This week we chat with Dave Mathias who has helped numerous events boost their engagement, digitally and in real life! Dave has founded NorthRupt Labs, an event experience firm and Go Beyond The Data, helping you find the human side of analytics.

He explains why you shouldn't be afraid to try out new ideas with your community - and why it's okay to let go if something isn't working.

Creating a Community Digitally

Your step one should be assessing where your community is. Are they all local, spread across the US, or even the world? This helps you decide what tools and options you have to build and grow your group.

Dave Mathias: I’m helping advise an event in the Twin Cities around behavioral science and we were just talking about how do we build some engagement around Slack. Because it’s actually two Meetup groups that are coming together and putting on an event under a different brand and it’s like, “Well, how do you then create an additional community?”

We're not just looking to reach Minnesota-based attendees, but attendees outside of Minnesota coming in too. How do you also provide a forum where people that are not local and not attending Meetups regularly, but still want to engage with your community and discussions?

One solution I see groups taking advantage of is using webinars or Slack groups. Just helping people with more challenging schedules to feel like they belong to that community is an important step.

But I think the challenge is how do you curate them? As we know, there’s many rather successful Slack groups out there, and I’m probably in at least 25.

Taylor McKnight: Your Slack sidebar is very crowded over there.

Dave: Yeah but about half of them are dead or dying. On the other hand, the other half are extremely active. Product School has a very active Slack group. Every week they do an "Ask Me Anything." We also do a webinar with an expert, too.

A few experiments to boost engagement in your community Slack group:

  • Run an "Ask Me Anything" (Reddit-style) every week.
  • Prompt daily questions in your main channel to keep the conversations going.
  • Run contests and giveaways, with a goal in mind (engagement or promotion to grow your group).
  • Use this Slack integration called Donut — basically an icebreaker bot that introduces your members to each other via DM. Helping members make friends will give them more motivation to stay involved.
  • Weekly Video Chat – They can be used to continue conversations from Meetups or explore new ideas that are worth going deeper next time everybody meets in person.
  • DM members directly and ask them for feedback and ideas on improvement.

Curious about how Slack might work with your audience? Here's a step-by-step guide on how to set a channel up for your group.

Not Your Usual Real Life Engagement

Do you have a Meetup that hasn't hit its full potential yet? Experimenting with other types of Meetups could surprise you.

Taylor: I know you’re a prolific Meetup user and organizer. How do you use Meetup?

Dave: As an organizer perspective, I’ll be honest, I wish Meetup had some more features that would enhance the engagement. The challenge is supporting the conversations and thoughts that are already happening in your community.

Mostly what we’re using Meetup for is, honestly, what Meetup does great, which is a great amount of people that are on it.

There's a lot of exposure built in and people recognize the event. I organize with Twin Cities Data Visualization Meetup, and we have about 3,000+ folks. But you know, we’ll have 30-100 people that will show up on any given month. So you’re really engaging a very small percentage.

One idea we’re trying out, to engage the rest of the audience, is a data visualization competition. It’s a different format and we're just trying to see what ideas will get our audience excited.

Taylor: You don’t know what the community’s going to get excited about necessarily, so I love that mentality of simply giving new ideas a shot.

Listening to Your Audience

Surveys are not the only way to listen and engage your audience. Watch your community's actions and engagement. Are they participating in your Slack channel? If not, it may be time to try something new.

Dave: Just understand that however you think it's going to work is probably not going to be the exact way.

You’re going to need to test different things and see what resonates for enough of your folks and be all right with saying, “Okay, tried it. It didn’t work. Let’s try something else.”

Sometimes, you may realize that attendees just want a single event. They come every year and that annual event is exactly what they are looking for. One of my favorite events is Eyeo Festival and it’s a four day event. There’s some social media that happens during the year but most of their engagement is just during those four days.

And that works too. Just being comfortable to say, “I want to test if there’s a need for this community to exist.” And maybe there isn’t, or maybe they’re already getting that other ongoing community from somewhere else.

Listening to your community, getting that feedback, and being willing to change or just realize at some point there’s also just a lifecycle with ideas. At some point an event has run its course and sometimes people have a hard time winding things down. Maybe there’s demand somewhere else where people are going.

Taylor: Well put Dave! Listening to your community will help you stay in touch with their changing needs. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.