How to retain value in a major shift from offline to online communities?


(Joel Zaslofsky) #1

My mind is spinning in many directions and I'm so grateful we have this FeverBee community to really grab on to actionable suggestions. Here's my sticky situation.

I'm helping a friend explore the possibilities with changing the nature of his 100 in-person community groups to make the core interaction online instead of offline. A large part of that is to lessen the operational and administrative resources required to run the movement as a whole. And if we can do that, then we can even add more community groups without overwhelming the staff at "community headquarters" (which is lightly staffed as is).

My brain hurts trying to state a plan for how each community would continue to create value among themselves if they didn't regularly meet in-person. And it pains me to recommend a shift from offline to online because my personal experience has been offline gatherings are where the best magic happens.

Here's my main question: Do you have case studies, resources, or a unique perspective on how to maintain value for community participants in a major shift from offline to online interaction?

Here's some context to help:

  • Each community is based around a city of 50,000 people or more in a Western country.
  • Each city has a volunteer community leader (CL) in charge of organizing in-person meetups and facilitating conversation in the Facebook group dedicated to that city. Some larger Facebook groups have up to 1,500 members.
  • About half of the CLs aren't fulfilling their duty to have a monthly meetup in their city. I've toyed with recommending loosening the requirement to host a meetup only quarterly, but I believe we'd have the same issue of chasing down CLs who aren't meeting their obligations regardless of the frequency.
  • About 1 out of every 50 Facebook group members actually attends an in-person meetup. And the increased social capital or practical resources exchanged at any meetup are negligible in some cases.

With that context, which of these statements feel compelling to you without seeing data to back them up?

  1. More stories, resources, and local events would be shared in each Facebook group if the focus was less about coordinating a future in-person meetup and more about decentralized support for each member.
  2. Highlighting the existing expertise of specific members will be better in a Facebook post to hundreds than an in-person demonstration to maybe just a handful of people.
  3. The majority of members will feel a deeper sense of ownership if there aren't two tiers of members – those who go to meetups and those who don't.
  4. Some of the busier or more introverted CLs would stay on longer and be more active in their Facebook group if they weren't required to host in-person meetups. Optional meetups coordinated by anyone in the group for any number of people would still be encouraged.
  5. Finding new CLs for a city or even recruiting co-CLs for a city would be an easier sell without the added work to have in-person meetups.
  6. Peer support among CLs (we have a Facebook group for them) would be easier and more relatable for online interactions compared to offline interactions.

Thanks in advance for getting my head out of the clouds and onto solid ground! Feel free to offer up other benefits you can see from moving the primary interaction from offline to online. And let me know if you need more info about anything I've touched on. I'm keeping it intentionally light to start with.

(Josh Wolf) #2

Hey Joel,

I work at a non-profit and run an online community for our global program participants, which include a number of local groups. I think the in person aspect is powerful, and is something that at least our participants ask for, and reinforces online participation. Some people favor one mode of engagement over the other, and for us it makes sense to support both.

My guess is that if the focus shifted to online engagement, people would start asking about in person opportunities. Is there a goal that you can set for the groups that people could meet in person or online and have them figure out the best way to go about it?

(Joel Zaslofsky) #3

Thanks for the prompt, Josh. There is already a requirement for the community leaders (CLs) to host in-person meetups, and the decision is whether to loosen it or do away with it entirely. If that requirement is scrapped, then I feel the best we could do is make a strong recommendation that a CL still helps bring people together in-person. It would be up to each CL to determine if they want to make it a goal or not.

All the resources to host in-person meetups would still be available. So, theoretically, there’s just as much stopping a CL now from getting people together in-person than there would be later with an emphasis on online interactions. Leaving it up to each person to decide how to go about hosting live gatherings, without some strong guidelines or suggestions, has never worked well for the organizations I’ve been a part of.

How do you support participants to meet in-person without making specific recommendations on how they do it?

(Luis Villa) #4

Can non-CLs be empowered to host events?

(Joel Zaslofsky) #5

They are already are. It’s just not made explicit, although it will be soon if I have anything to say about it.

You’re on to something here and the Asset-Based Community Development guy in me is also shouting, "Decentralize! Let other people in the community freely offer their gifts too (e.g., hosting in-person gatherings)!

(Josh Wolf) #6

I guess my question has to do with what the in-person meetups are in service of. Whatever that is, it sounds like it could be met through other mechanisms (such as online interactions). My assumption is that articulating the intended results of the in-person meetups and encouraging people to find whatever way suits them to achieve it will open up their creativity. And yes, it can be messy :slight_smile:

We definitely have recommendations for in-person meetings, and also encourage them to innovate in ways that are unique to the character of the group and the local community. Strong online engagement could allow those innovations to spread.

Are the intended results geographical in nature, or would people find benefit in engaging with each other across geographic regions that would be enhanced through more of an online focus?

I realize that without knowing more about the specifics I’m having to make assumptions, so I’d be happy to speak to any specifics you are willing to offer or answer any additional questions you think are relevant.


(Osioke Itseuwa) #7

From your explanation, it seems you are looking for a way to increase the community’s engagement online in a way that would make them not miss the offline events.

From my experience, they will always miss the offline events. But you can help them by creating enough real-time/live online events that make them feel more connected. This can be live AMAs or chats, video meetups and the likes.

Also, keep the in-person events, but like you pointed out hold them only quarterly (or even yearly).

This guide by @richard_millington - can help you see what your online community would be interested in and thus help you increase engagement.

Then combine the learnings from there with this guide on strategy for how your friend can turn the insights he gets into actual results -

Good luck Joel :slight_smile:

(Joel Zaslofsky) #8

My perspective may be a bit different than most. But the in-person meetups serve as a shortcut to creating real world friendships and collaborations that either take too long to form online or can’t form at all in a purely online context.

Yeah – this whole thing is messy. But still worth discussing and doing. :slight_smile:

There’s already a global Facebook group where people can interact across geography, cultures, backstories, etc. However, it’s too large to facilitate meaningful human-to-human connections. All the interactions in that global Facebook group seem helpful, but fleeting. I’m trying to avoid the same environment in the Facebook groups based on an individual city someone lives in.

That’s a good way to look at it. However, I agree that certain people with certain personalities (like me) would always miss offline connections.

Thanks for linking to the FeverBee resources, Osioke. I’ve done the FeverBee Strategic Community Management framework for the online community I run (the Puttytribe) and it was great. I just don’t have the incentive to go so deep into insights and strategy for another community I don’t run. It’s a lot of work! (As you might know as well). :slight_smile:

(Osioke Itseuwa) #9

True! It is a lot of work :sweat_smile: