In my nearly 9 years of managing an internal online community for a Fortune 60 company, I have had the pleasure of attending and occasionally speaking at a variety of conferences that have some connection to online community professionals.
- The behemoth SXSW with more tracks and sessions than a whole team of pros could attend over the weeks of the event;
- A small and intimate J. Boye Web & Intranet conference where the 100+ people in attendance chose between five simultaneous tracks, resulting in less than two dozen attending my presentation;
- A large VMworld conference where my session on using the Socialcast platform seemed a bit out of place in an environment mainly for techies using VMware’s other products;
- A small Ragan conference for communicators where I enjoyed other presentations and where the few dozen attendees all attended all sessions including mine on our internal community;
- Several Jive World conferences in Las Vegas before that company was sold and the demise of that product was set in motion;
- A Net:Work conference in San Francisco where I enjoyed being on a panel with the then-president of Socialcast plus the moderator Stowe Boyd discussing the relatively new (in 2010) field of enterprise social networks (ESN);
- A SocialMedia.org conference in New York City with a nice variety of sessions, but which seemed more targeted for company social media professionals vs. online community professionals (they are not the same – never have been, never will be);
- For the past two years, I’ve attended The Communty Roundtable’s annual Connect Conference in Boston – attended primarily by less than 100 of the members of TheCR, but with some non-members present. It is focused solely on online community pros.
If you have the luxury of a large travel budget that allows you the chance to attend more than one conference per year, then more power to you! Enjoy the learning and networking and variety of experiences and opportunities you’ll have. But if your travel budget is closer to what mine is, then you may find yourself, like me, choosing which one conference you most want to attend. After making the decision in 2017 to attend TheCR’s Connect conference, it was an easy decision for 2018 to also hone in on that one experience with the incredible people affiliated with The Community Roundtable. If my 2019 budget only lets me attend one again, then I’ll see some of you in Boston September 23-25 for Connect 2019.
Why focus on the Connect Conference? Here are some of my reasons:
- It is geared completely toward online community professionals at all levels of experience. You won’t find sessions about marketing campaigns for a company’s Facebook page because that isn’t community. The people behind TheCR know community and they are laser focused on it.
- Because of the ongoing online discussions TheCR members have throughout the year in their members-only community, and because of the regular member calls and video sharing sessions on a host of topics, attending Connect has the feel of a family reunion. It’s where people who are separated by geography through the year and who stay in touch regularly online can finally enjoy face-to-face conference sessions, casual discussions, meals and evenings out, even an early morning run together through Boston for those eager to start their day with some healthy activity. This is why my first Connect Conference in 2017 made me feel like I was at home with “my people” those few days together – not a stranger in a strange land like I might feel at so many conferences.
- Most of the sessions presented are led by TheCR members, telling their stories, successes, challenges, even failures, and allowing time for questions and discussion that helps me apply what is being discussed to my own community in ways I can bring back to my work. They will still bring in others to lead some sessions such as this year’s keynote by Heather McGowan on The Future of Work.
- The founders and other employees of TheCR have proven themselves to be exceptional professionals and human beings who invest an enormous part of their lives in advancing the field of online communities – internal and external, large and small, for-profit and not-for-profit – and in helping those of us in this field in countless ways throughout the year. It is always a pleasure to hear founders Jim Storer and Rachel Happe share insights from one year to the next on how the field is advancing and how far we’ve come since they founded TheCR in 2009. Director of Networks Hillary Boucher handles content and the agenda for the Connect Conference, along with Emma Nicholas handling operations, and Shannon Abram on marketing and the participant experience. Together they organize a meaty and enjoyable conference experience unlike any of the others I’ve attended through the years.
- All participants have the opportunity to be on the giving and receiving sides of valuable info and insights throughout the conference. You don’t have to be an official speaker at a session to take advantage of the many formal and informal discussions to share your expertise and to pick the brains of others equally willing to share.
- While TheCR enjoys a growing membership, there is great consistency in members remaining with TheCR over the long haul. This means that you aren’t having one-and-done conversations with people at Connect that you will likely not see or hear from again. You are having conversations and building relationships that play out week by week and year by year long after the conference through opportunities in the member online community.
If you are an online community professional in any organization of any size anywhere in the world, I encourage you to do two things:
- Join The Communty Roundtable. It will be a valuable year-round investment in your own professional growth and in your ability to deliver results for your organization. You will not only benefit from what other members contribute, but from the excellent research and opportunities to be a part of various projects if you wish.
- Plan to come to Connect 2019 next September. Give up attending some other conference if you must. Take advantage of the lower rates offered the earlier you register. There will be some seats available for non-members of TheCR, but I really can’t imagine a non-member remaining a non-member for long having experienced the conference and the people, so you may as well join TheCR and then sign up for Connect.
I hope to see you in TheCR network for our weekly discussions, and I hope to see you at Connect 2019! You may just find your new, long-term tribe.