Event Design

Liz Lathan: Building Engaging Communities

Skift Take

Creating, fostering, and developing an engaging community is a dedicated process that requires time, effort, leadership, and intentional event design. 

Liz Lathan is the co-founder of The Community Factory, a community management and enablement company. Her parents’ careers exposed her to events and trade shows at an early age. Whilst she completed a degree in journalism, Lathan went on to work for organizations such as Dell and IBM. She later co-founded the experiential agency Haute before co-founding The Community Factory in 2022.

Subscribe to the Skift Meetings Podcast: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Overcast | Pocket Casts | Google Podcasts | Amazon | RSS

Lathan is passionate about the power of engaged communities. Together with her business partner Nicole Osibodu, she is spreading the word on what it takes to create and cultivate engaging events and communities. 

Unconferences and Spontaneous Think Tanks

Unconferences act as spontaneous think tanks. Instead of an agenda, participants fill walls of sticky notes with their challenges. If a participant thinks they can help solve a challenge, they’re invited to lead a session on it. There is no set agenda, just a relentless focus on peer-to-peer interaction. This type of experience builds communities among participants, communities that live on long after the event.

Brands Stories are More Important than Brand Names

Consumers often aren’t bothered by a company’s name, they’re interested in the product or service you provide, but there is also interest in the story behind the brand. Knowing how the founders came together, how the organization developed, and, if the name is unique or different, how it was chosen. Having that story and being able to tell it can start conversations about your brand and bring people together.

Networking Requires Designing for Connection

Networking is often one of the main reasons that people attend events. However, in order to provide networking opportunities that will benefit attendees, event planners must design their events with connection in mind. If networking is a core element of an event, Lathan encourages planners to look at it as community building. It requires those that are working to develop the community to work alongside the event producers. By working together, we ensure the networking elements of the event, including conversations, activities, and shared experiences, really do promote community building. 

Building Sponsor Activations into the Core Conversation

Sponsor activations should bring value to the sponsor, but just as importantly, it should also bring value to the participants. Building the activation into the core conversation or event is important to achieve this, versus having them sponsor the event in name only. Lathan recommends instead to have them participate in the event, without focusing on a sales pitch. She invites sponsors to network with people or lead a discussion. She firmly believes that this approach is the best way to foster organic conversations between the participants and the sponsor.

Engaged Community Leaders Are Key

Lathan is adamant that communities need a leader; a figurehead that connects the dots. This role requires someone that those within the community want to listen to and will respond to. It has to be someone who new or prospective members respect. Someone whose invites and messages members will open, rather than treating them as spam. 

Some of the core elements a community needs in order to succeed include:

  1. A code of conduct that sets expectations with members and sponsors, right from the start.
  2. A hook that raises top funnel awareness of the community, for example, a podcast, Youtube, or a magazine.
  3. A site, online on not, where members meet and interact.
  4. A series of gatherings that are bringing the community together either virtually or in person, helping them form true connections.
  5. A sounding board, a small group that informs you of what’s important to the community right now.
  6. Shareable moments, which are pictures from the event, gifts, and sway which people can share to their own networks. 

Listen to the full episode to learn more about building engaging communities. To never miss an episode, subscribe to the Skift Meetings Podcast on your favorite podcasting app.