Live Blog: Taking Your Online Community Offline

We read blogs.
We follow people on Twitter.
We like pages on Facebook.
We check into venues on Foursquare.
We add people as connections on LinkedIn.

…but what happens when you take an online relationship offline and you shake
hands for the first time?

Taking Your Online Community Offline or What Do You Mean You Met On Twitter?

Presented by Alicia Hansen of Poise in Parma

An exercise to start: Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. (Audience members take a few minutes to talk with those next to them at tables)

Background information: Alicia has a professional background in even planning. She grew up in the Cleveland area and is married to her high school sweetheart, they reside in Parma with their dog Grady. Alicia began her blog as a way to document and maintain her weight loss, eventually it morphed into a healthy living blog for the Cleveland area. Along the way she met a woman who established the Ohio Blogging Association. Originally hubs were set for Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati (They’re still looking for someone to head up the Cincinnati area). Alicia found herself taking over the Cleveland chapter in 2011.

Why Take Your Online Community Offline?

  • Humans are social beings
  • We are seeking connection
  • Social media outlets provide us the opportunity to connect in what is normally a solitary act

AUTHENTICITY

  • Your readers feel like they already know you
  • Meeting each other in person gives validity
  • They want to know that there are other people like them out there in the world. As on blogger stated at a meet up “There are other people that take pictures of their food!”

Using social media to get to know your new physical community

  • Forming new relationships as an adult can be difficult
  • Transplanted individuals or bommerangs are using social media networks to learn about their new locations:
    • Where to eat/drink
    • Where to spend free time
    • Where to meet new people

SYNERGY

  • Synergy is two of more thing functioning together to product a result not independently obtainable – definition from Wikipedia.com
  • Think of a blogger meetup/Tweetup like any other networking opportunity
  • Together we do more than we can do apart

How Do I Take My Online Community Offline?

  • You don’t have to be a professional event planner to execute a successful meet up
  • Take away the expectations
  • Embrace the simplicity of just being together
  • Have a team of “insiders” (Alicia has 6-7 friends she runs ideas by in advance)
    • Pick a date when those “insiders” can attend to ensure someone attendance
    • Encourage your “insiders” to bring guests
  • Use online tools to your advantage
    • Doodle.com
    • Evite.com
    • Eventbrite.com
    • Facebook event pages
    • Facebook Groups
    • Meetup.com
    • Paypal.com
  • Find consistency somewhere:
    • Time of day (OBA often meets between 6-8 PM)
    • Location (Downtown Cleveland. Another group always meets at the Barking Spider
    • Day of week (OBA is between Monday and Thursday)
    • The attendees themselves (Look forward to meeting new people or seeing friends)

Helpful Things to Remember When Planning Your Meetup

  • Give your attendees the chance to be heard:
    • Let them share announcements for things that are important to them
    • Blog happenings including giveaways
    • “In Real Life” happenings
      • side projects
      • celebratory
    • The 30 Second Elevator Pitch
      • Your name
      • Blog name
      • Twitter name
      • What your blog is about in 1-2 sentences (Category? Location?)
      • Blog tagline or catch phrase?

What I’ve Learned From The OBA Meetups

  • The Ohio Blogging Association’s Cleveland Chapter formally began meeting in January 2011
  • Have “met” every month through September 2012
  • Find companies embracing social media so they can learn from you and your attendees. (The first OBA meeting was held at Whole Foods)
  • Work with small business – shop local, blog local. (Give and take to help each other grow. February 2012 meeting at Wine & Design)
  • Use your professional contacts to make blogging connections (February 2011 meeting at AMP 150 Restaurant & Bar)
  • There’s more than enough room for all us (Meeting with Lake Erie Moose Society June 2011)
    • What we can learn from one another
    • How do we fill each others blanks?
  • Get Inspiration from outside sources (July 2011 Run for the Pierogies 5K)
    • Alicia wanted her group to run a 5K after her experience with FitBloggin in 2011
  • Push people out of their comfort zones
  • Plan Meetups around already existing community events (August 2011 at the Cleveland Indians game)
  • Ask your employer to see if they will host a gathering (September 2011 at The Chubby Cook and April 2012 meetup at Nishkama Yoga
  • Be a tourist in your own hometown – visit your city’s tourist attractions (June 2012 meet up with Great Lakes Touring Company)
  • People love cookies (December 2011 Holiday Party and Cookie Swap)
  • Don’t exclude - do your best to include everyone
    • Gluten free
    • Using the word “Christmas”
    • Timing of event
  • Have a few annual traditions (Returned to Whole Foods in January 2012)
    • Meet at the same locations
    • Repeat past activities that were hits
  • Give back to your community by volunteering your time (March 2012 at the Cleveland Foodbank)
    • Foodbanks, homeless shelters, animal rescue groups,non-profit 5Ks
  • Reach out to your members to let them be the tar of the show (Meetings February 2012 Wine Tasting with Miss WineOH and April 2012 Beer Tasting with The Brewer’s Daughter)
  • Find networking groups that are interested in gaining potential members – as long as their interest align with your group (July 2012 at Cleveland PlayhouseSquare Center)
  • Family members make the best involuntary volunteers…and attendees
  • Blog supporters are always welcome!
  • Have a second-in-command in case things go not as planned (Leaving for an event Alicia once had her tire go out on her car. She had to call another member to take the lead)
  • When in doubt, plan a dinner
  • Blog Swaps (May and November)
  • You will get burned out. You will need a break
  • Blog swaps – make guest posting work for your group
  • Meeting virtually is just as valuable. Interact online- it will give participants more reason to attend your next in-person event
  • Not every meetup is going to have your desired amount of attendance
  • Don’t get discourage
  • Focus on those that ARE attending – cultivate those relationships
  • Smaller meetups usually lead to focused discussion – use that to plan for the future
  • Give your attendees a chance to speak their mind – in a moderated fashion (Blogger Round-tables April 2011 at Touch Supper Club and August 2012 at The Happy Dog)

A Note On Safety

  • It’s OK to be anxious about meeting someone in person
  • Think before your “check-in”
  • Being a blog supported for backup
  • Be a leader – and play “mama bear” for members as needed
  • Some people won’t understand…remember WHY you want to attend be firm

Takeaways

  • You are not alone
  • Don’t be afraid to ask – the worst you can hear is “no”
  • Strength lies in differences, not in similarities – Stephen R Covey

Questions/Comments?

Audience Member: It never occurred to me to get together with bloggers who were not fitness bloggers.
Alicia: It can make you get out of your shell
Lyn @ Life Lyn Style: Many OBA members create a “wrap up” post on their own blogs and will link to the other attendees.
Audience Member: How do you go about finding local bloggers?
Alicia: I found Twitter helpful and following hashtags such as #CLE or #HappyCLE. Also reading other blogs and seeing who comments, this can take a little more time and effort though.
Lyn @ Life Lyn Style: Also check local newspapers or other publications

Photos

This session captured by Julie of ROJ Running