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Even Michael Skoler who leads Public Radio International’s interactive activities was surprised by the huge turnout for Ira Glass’ live version of his popular radio show, This American Life.

Wrote Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram, “More than 30,000 watched the first digital show at hundreds of theaters across the U.S. and Canada in the spring of 2008. The next year, 47,000 turned out. They came to be with other fans, experiencing something they all loved together.”

Hint: Host a road tour or gatherings where your online community members can meet face-to-face and collectively hear from their stars, their most valued members.  Unlike associations and civic clubs, many online communities haven’t provided an opportunity for in-person conversations and celebrations.

Conversely many of the traditional clubs aren’t maximizing their opportunity for members to socialize and to learn from members in other chapters – both online and in-person. As sister chapters and organizations get networked via the opportunity to see meet online and in-person, diverse ties deepen. Serendipitous friendships, breakthroughs and collaboration are more likely to happen.

What if, for example, Rotary International invited its members to create short video stories about their inspiring, first-hand experience in civic projects in their community and in other parts of the world? Next, what if Rotary, asked members to vote for their favorite video stories?

Then Rotary could host its own multi-city, simultaneous “film festival.” Invite members and their family and friends to gather locally in public auditoriums, homes and theatres to see and talk about those favorites.

Right afterwards it might host an online, vote-this-hour, People’s Choice contest so that worldwide audience could choose their Top Ten.

With Rotary’s squeaky clean, altruistic image, I’m thinking that many major companies would leap at the chance to underwrite the costs and/or provide the technical support to make this community-building dream come true.

Consider how instructive, heart-warming and member and media attracting that could be for a member-based organization with chapters.

Of course other diverse organizations with avid members, stories to tell and a strong sense of community could emulate their version of this approach.

Off the top of my head, those organizations  include the Westminister Kennel Club’s dog show, college and corporate alumnae organizations, Student Youth Tour Association in partnership with high schools, and the Cyclists’ Touring Club in the UK.

One of the smartest moves a company could make would be to launch and host an online community that becomes the most popular place for its kinds of customers to join, exchange ideas, co-create and otherwise collaborate.

To strengthen ties, understanding and value between members and between the company and members, that firm would, of course, host in-person events in formats that most serve that kind of community’s interests.  Those formats can be as varied as talent contests, mutual mentoring sessions, speed consulting, Pecha Kucha, Ignite or collectively viewing and voting on their favorite, member-created videos on the topics that brought them together.

A company-hosted online community that includes in-person events could be competition for some associations, accustomed to controlling the programs for their members, inviting “vendors” to pay to play yet often not giving them much of a say on how to participate for the greater good of members and vendors.

Have you heard of inventive ways that members of online communities are meeting in-person?

Do you belong to a club, association or other organization?  How could it bring members closer by enabling them to enjoy meeting both online and in face-to-face gatherings?

moving from me to we


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