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Launching a Community-Led Events Program: Advice from Real CMs

March 15, 2022
May 3, 2024

What are Community-Led Events?

Community-led events, distributed events, user group programs, chapter programs… There are many names for this kind of program, but no matter what you call them, these programs are an incredible way to drive business impact, add member value, increase your brand’s reach, and drive customer and community member engagement.This kind of program is often led by a small community team (sometimes a team of one!), but the events are hosted by members of the community themselves. These “chapter leaders” are often vetted, and approved, then provided with a platform to host their events, event guidelines and a range of resources to help them succeed. Because it’s community-run, the potential scale of these programs are incredible. With this kind of program, one community manager has the opportunity to reach hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of members around the world.This is the ultimate value and opportunity of community programs. By giving control (within guide rails), you can scale meaningful engagement with, and between, your customers. You can do this in a way that would be cost and time prohibitive using traditional marketing. Beyond that, you’re providing real value for your customers by giving them spaces to connect and support each other. And you’re giving your brand advocates an opportunity to become leaders by starting their chapters, organizing events, and connecting their local networks.

Where To Start

Ok, so now you understand the pure magic that a Community-Led Events Program can create, you may be asking yourself, how do I do it?! Have no fear! The CMX Community is here to help. I’ve collected advice from seven incredible community professionals, from seven different companies, with very different business models and goals, and compiled it into one very (hopefully) helpful blog post. The purpose of this post is to help you learn from the experiences (and mistakes) of others. My hope is to help you avoid making the same mistakes, and provide you with the resources you need for a seamless and smooth launch.Let’s dive in!

Set your Goals

“When starting a community, I advise you to be as specific as possible about your goals and ideal member profile. Having these objectives from the outset will help you stay on track and inform your measures of success. When we started Off the Ledger here at Airbase, our number one goal was to create an online community hub for finance and accounting professionals. By knowing our target audience, we figured out community rules (i.e., no sales allowed) and restrictions on membership. I vet every applicant to ensure they are a finance or accounting professional; CEOs/sales/marketing are not admitted!We also wanted the community to be less formal than some professional groups, so we admit finance folks of all levels and try to be specific in naming the various channels to make conversation topics clear and easy to locate.As we grew, we continuously tried to develop ways to provide value to our community. One measure we introduced was manually pairing up members for deep 1:1 conversations. The community members chat about their career paths and current issues during these conversations. We also hosted roundtable discussions when we noticed a particular spike in a topic in the channel. We thrive on consistently putting out valuable and engaging webinars that help our members grow, show them something new, or put them in front of an industry expert to gain knowledge on emerging trends and career advice.”Laura Grandi-HillEvent and Community Manager at Airbase

Set Solid Expectations for Group Leaders

“I would have started by creating solid expectations and parameters for group leaders before launching a single group. Groups would only launch if they had a dedicated external leader who was willing to commit to the leader process and guidelines. I would also have made group leadership available only to our customers or partners. We’ve learned from experience that employee-led groups are not as successful, as the perception of participants was that these groups constituted another promotional/marketing vehicle for the company (so members didn’t engage). Plus, for employee leaders, group engagement has been an easy thing to set aside when bandwidth gets tight. The result has been a lot of quiet, stagnant groups over the years.Groups with passionate external leaders almost always do better. We have resources on our Groups landing page that explains what it means to be a leader, what the expectations are, and how to apply. Most of our external leaders at this point come through that portal, but it’s always a work in progress. We’re constantly evolving how we promote, resource, and incentivize our leaders. Basically, though, we’re simply looking for people who are passionate about our product, want to share that passion with others, and who want to elevate both their expertise and their thought leadership within our ecosystem. As for success, we really want to see engagement: active in their forums on the Community and hosting at least 2-4 events per year for their group.”Aaron WhiteGroups Program Manager at Anaplan

"One of the hardest things for me (and I think a lot of community managers in this role) is seeing inactive chapters and saying goodbye to a volunteer. Usually, the organizers join the program with a lot of enthusiasm and motivation, so bringing up the good-bye phase can feel awkward. But, life happens, priorities change, and your volunteers may realize they don't have the time to put in.My tip - Set expectations from the get-go, so if you come to the point where you need to close a chapter or say goodbye to a leader, they understand why. Explain upfront when it’s time to say goodbye. Set the time frame for inactivity, and what is the off-boarding process (include communication with the organizer off course)."Tali VasilevskyLocal Communities Manager at Elementor

Focus on your Volunteers

Keep Your Volunteers InformedRunning a program where you rely on your community volunteers and leaders to host almost all the events means you have to be comfortable shifting a considerable amount of control and ownership to them. Micromanaging won't scale. Keeping tabs on everything every leader does won't scale. I drafted a rulebook and a handbook as long and quick references for our leaders. Things like what kinds of events they can host, what promotions they can run, what partnerships and collaborations with other groups they can engage in, which things they should come to you asking approval for, what the process to request support is, etc. This brought uniformity to their approach and allowed me to answer their questions preemptively, empowering everyone to do more and wait less for permission or confirmation.Keep Your Volunteers EngagedThe vast majority of users that decide to volunteer their time with us do so because they have an innate interest in connecting with others. However, the rush of getting started can fade fast and leaders I thought would do great things end up dropping out. Make plans for your leaders, like get togethers, workshops to improve their skills, connecting them with insider information, offering betas of upcoming offerings, friendly competitions, etc. Never miss a chance to remind them why they chose to step up in your community, and make sure you fuel them so they can in turn be their best selves for the rest of the community.Keep Your Volunteers ConnectedThere's something powerful in knowing you are doing something in a group rather than alone. If your leaders are (like mine) scattered around the world, make sure you create spaces and communication channels that allow all of them to meet each other and connect. Leaders will feed off each other's energy and get excited about future events. Think about how you feel when you gather with others in your field at a conference. You want to give your volunteers that rush.Keep Your Volunteers SupportedBeyond communicating with your volunteers and offering them unique perks, you want to understand how you can ease their burdens. Remember: they all have their own lives and agendas. Making sure that you have a good pulse on their needs when it comes to hosting events will help your leader retention. I asked our design team for some assets and started handing out to our leaders logos, banners and even templated slides for their events. Eliminating unnecessary friction will make some of your busier or less motivated leaders host an event at a time when they may have skipped it.”Fede Garcia LorcaCommunity Manager at Codecademy

Listen to your Volunteers

“There are many skills required for an excellent community builder. Here are several of them which are extremely important when you are working with a tiny group of community leaders or event hosts: listening, analyzing, and formulating instructions.Talk with your community members and listen to feedback. The power of personal or group calls with community members is incredible. You can read a lot of resources or guess what members want from the Community. However, only the community members can tell you what they expect from a user group.Next step is to analyze the ideas and thoughts from such conversations. There will be a lot of thoughts that you need to process and understand which ideas will give the biggest effect to your community goals or your business.The final step is to formulate steps that you expect from your community leaders. The best way is if you create a guide or a handbook with a list of operating procedures and templates to proceed with them. On the earlier stage, the leaders can simply use these templates in different situations.Your community leaders are your friends and “co-workers”. You need to work closely with each of them to build a community where members are desired to be part of it.”Tatyana Yatskovskaya, ph.D.Sr. Manager, Community & Education at Smartbear

Set Up Tech Checks To Ensure Smooth Events

"When hosting an event with one or multiple speakers, we've learned that it's important to set up tech checks with each speaker prior to the event — even if they've been a speaker at an event we've hosted in the past. During these tech checks, allow the speaker time to log into the platform and test their audio/video on the device they'll be using on the day of the event.For events with just one or two speakers, we typically set up tech checks 15 minutes before the event starts. For events with multiple speakers, we recommend setting up the tech checks a couple days prior to the event and offering folks multiple time slots to choose from.Lastly, if there's anything that you can do to make registering for an event or tech check easier for your speaker, we recommend you do it! Make it as clear, quick, and efficient as possible for your speaker to access the platform and begin doing what they do best."Christina SimilienAssociate Account Manager at Valence

Protect the Community-First Aspect

“Guard the customer-centric ethos of user groups. Our philosophy is to empower truly customer led user groups, that includes letting customers drive the agenda. When your user group program is successful, other business units may want to present at or piggyback on your customers’ meetings. We love this kind of enthusiasm, but the content must be valuable to and requested by customers. Keep in mind, customers can call your company any time to get corporate and product information, but their opportunities to network with their peers, collaborate on projects, and brainstorm ideas in a meeting format, is limited.So be prepared to invest time in continually educating your stakeholders, partners, and even customers on the value in supporting that customer-centric model — especially when you’re just beginning your community journey! The fruits of your labor will not only be sweet, but enjoyed by all too.”Stephanie SantosManager of Customer Experience at Ivanti

Engage Between Events

"Our events-based program was launched 3 years ago. Back then, we used and didn’t set up online spaces on a chapter level. Is it bad? Is it good? Well, it depends: If you can support and maintain an online space (slack, forum, FB, etc) for chapters, I believe you should offer this to your chapter leaders, together with the expectation from them to manage and moderate this space and keep the Organization’s values.As the organizers volunteer to host events, they might be less interested or less knowledgeable about online space. This is something I saw happening a lot in our community (with non-official) FB group, and in other communities, when a group is abandoned or be coming spammy. It’s not something that you want to happen with official community space. On the other hand, an online community can be very effective to strengthen the relationship between the members that meet up together during the events and inknowledge sharing.My tip - if you can support the online space, offer that to organizers with a clear set of tools and guidelines, and work with them to find a person that will be responsible for the online activity (as a moderator/ leader)"Tali VasilevskyLocal Communities Manager at Elementor

Kick imposter syndrome in the butt!

“When launching this kind of program, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. We see programs like Atlassian, Salesforce, and Startup Grind, with their hundreds of chapters and volunteers, and it can sometimes leave us thinking, “how could my program ever scale to that size?” In the beginning of any program, it’s important to focus only on what you can control. Don’t worry about how Startup Grind has over 2000 chapter leaders. They’ve been building for over a decade! Don’t worry about how Salesforce has over a thousand chapters. They’re a multi-million dollar conglomerate! Focus on what’s important to you: your members and your business.When launching a new user group program or distributed events community, the things you do in the beginning might not be super scalable. In the early days of CMX Connect, every email I sent to applicants was manual, I hopped on calls with each applicant for an interview, and I hopped on a call with each new host to walk them through the platform and program one by one. It was important for me to take these manual steps in the beginning, so I could learn how to scale and automate as we grew. Soon, I figured that I could automate the application emails and I learned that I could turn my platform and program walk through into a self-paced course with videos. But, I kept the one-on-one interviews, because this was and still is an important stage of the process - meeting and getting to know new Hosts.”Beth McIntyreDirector of Community at CMX

What's next?

Want to learn more about Community-Led event programs and how they can scale your community programs? Read The Difference Between Field Marketing and Community Ambassador Programs

March 15, 2022
May 3, 2024

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