Event Management

How Event Planners Can Get the Most Out of Online Communities

Skift Take

Online groups and chat rooms for event planners are proliferating, resulting in much curiosity. Planners wonder if it’s better to post or chat? Are they worth paying to join, and if so, which ones? 

Online communities for event planners are not new. There are plenty of different communities around, some formed organically, others quite intentionally. The #eventprofs hashtag has been a staple on Twitter for over a decade while dedicated groups on LinkedIn and Facebook continue to be popular in some circles. Some professionals are active in public Slack channels and now some are evolving into paid communities.

With so many options, some planners are overwhelmed. It’s not always easy to understand the value of joining and contributing to online communities, be they free or paid.

Networking Is the Main Benefit

Networking with other planners is the most valuable benefit of online industry communities and chat rooms, according to a survey of members of the Event Planning & Event Management LinkedIn Group. Getting advice on meeting and event planning and connecting with suppliers also ranked high in the same survey.

Networking topping survey results came as no surprise toJames Spellos, technology trainer and owner of Meeting-U. “The most valuable things offered by these platforms are the same things that are valuable about face-to-face networking, which is expanding the circle of people that you know. And during the pandemic, these tools took on added importance to planners,” said Spellos.

The Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN) Facebook group played a critical role of connecting people during the pandemic. It was a place for members to vent, share mental health challenges, and encourage each other. “Online communities provide planners camaraderie, support, ideas, and the reassurance that they are not alone, and the realization that the crazy things that happen to them in this industry also happen to others as well,” said Shawna Suckow, founder of SPIN.

Crowdsourcing Content

Liz Lathan, a co-founder of The Community Factory, a corporate event company, used online communities to crowdsource planner pet peeves and promote an online book it spawned: The Attendee Bill of Rights: A Guide to Creating Attendee-First Experiences, As Told By Attendees.   

“The online platforms generated 15,202 impressions and were translated into Portuguese and re-shared by a Brazilian event professional,” said Lathan. “The response was crazy.”

Well, maybe not that crazy. Lathan’s experience is an example of the reach planners can have when they share their ideas through online communities and chat rooms.

Online communities differ from face-to-face networking because the interactions are archivable, so planners can save posts and chat room conversations. “Of course, there is an expiration on the conversation as new topics get added, but over the course of a couple of days, you can get great, thoughtful insights that you might not get at a networking happy hour where the music is too loud,” said Lathan.

Which Community Should You Join?

There are quite a few communities to choose from, and some have even moved toward paid membership models. Notable ones include live chat rooms like #EventProfs Community and Event Smart and online groups where members communicate via posts like The Delegate Wranglers, MeCo, and the aforementioned SPIN.

Which is best, a live chat room or a group where participants respond separately to posts? According to meetings technology speaker and consultant Corbin Ball, it depends on the user. “When it comes to posts vs. live chats, both can be useful, but it depends on what the planner needs and what their learning style is.”

These platforms offer planners a choice between the spontaneity of a live conversation and the time to think about a response that a post offers. “I’m on Slack extensively and it’s a great tool for that short burst communication, but I don’t necessarily see that being as advantageous as posting and having longer comments and conversations about things,” says Spellos. “If you go to a Facebook group you’re probably going find more people who are engaged in topics. While #EventProfs on Slack is great, that community is also on Facebook.”

Avoiding the Rabbit Hole

Planners have many demands on their time, with unique schedules that don’t always fit the norm. Suckow suggests devising a game plan for managing participation in online communities. There are only so many hours in a day and that restricts the amount of time a planner can spend participating in these communities. “It’s always a challenge to get a group of planners together at the same time for anything. With a traditional online community like Facebook, planners can post when they have a free minute and others can respond when they are able,” says Suckow.

Spellos agrees that a schedule is a good idea checking the conversations once a day, either in the morning or at the end of the day. “I don’t think it’s important to always be posting stuff. I think it’s a wrong approach to be just stuffing a chat room with constant comments when it doesn’t have a particular need,” he said.

Spellos also advises planners to join both wide audience platforms and more targeted ones. According to Spellos, Facebook and LinkedIn attract the widest and largest audience of planners, while groups like SPIN, which is only open to planners with more than 10 years of experience will attract a smaller group with more focused network opportunities.

“If I asked a question on technology in an event tech group, I would get some very high-level answers. If I ask that same question in a more general planning group, I might get some unique approaches and workaround that never would’ve been mentioned in the tech group,” he said. “So I think being in those dedicated groups is great, but not to the exclusion of at least one or two general groups as well.”

Are Paid Communities the Future?

Some platforms, such as #EventProfs and The Delegate Wranglers are moving toward a paid membership model. Is the value offered by online communities worth the price of admission? 

Lathan is not sure. “I think there’s limited value to event professionals to pay to be a part of that. In theory, the associations that planners already belong to should be the place where these communities are truly thriving — and we already pay to be a part of those associations,” she said.

Spellos also feels the paid membership model will be a tough sell. “I think there is value there to make online communities and chat rooms worthwhile, but over the past 25 years, planners have gotten so used to these models being free, that I think the amount of resistance that will happen initially will get more anger and more angst thrown at the model than they will get people selecting it,” he says.