engagement if members chose to join the community themselves.
Design an onboarding experience
What will people see when they first come into the community? Think through the information you need to serve them, as well as the actions you would want them to take. Depending on the flow of new joiners, you may want to welcome people, ask them to introduce themselves and point them to the right resources. These are the resources we developed with the YamJam12 community:
- A welcome Note that giving a rundown of all the groups you created helps members self-select into the groups they want, and create groups they need.
- Stating the community purpose, expectations and TOS in your usage policy and info tab puts it front and center and helps people adhere to desired behaviors.
- A custom masthead with the YamJam12 design provided visual consistency with the website and other materials.
- Featured documents in the side bar allow for easy at-a-glance reference.
- Connecting apps and integrations that make sense helps people get the most out of the platform.
- Seed content: give people something to read and do when they first enter the community. Put them in the right groups and state explicitly the purpose for each group.
Create structure without stifling
You need to design your community thoughtfully, thinking through the different spaces that will help people find each other and the content they are looking for. As you create groups, be careful to not over-engineer, so that people don’t feel like the community is their own. You don’t want people to come into an “empty bar”, but you also don’t want to order their drinks for them and tell them where to sit. Ask yourself what the points of common interest and informational needs are. When creating groups, make sure the purpose for each group is clear. In the YamJam12 network, we created:
- Groups for each of the conference tracks: Prior to the event, these groups served as informational platforms including sessions and information about speakers. During the event, attendees “live-yammed” things they found interesting, spurring discussion. Additionally, we kept Notes to capture all the knowledge shared during the sessions for reference later.
- Private session groups: To encourage speakers’ usage of Yammer, we created private groups to collaborate on the content of sessions and panels. Groups were also used to collect PowerPoint slides and distribute speaker-specific information.
- San Francisco group helped out-of-town attendees learn more about the city, plan their sightseeing and meals, and help people get together in an informal way.
- A general “What is YamJam?” group served information about the event, event schedule and created a space to ask and answer questions around the event, for the benefit of others.
- We also used Yammer to plan a public tweetchat with some of the attendees.
Don’t forget to mix in social groups that can help people connect ad-hoc; we all know that the “hallway track” is the most popular at conferences.
Before the event
Your event community will only be sticky if:
1) People are in the habit of using it
2) People trust other people in it, and so they want to share
3) People have a compelling reason to participate
Help members develop the behaviors you will want them to exhibit during the event, such as collaborative note-taking, Q&A, asking speakers questions, connecting with other attendees, posting pictures. To that end, design pre-event experiences that help people flex their muscles. Examples:
- Upload a photo of what you are packing
- Share fitness tips that helps you stay healthy on the road
- Ask questions of each other, share stories, successes and challenges
- Collaborate on documents, take notes together
Especially if your attendees are coming together for the first time, you may want to start simple by designing some ice-breakers. Before people know and trust each other, they won’t want to ask and answer really deep questions. Build up to that trust with simple, easy questions that everyone can answer without fear of being judged by strangers. In the week leading up to YamJam12, we asked folks to:
- Introduce themselves and tell others where they were coming from
- Post their favorite / most bizarre Halloween costume, and
- Share a photo of what they are packing into their suitcase.
Provide unique experiences and exclusive content
Nobody wants to join yet another network that duplicates other experiences and copies over content available elsewhere. Think of things you can do exclusively in this community, such as:
- Special events (YamJams, contests, exclusive content available only in this space)
- Access to speakers and company executives (see below for example)
- Ability to influence some part of the conference — plan an unconference, design something, name a session, provide feedback to speakers on content to be included
During the event: the nitty-gritty
The big day is finally here! This is a great opportunity to help people get excited and capture the excitement in real-time. For maximum impact, do the following during the event:
- Use other mediums to promote the community. Include signage at the event, big screens with displays, leaflets. Encourage all staff to let attendees know that this community exists.
- Have Yammerfall displayed in common areas to pique interest and encourage joining the discussion. Considering displaying the main feed during keynotes and in common areas, and feeds from breakout sessions during sessions.
- Prep speakers and ask them to mention Yammer groups at the beginning of their sessions. People “live-yamming” is valuable because it: 1) helps create a common consciousness about the content, 2) helps stimulate discussion during and after, and 3) helps preserve content for posterity and for those who may not be able to go
After the event
As mentioned prior, make sure you have a clear plan of how long the community will stay open and what happens next. Transition members to your permanent communities and, if you are shutting the network down, figure out how to help people retain content from the event community.
Capitalize on the excitement generated in person to stimulate post-event discussions and experience sharing. While the event is still fresh in attendees’ minds, collect feedback about what worked and what didn’t – around the event itself and the event community. Use the community to communicate post-event recaps, deliver attendee surveys; use photos and videos to help people relive their experience together after they leave the event.
Relax and enjoy the ride! Communities are fun! Remember: people will value the community if it provides a unique and helpful experience, help them meet others with shared values, and helps them get their job done (whether the job is to learn, showcase expertise, or just find the best coffee in town).