Virtual meetups & physical distancing

I published a guide for hosting virtual events over on the GoDaddy blog earlier this week. It’s a deep dive based on a notes I started writing to myself late last year.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Virtual events are great. They can be more affordable, accessible and inclusive than in-person events. Attendees aren’t limited by a physical venue, and you can bring participants in from all over.”

How to host virtual community events (GoDaddy)

We’re seeing a bunch of groups either shut down or postpone their events. It’s a shame, because social activities — even virtual ones! — are sorely needed right now.

We need to physically isolate ourselves if we’re going to flatten the curve. That doesn’t mean we need to socially isolate ourselves. Getting together online for meetups, workshops, casual banter, competitive eSports, family game nights… we’re going to need more of that if we’re going to get through this with our sanity intact.

Physical distancing > social distancing.

So TL;DR == Go forth and host a virtual event.

Don’t make your online community a walled garden.

Who should support an online community? Everyone in the community that can help share expertise and knowledge. Without the sharing of everyone, we create walled gardens and allow our competition a major opportunity to steal away disenchanted customers.”

Who Should Support an Online Community? (Growing Community)

I see content and community as layers within a business, rather than silos. They’re resources that we can use for marketing, sales, onboarding, support, and retention. It’s a waste of resources to isolate them.

The unique benefits of virtual community events

“Virtual conferences can be quite powerful, and scale to many thousands of attendees that would be very difficult to gather in-person. And online meetups and roundtables give your members an opportunity to have intimate discussions from the comfort of their home. Are they the same? No. But they do have unique benefits.”

Examples for Event Organizers During the Coronavirus Outbreak (CMX)

On a related note, we’re hosting our first virtual meetup for WP Durham this evening.

Crowdsourcing resources for community organizers

“The goal of most meetups is for everyone to walk away learning one new concept, idea, idea, or person. The “Top 9” aims to help those who organize monthly meetups by freely sharing slides and materials. It’s an easy way to share relevant information and topics within a group without organizers and volunteers investing time to research and create the slides themselves.”

Top 9 (mycamp.rocks)

A cool initiative from David Bissett and his mycamp.rocks site for community organizers. While the focus is primarily on WordCamps and WordPress meetups, the resources are useful for all kinds of event-based community groups.

I’m seeing a lot of curated content floating around right now in light of CORVID-19, social distancing, remote work, and shelter-in-place lockdowns, et al.

Related:

Aristotle’s five rhetorical devices for great presentations

Note: This was originally published in Our Favorite Management Tips from 2019 on Harvard Business Review. Clipped it here because I thought it was really useful.

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When you need to sell an idea at work or in a presentation, how do you do it? Five rhetorical devices can help — Aristotle identified them 2,000 years ago, and masters of persuasion still use them today:

1. Ethos. Start your talk by establishing your credibility and character. Show your audience that you are committed to the welfare of others, and you will gain their trust.

2. Logos. Use data, evidence, and facts to support your pitch.

3. Pathos. People are moved to action by how a speaker makes them feel. Wrap your big idea in a story that will elicit an emotional reaction.

4. Metaphor. Compare your idea to something that is familiar to your audience. It will help you clarify your argument by making the abstract concrete.

5. Brevity. Explain your idea in as few words as possible. People have a limited attention span, so talk about your strongest points first.

All hail the welcome bots

New members of online communities are more likely to stick around if they’re welcomed by fellow members — but Nickerson and his team found that new Wikipedia users who interacted with advisor- and protector-bots were significantly more likely to become long-term contributors than those greeted by humans. That remained true even when the bots were contacting users to point out errors or delete their contributions, as long as the bots were cordial and clear about their reasons.”

Rise of the bots (Science Daily)

Since 2017, Discourse — an open source forum platform that’s an absolute delight to use — has welcomed new members via Discobot. You can think of it as a customizable autoresponder taking on the form of another user.

This sort of automation, when used transparently, can offer a good deal of scalable utility to help with new member onboarding. It acquaints users with the platform and sets expectations out of the gate.

It’s kind of like the introductory levels or tutorials in a multiplayer game. You learn the gameplay mechanics in a safe space before jumping in with real players.

The ROI of supporting existing community groups

“In variety of other ways — with the launch of community events, youth workshops, and other programs — Katz and her partner continue to double down, investing back into the culture and creative community that provide Paper Chase business, and in turn, support and nurture its growth.”

The Creative Entrepreneur Behind Paper Chase Press (99U)

I’m big on supporting existing community groups. Why? Because the people you want to reach are already coming together. The interest and momentum is there. You just need to tap into it.

I wouldn’t start a new group unless I felt like there’s something missing from what the current group was doing. Even then, I’d look at how I could fill that gap within the existing group, rather than forking off in a different direction.

Here’s an example:

Back in 2011, a local eBook publisher was struggling to get off the ground. The founders had a history in print, they knew the industry, they had connections to great authors.

They wanted to provide consulting, design, and editing services to new authors for a small percentage of the sales revenue. To keep costs low, they’d cut out the middleman and sell the books directly to readers.

They didn’t know where to start with their marketing, and they had a very limited budget. So I suggested that they take the community marketing route: piggyback on local meetups, book clubs, and online groups that aligned with both sides of their business — authors and readers.

The goal would be to find the aspiring authors in these groups. If they could convert a chunk of those members into publishing under their label, they’d have an organic (unpaid) program for raising awareness & finding new leads.

The groups could also help with customer research. What were people reading? How were they discovering new authors? If they were trying to write and get published, what were they struggling with?

That’s the ROI of supporting existing community groups. You’re plugging into a collective of people you need to reach. Instead of buying attention with dollars, your investment is time spent on showing up, contributing, participating, and listening.

Start small, build relationships with members, gather a lot of qualitative insights, figure out what works, and scale up from there.

The vital role of moderators

Moderating content and comments is one of the most vital responsibilities on the internet. It’s where free speech, community interests, censorship, harassment, spam, and overt criminality all butt up against each other. It has to account for a wide variety of always-evolving cultural norms and acceptable behaviors. As someone who has done the job, I can tell you that it can be a grim and disturbing task. And yet the big tech platforms seem to place little value on it: The pay is poor, workers are often contractors, and it’s frequently described as something that’s best left to the machines.

The Comment Moderator Is The Most Important Job In The World Right Now (BuzzFeed News)

Community changes how we engage with customers

“Something I have been consistently hammering on about for a number of years is that communities are going to change how we build businesses and engage with customers. […]

Communities provide an incredible environment to not just build relationships between customers and companies, but between customers and customers too. These kinds of communities can generate enormous value, very tangible results, and deliver fulfilling, lasting experiences.”

Community as a Competitive Advantage (Jono Bacon)

A Renaissance for Online Communities: My session from PodCamp Toronto 2020

Note: The following is a companion post to my session “A Renaissance for Online Communities”, presented at PodCamp Toronto 2020 on February 22nd.


A community is not a single place or platform. A community is a connected group of people with something in common.

Communities form around different things. There are communities of place, like your local neighbourhood. There are communities of profession, like web design. And there are communities of interest, like the communities that form around podcasting.

People don’t identify as community members straight away. Showing up at a community event doesn’t mean you’ll feel like a member. At first, we often feel like an outsider, someone dropping in uninvited.

To feel like a community member, we need to achieve a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging grows through participation in shared experiences, both online and offline.

Read moreA Renaissance for Online Communities: My session from PodCamp Toronto 2020