The value of event communities and professional associations became clear during the pandemic and now seems more important than ever amid the increased demand for educational resources and networking opportunities.
Amid the depth of expertise shared at the inaugural Skift Meetings Forum, two speakers explored the value of professional networks.
Paul Van Deventer, CEO of MPI, and Daphne Hoppenot, CEO of The Vendry, shared their experience around nurturing communities. They offered insights into what the future holds and what the next generation of event professionals is looking for.
A Community Born from Necessity
Hoppenot secured $1 million in funding for The Vendry in December 2019. At the time she was fully focused on building the platform as a venue and vendor marketplace. It now boasts 60,000 registered accounts, and community has become an important part of the offering.
The community really began taking shape after the Covid pandemic set in. During this time, Hoppenot found herself on one Zoom call after another with struggling professionals. This is when she realized she had the opportunity to bring the professionals together.
With engineers on staff at The Vendry, Hoppenot built a free community, platform to support event professionals. “We don’t charge to join the community,” she said. “It’s not commercially driven, it’s driven by our mission.”
What the Next Generation Wants from Industry Associations
Van Deventer stressed how the relevance of professional organizations has intensified post-Covid. Roughly 60% of the events industry is new compared to three years ago, making the need for professional training even more crucial. This high churn rate means newcomers will greatly benefit from outreach by experienced event professionals.
Additionally, Van Deventer noted that younger professionals no longer looked at associations in the same manner as former generations. “They are seeking more community and more networking,” he said. In turn, this led MPI to shift its focus from membership to community over the last eight years.
After drawing inspiration from Facebook communities, which emerged at that same point in time, Van Deneter and his team sat down with the MPI board and decided that they needed to build that sort of environment. “We needed to create a platform for self-driven, creative communities to come together and network,” he said.
Van Deventer urges experienced event professionals to share their stories as they help communicate the value of the industry to newcomers. “They need to tell the story of face-to-face events, the power of innovation, creativity, and the advancement that occurs in this industry,” he said. We need to change the perception that working in events is just about finding a segway into another career.
“I look to associations to figure out how we can reach new professionals and bring them into the industry,” he said. “And thinking further down the road, how do we affect the mindset at a middle school and high school level that this is a premier career choice?”
Leveraging Technology in The Events Community
The Vendry hosts an exclusive Slack channel where members can post questions and receive answers quickly from knowledgeable peers. “We have dozens of Slack messages daily,” said Hoppenot. Roughly 90% of the questions asked are about finding suppliers, which aligns with the core use of the platform. “During the pandemic, we built this community, and it turns out that 90% of that platform was being used for the same purpose of our core marketplace.”
The extensive network present on The Vendry’s community platform is a huge resource in itself. The Vendry brings public data from the Slack channel into its database through Slack’s application programming interfaces (APIs). Humans assist in the review process that allows for finding all of the relevant data available on a key topic. “This helps community members see all of the factual data we have on a particular topic along with any relevant community discussion on that search result,” said Hoppenot.
Making use of its community, The Vendry has added new search capabilities. More than a million data points on venues worldwide are now searchable featuring real-life experiences offered by its community of corporate event pros.
“In the past, planners have gone to Facebook groups, have texted friends, hired DMCs for insider knowledge that is now democratized on our platform,” said Hoppenot. There will be threads that can be accessed about particular venues that include all mentions from The Vendry.
The next launch will feature a master calendar with upcoming events to help a planner know what other meetings are being held in the time period they are considering.