Conquer Your Fears and Get Together
Get Together! Life online is all well and good. Many of us spend large chunks of our time connected, whether that is via a desktop PC, a smartphone, a laptop, or a tablet. Newer technologies will, undoubtedly, make it even easier to get and stay connected.
But sometimes you’ve just gotta say: Stop the Internet, I want to get off!
Of course you go offline every night for bed (you do, don’t you?), at the absolute minimum. But there’s more to it than that.
When your community has been around for a significant period of time (say, a year), your users are going to, naturally, be curious about meeting one another. In person. With no screens dividing them.
And this is excellent. It is a sign of the community jelling. You should encourage this. Or, if you like, you can even suggest a meeting yourself.
For informal gatherings, there is little, if anything, that you need to do. If you can attend, great! And if you can’t, ask people to take pictures. However, remind your users they should get permission before they take any photographs and post them online. Furthermore, if there will be minors present, emphasize that photographs of them really should not appear online. Be prepared, if the child’s parents ask, to remove such photographs if they end up on your site. But that’s about it.
Formal gatherings allow for a lot more dazzle. A get together can be as expensive or cheap as you like. Your attendees might wish to reserve a block of hotel rooms, or even a hall. Or you might just need to make reservations at a restaurant.
Or you could think outside the restaurant, and consider a visit to a museum, historical attraction or nature preserve. Your group might enjoy attending, say, a minor league baseball game (it’s often a nominal fee to get your site or company mentioned on the scoreboard or over the public address system. Usually this takes the form of a charitable donation).
Or your users might even enjoy a potluck, or a cruise, or a bowling tournament for fun. They might like to run a 5K race (or just watch) or even attend lectures or form a book group. And they might even enjoy helping to build a house for charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen for the day. The only limits are your imagination and the focus of your community. Because a forum devoted to young mothers, for example, might enjoy a gathering where they can bring their children. Whereas a board focusing on a hip hop artist might prefer attending a concert.
For a gathering (in particular, for one specifically planned and sanctioned by you), it’s nice to bring swag. That is, forum- or company-specific merchandise. Make it free for the taking! Hats, tee shirts, frisbees, key chains, whatever you like. The young mothers’ forum might like diaper bags or onesies. That hip hop forum might like licensed mix CDs, or special music that they can download. Just give them the URL and a key or password, so they can get it exclusively, at least to start. And, it’s not a problem if people begin to share the URL and the password. Because you want them to do this.
Gatherings are fun. It’s enjoyable to finally see and personally interact with people you only know from online. Once you’ve heard their voices and seen their mannerisms in the flesh, you’ll never read their posts the same way again.