Five Disconnects of Conference Community

Community is one of the hot topics in conference design, particularly how to engage meeting participants in connecting and interacting with each other in an online community before, during, or after an event.  Based on a few conference experiences this fall, here are five disconnects I've found with such efforts.

Automatically enrolling people and their profile
Yes, I am probably going to want to join an online community, but my identity belongs to me.  I should get the choice about whether or not I want to be placed into a community and also allowed to manage what information gets shared.  You wouldn't want someone automatically enrolling you in Facebook or LinkedIn, and your conference community should be no different.

Not allowing people to opt-out
Some folks may just window shop your community and the decide it's not right for them for whatever reasons.  It should be easy for them to withdraw their identity and profile.

Assuming people want to engage the way you want them to
Every community design is going to have some initial parameters establish by its creators, but a true community lets people engage with each other on the terms they find valuable.  If I can't customize searches for other members or in other ways personalize the experience, I probably won't want to stick around much.

Putting all relevant info behind a community firewall
In their haste to make all things "community," some conference organizers are sharing routine conference information only through community communication channels, disenfranchising participants who paid to attend, but have chosen not to engage.

Outsourcing all community management to a 3rd party
It's natural that an association might partner with a technology provider that specializes in community management,  but ultimately the association has to own the community experience and how it is managed.  If I am a member of the community I want to be able to easily contact someone from the organization with which I most identify, not just a tech provider.

The commitment to community is well-intentioned, but the experience often is better when it is of the community, by the community, and for the community.  You can't push it top-down just because you want it to happen as the conference organizer.  Attempting to do violates the very spirit of community itself.

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