Communities, Events, and the Impact of Coronavirus - Community Chat Weekly #21

Events everywhere are being cancelled, how are community managers going digital? Plus your weekly community tweets and blog posts!

Community Chat Weekly is a newsletter about building and growing communities, featuring collected tweets, posts and thoughts from various community managers.


😷 Community Managers take on Coronavirus

Coronavirus has been the biggest worldwide talking point of 2020. The pandemic is directly impacting many community teams, especially those with planned in-person events during the next few months.

Major conferences like F8 and GDC have already been cancelled (or 'postponed'), and community leaders everywhere are scrambling to convert their in-person events to digital experiences.

On Thursday we hosted a virtual community manager hangout, with the explicit goal of bringing together those affected by the crisis to discuss plans, ideas, and insights. More than 25 amazing community management professionals showed up, some looking for alternatives for their local 20-person meetups, others looking to take major conferences with 1,000+ attendees completely digital.

An incredible amount of insight and knowledge was shared during this call, and we’ve has done our best to collect the highlights and share them below.

Continue the discussion around event cancellations and digital transitions in our Slack community for community builders!

Alerting your community

The first challenge that many community managers are facing is determining the best way to alert their community about Coronavirus related changes. There is already enough chaos and fear coming at everyone from multiple angles on social media and news publications, so keeping your members in the loop without exacerbating fear is important.

Christine, Community Manager at Alteryx has been very conscious of this, and wanted to ensure that they were purposeful in the way that they alerted their community. Instead of creating a top-down cancellation mandate and perpetuating a fearful and over-reactionary environment, they decided to empower their customer champions who run their local events to make the final call as to whether or not they were comfortable to host.

The worst thing you can do right now as a community manager is remain silent. Whether you plan to cancel your events or not, communicating with your community is important.

The challenges of going digital

There are unique challenges to hosting events digitally, especially given the short notice for events in the coming months.

Technology – great when it works, terrible when it breaks. Thankfully live streaming software has come a long way in the past decade, but can still lead to technical difficulties, especially for users on slower internet connections. Many attendee's may also not be as familiar with using their computer webcam or microphone – account for setup and education beforehand!

Digital engagement can also often be more difficult than in-person. Ever been on a video call where one person finishes speaking and no one knows who should speak next, leading to 22 seconds of awkwardly staring at each other? Yeah, this happened during our hangout 😄

Technical hurdles and digital engagement quirks have led many to consider doing prerecorded content, rather than live. During our virtual hangout, Ho Yin, the Founder of video-software company Remo, shared that he's often experienced lower turnout to events that mention that content will be available as recordings afterwards. If you're looking for a live audience, you have to give them a reason to be there live, and not just wait for the recording after the fact. Some community managers shared that making recordings only available to people who attended is one strategy to combat this challenge.

Just like in-person events, community managers need to provide engagement touch points to give their attendees something to latch on to. This can include a speaker ahead of breakout sessions, setting the topic of discussion ahead of time, or incorporating 'forced' networking through automatic pairing and matching. Make sure you're providing the engagement framework, and not just dumping people together and hoping for the best.

Tools & platforms for digital events

A major topic of discussion during the virtual hangout was how to choose the right tools and platforms for hosting digital community events. Here's a quick overview of some of the tools we discussed:

Zoom – great for smaller events and hangouts, starts to break down with 25+ attendees, and lacks advanced features. Zoom's Webinar product is a great solution for smaller events.

Hopin – designed to closely emulate larger conferences and events, with speaker, session, and breakout capabilities. Still in early access beta, untested at large scales.

Remo – highly interactive webinar software designed to foster smaller 2-6 person breakout sessions.

Crowdcast – interactive and collaborative webinars, maxes out at 6 speakers at a time. Ellie from Make School mentioned that Patreon uses Crowdcast for their monthly creator hangouts.

Icebreaker Video – video based networking, designed to bring your community members together to build new relationships through curated content and prompts. A few people mentioned having firewall issues when trying it out on a company-computer network.

This is by all means not an exhaustive list of tools you can use for your digital community events but should be a good starting place – we expect this ecosystem to explode in the next few years with traditional webinar software tools improving as well as newcomer tools trying to digitally emulate the magic of in-person events.

The future of in-person community

As many communities experiment with digital experiences out of necessity, it will be very interesting to see how many permanently incorporate digital-first engagement strategies as opposed to treating digital as a temporary stopgap solution. There are certainly many benefits to digital events – cheaper and easier to attend, wider possible reach, and (often) lower costs, as well as new challenges as we discussed above.

Regardless of whether digital events become a long-term part of your community strategy, the next few months will provide important learnings for community managers to keep in their back pocket for the future. As Blake, Community Manager at Dzone said during the virtual hangout:

Finding the right balance of online and offline is important, so that due to weather or events, we can adjust as needed without it feeling unprepared.

Best of luck to all community managers and teams working to make their events work given the current state of the world. Want more?

You can listen to a recording of the virtual hangout here!

And if you want to keep the discussion going with others working through the same problems, join our community on Slack!


❓ Question of the Week

What tools have you used (or are considering using) for digital events?

Reply with your thoughts on the QotW for a chance to be featured in next weeks email!


🐦 This week in the world of community on Twitter

Managing a community is no small feat.

We ♥️ this list of community resources.

Do not build your company’s community in a silo - get cross-functional business alignment and put community at the center.

Community first, product second.


📝 Blog Posts

A handful of recommended readings from the past week.

You’re working from home - Now What? (5 min read)

Community Chat member Toni Cowan Brown discusses how the Coronavirus has created a global productivity experiment. Employees and community managers everywhere are being forced work remotely and adapt to new norms. Let this article be your remote work guide for the next few months.

Building community? Start with customer value (3 min read)

Another article from a Community Chat champion – Blake Ethridge discusses why you need to start with customer value as your north star before you embark on a community building journey. Have the right metrics and mindset in place before you invite that first member. Oh by the way, if you're not a member of our Slack community yet, you are missing out on Blake's Slack thread novels – he is an absolute treasure trove of community knowledge and wisdom.

The Incomparable Value of Community Moderators (4 min read)

A tribute to community moderators everywhere from our friends at Zendesk. Moderators are often central to any online community. Whether a moderator’s role is to monitor adherence to community guidelines or to answer customer questions directly, moderators are on the front line representing your business. And usually, it's out of the goodness of their hearts.


💬 Join the Community!

Did you know that Community Chat is more than just a newsletter? We’re also on Slack, where community leaders and builders connect with each other and share tips and tricks. Join us to partake in the next virtual hangout session!

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Have a suggestion for a piece of content we should include next week? Email us and let us know!