Community events can be distributed too

Community
September 3, 2021
Rosie Sherry
Community Lead
Community events can be distributed too
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

I'm Rosie, and I'll be your guide for this mission. Each week I'll go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. I'm here to share tactics, trends and valuable resources I've observed in the world of community building.

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The world has shifted and everything is ripe for change. From the perspective of community, there’s a real buzz leading to new ideas, practices, and tools coming into the market.

What I haven’t heard so much talk about is the overlap of events and community. There have been pretty much non-stop virtual events since the pandemic, and with that brought a rise in new and interesting event tools, too. But what does this mean for community builders?

When we were tasked with creating Community Camp, I thought that if communities are distributed then events could be distributed too.

How can events be distributed?

Much like the world is moving away from the idea that a community needs that one dedicated space to exist, we can think about events in a similar way. Community conversations usually happen in multiple locations — on your community forum, on social media, or live chat spaces like Discord and Slack. There really is no reason why we can’t do the same for events.

Virtually we don’t have to use a specific event tool, like Zoom, to run an event. In the real world, you don’t necessarily need a specific venue to make an event happen — meetups and events happen in open and varied spaces all the time.

We can choose to create events and experiences across multiple platforms or spaces. It comes with pros and cons, but it is definitely one to add to your potential community strategy checklist.

Part of a distributed events mindset is to re-evaluate what an event means. One such definition of an event is "something that happens”. When you look at events from this perspective it changes everything.

In today’s world, when you are in the events business you make things happen. With the software tools expanding their feature sets it is now possible to make things happen in so many more and different ways.

  • A Twitter space is an event
  • The use of hashtags can be an event
  • A live stream is an event
  • An asynchronous book club is an event
  • Live note taking is an event
  • An AMA is an event
  • A watch party is an event
  • Comments on a YouTube video is an event
  • A walk at the same time yet apart is an event
  • A virtual conference in [insert your event platform of choice] is an event too

The possibilities are endless! Crucially, there is magic when these options are combined — the outcomes are potentially multiplied.

As an example, you can have a live Twitter Space combined with a Google Doc to take notes together. Or if you run an online conference, you can run different sessions on different platforms. With our recent Community Camp we ran sessions on Twitter, Discord, Gatheround, YouTube Live, and Twitch.

Distributed events help build your flywheels

When we look at specific event platforms they are a closed environment, in the sense that the event happens within the platform. People have to learn and become familiar with the tool. They have to be reminded to show up. They have to give away their data, often too much of it. And once the event is done people disappear to never return.

Of course, many of these event tools have some great features and capabilities. There are great justifications for using them. However, you should know you have other options.

When we go in with the view of distributed events the key is to think about where you and your people are already at in combination with the traction you have already made. You want to get the community flywheels spinning, building upon any progress you have already made can make all the difference.

Here are some distributed event community strategies inspired from our recent Community Camp.

✨ Create a home by combining platforms

Wherever you host an event, bring something else back to your main community space.

For example, every event we hosted at Community Camp had its own channel in our Discord community. We talked about and took notes of all the events. This served as a way to create value for the community in the form of both relationship building and learning.

Doing this for each individual talk reinforced the message that we have this Discord community that we can always be found at. Spacing out and being repetitive with communication is key to building a stable community heart beat. It may not feel very exciting, but we need to remind ourselves that it is increasingly hard to capture people’s attention. Finding ways to keep talking about something is an art within itself.

Having a place called home is also a great way to continue conversing after talks. At Community Camp we hung out in the voice and text channels after talks. Some of the speakers also dropped in to chat and answer questions.

It had some really good vibes.


✨ Use the platforms that are already in use

At Orbit we had already invested effort into growing our community on Discord, Twitter, Twitch and Luma. It made sense to tap into those channels for our events.

Hosting a Twitter Spaces event would in theory:

  • Tap into our existing followers
  • Pull new people into our community
  • Help grow our Twitter following
  • Raise awareness of our Discord and pull new people in there too
  • Direct people to our website or Luma to find other events we were hosting

This is just one example of how using your existing community channels can help you create value and growth for both you and your community. Distributed events are magical for this — you are creating a valuable event whilst also organically growing your community.

It’s hard to create traction in any channel. As community builders we need to look for every opportunity to continually nurture them.

✨ Design events with inclusivity in mind

Often when we create events we lose sight of how we can create value with a long-term mindset. All too often once an event is over we tidy things up and move quickly onto the next thing.

As community builders we can do better. We must learn how to capture the value and invest that back into the community in ways that suit everyone.

We need to consider and value things like:

  • observers: for those that didn’t attend, how can we share our learnings?
  • people with limited availability: many of us struggle to find the time to attend events, let alone the potential money they cost. How can we still deliver value to the time poor people?
  • different learning styles and preferences: for every person that loves video there is someone that hates it. We all have different consumption preferences, how can you accommodate them?
  • discoverability: finding communities to belong to is not always easy. Often we stumble upon them or rely on personal recommendations. Designing events with an outcome to become more discoverable by specific personas is a worthy activity to explore.

✨ Be aware of the pitfalls

As I personally like to say — it's not always a bed of rosies.

Distributed events bring pain points too.

  • Platform familiarity: The jumping around between platforms may drive awareness and growth to the various channels, however the experience can be confusing for those who are not familiar with them. Sometimes attendees may require setting up of accounts, which as we discovered are often led to the last minute.
  • Tech compatibility: each platform has its own quirks. As an example, one thing we discovered with the relatively new Twitter Spaces is that some were listening in via mobile and some via desktop. What this actually meant is that only people who were on mobile could raise their hand to join in and ask questions. It wasn't a huge problem, we were taking questions via Tweets and our Discord community, but it was a situation we hadn't planned for.
  • Communicating each platform: we had made the decision not to openly state in the event description where each event was going to be held. In hindsight, we should have been clear about this in the description of each event to avoid confusion and just to help attendees prepare how to attend in advance.
  • Creating individual events: we set up a Community Camp account in Luma and created multiple events within it. The idea behind this was to allow people to only pick and choose what interested them the most. This worked well enough for the majority, but not so much for those that didn't want to register multiple times.

Community needs to disrupt the events industry

I’m not sure if I could sit and watch a steady stream of conference talks, I don’t do this online, and I don’t want to do it again in real life. There are many things that I don’t want from any event, ever again.

There are many things I do want:

  • I want the option to meet people and make friends
  • I don’t want to feel left out
  • I want to be efficient with my time
  • Yet, I value serendipity too
  • I want to grow and learn
  • I want to connect and be reminded to connect, before, during and after
  • I want it to be distributed and not to always be tied to one tool

Community builders right now have a once in a lifetime opportunity — we have the chance to design things from scratch. To revisit everything. To ditch what doesn’t make sense.

Most importantly, we have the chance to create meaningful impact.

What do we really want from the future of events? What do you want?

Understanding that events can be distributed is just the beginning. We can go deeper. We can seek to experiment with creating more community driven events.

It’s not about taking over event management as a specialty. It’s more about collaboration and ensuring we focus on what matters — building the best and most authentic communities possible.

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