Start An Online Community For In-Person Networking

December 6, 2012

I don’t know about you, but networking events used to scare me. That is, until social media came along! Social media has become the ultimate icebreaker for meeting people in real life (IRL). We’ve heard it time and time again; people want to do business with people they know and trust. Do you remember the Cheers jingle? Of course you do, sing it with me.

“Sometimes you want to go
where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came”

People want to be recognized, and as much as getting out of your comfort zone is great for new experiences, most people want to go where everybody knows their name. Even if they are being called by their Twitter handle. I love meeting like-minded people online, building an online relationship with them and finally getting to meet them in real life wanting to hug them as though they were a long lost friend. When you think about it, it’s a lot like dating!

The truth is, networking is crucial for business. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it… why not make it fun! Social networking is great for building an online community and then getting that community to meet in real life. As co-founder of SD Mom’s Night Out, part of our mission is to host events to ensure moms get the night out they deserve. We meet many moms online through avenues such as Facebook, Twitter and Meetup groups, invite them out for a few drinks and finally have the opportunity to meet them in person.

Building a community online that you can then bring to meet in real life can be beneficial for your business or brand. Here’s how you can build your own community online (without having to buy them) and then get them together in real life!

social IRL

Online

Create a really good reason for your targeted community to get together online. Use your existing social media channels to help solve a problem, add value to something that already exists or create something new. Engage with your community and ask them what they want. At the same time, anticipate their needs, be consistent with your messaging, and get them excited about being a part of something new.

Create a really great reason for this community to meet in real life. Now that you’ve established a good rapport with your online community it’s time to meet them in person. Host an event that appeals to the needs of the community you are trying to attract. If you have a new product, invite them to try it out. If the community showed an interest in education, host a workshop.

Events that are fun and involve food, alcohol, good company and held at a desirable location are all good reasons for turning your online fans into fans IRL! Take advantage of the social media tools that allow you to “see who’s coming” like Eventbrite.com, Meetup, Tweetvite and Lanyard.com. Both of these allow individuals to share their involvement. Create a special event #hashtag to help build a buzz before the event even starts.

Start with the Influencers in that community. Invite the influencers of your community to your event. Find out who your community listens to, which blogs they read, who they follow on Twitter, who they like on Facebook, and invite them. If your event sounds exciting enough they will share it with their community without you even asking them to. Ideally though, part of your strategy for getting your online community to meet in real life is to have a plan. It doesn’t hurt to ask a handful of influencers to help spread the word formally in a blog post or through their own social media channels. Make it easy for them to share by providing them with suggested messages. You’ll be surprised at how most people are happy to share if you just ask. Don’t forget to recognize and acknowledge those people for their support.

In Real Life

Bridge the gap between offline and online connections. Just because you’ve convinced your online community to meet in real life doesn’t mean you can throw social media out the window! The online aspect is what everyone has in common, it’s the ice breaker remember! Here are some ways you can keep social media alive during your event.

  • Encourage guests to write their Twitter handles on their name tags, and then send them a tweet welcoming them to the event
  • Ask guests to check in on Facebook or Foursquare when they arrive
  • Put up a Minglestream tweetwall so everyone both online and offline can see what’s going on, your community will be more inclined to share their photos and their thoughts about the event knowing it will be projected for all to see
  • Have someone like The Pulse provide video and photography coverage at your event so people who don’t attend will see what they missed when you share it online
  • Use the event hashtag to connect and engage with people in your community who were not able to attend

Connect IRL. Get to connecting using real life social networking. Your community will thank you for giving them a good reason to get out and meet their long lost friends. Your brand will be the reason many of these people connect and build real, lasting relationships. In many ways, you will be the common denominator. Schmooze your social community, buy them a drink, make introductions and tell them how grateful you are they attended.

Brand ambassadors; build it and they will come. Brand ambassadors give you the third party credibility outsiders need to get curious about joining your community. They are essential to building your brand and can amplify your message to their own social community. If you continue to provide great content both online and offline, your community will be more than willing to share the love. Once they know they can count on you to give them what they need and want.

Thank everyone for coming and do it again! When your event concludes, give your community something tangible to remember you by. Use your social media channels to thank your community for joining you in real life. Plan to host a reason to get together on a regular basis. Let your community know what to expect and then do it all over again.

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