The transition from in-person to virtual has become a common theme in the community industry. Many communities that once ran in-person user groups and distributed events programs had to change their strategy entirely, and move online to the world of online.Both Christiana Russel, COO and her partner, Luis Martínez, Founder and CEO of We Tha Plug, started their community careers in search of self identity in San Diego, CA, USA. When they entered the community industry, they were exposed to all kinds of different communities and ways of building spaces for people to come together. They were inspired to create their own.The concept of We Tha Plug was inspired by the lack of Black, Brown, and Latin X individuals they noticed in these spaces. While residents of San Diego, Christiana and Luis hosted a meetup in Silicon Valley during an event called Afrotech, they realized that the lack of this representation was a common theme across the nation. Now, as an established community for marginalized entrepreneurs, We Tha Plug is dedicated to declining the racial gaps through the distribution of resources and accessibility to information."Christiana and Luiz successfully transitioned their once in-person meetups, to a virtual membership experience. Through this transition, Christiana identified three key concepts that helped them successfully make this move."
It is important to keep your community updated on everything. Your community platform is incorporated into your member’s lives and you want to prepare them for change.The goal is to make sure you continue to prioritize the most valuable needs of the community. For We Tha Plug it was the “need to create opportunities for entrepreneurs, business owners, business professionals and the tech community in our network to meet and exchange ideas, services, and resources”.Christiana recommends viewing community migration as a process that requires patiences, “this is not a race meant to be run fast. We are changing the mindset of the people in our ecosystem”. A realization We Tha Plug had during this process was putting themselves in the shoes of their members who may be “overwhelmed by technology due to their workplace demands”. They understood that a turned off camera or muted attendee doesn't necessarily mean they are disengaged from the experience.Give your community a respectful amount of time to prepare for the move while making them feel like a stakeholder in the process. We Tha Plug incorporated members in the official announcement of the new platform in addition to including them in membership promotions on the website.
We Tha Plug launched their virtual membership platform at the beginning of the pandemic. This was a time when silos were being created as restrictions were being put in place. Christiana realized the importance of educating community members when We Tha Plug began offering their events on virtual platforms.Many tasks such as onboarding, communicating, and networking may require troubleshooting, but with a little transparency with your members it is easier to work efficiently to find solutions.Living in a predominantly digital age can make it easy to underestimate the technical barriers amongst members. Simply put, “Dont assume that your members know how to use the platforms that are provided”. Christiana recommends offering opportunities for members to get acquainted with new features and gadgets provided on new platforms, prior to any major gatherings.As a community professional, you should share the knowledge that you gain from exploring the platform through communication channels and direct messages. Adapting to a new environment virtually will feel very similar to new spaces in real life, so keep testing until you feel comfortable, and then some more! Christiana refers to this as the “Wash, rinse, and repeat process” because you continue to continue to research until “you have figured out the formula that best fits your community's needs”.
Christiana credits research for the success she has seen in building her community. In her opinion, research encompasses “educating yourself on resources available to you, connecting with a large network and plugging in (staying updated)”. She provided a great example of the benefits of learning from how other companies are building their communities:“Target put millions of dollars into studying their customer’s shopping habits. If you look at the span of the last 10years, you can see them go through logo changes, store layout changes, products offered and services provided.Through this change, you have seen them grow exponentially and stay ahead of their competition. This is an approach that every business should explore. Understanding who your community is and what drives to spend time & money.”After, she mentions how this idea of active research can be applied to community:“For We Tha Plug (WTP), this is something that is on-going for us as we are still in our infancy stage. To assist us in navigating this process, we have created a community where we have access to top experts in the industry that provide mentorship and coaching the WTP team. Through this process, we began exploring options and what spaces worked best for our ecosystem which has led us to platforms currently in-use.”While conducting research, and looking to see how other communities were overcoming similar challenges, she noticed how many opportunities there were to provide value to her members. It can be limitless if you’re willing to take time to open yourself up to a thriving network that meets your personal and professional needs.
A fear among community professionals when transitioning from an in-person space to an online one, is that their members will renounce the new platform. The reality is you may lose members, engagement might dip, and people might not like the new direction. By making sure she kept her members updated, by creating opportunities for education, and by doing her research, Christiana transitioned their community without a hitch. She said the feedback from her community was filled with gratitude for the new digital platform.“The overarching outcome was the ability for us to connect our international and national communities in a more cohesive manner.”Want to read another case study about moving from in person to online? Check out How Elementor’s meetup program changed for the betterJoin the conversation and earn through the shared experiences of other community professionals in the CMX Community on slack and facebook!