The ways people connect through blogs continue to amaze me. This morning I got an e-mail from someone who's contemplating moving to Groton, Mass., the town I live in. She found me through a blog search engine (like this one), and asked if I could give her the real deal about living here. So, of course, I did.
Now this may seem off-topic, but it's not, really. Meetings may be about education, but theyâ€™re also about connections, whether they be bumping into someone who lives in a town youâ€™re thinking about moving to, or who works for a company youâ€™d like to work for, or who is in another aspect of the business youâ€™d like to learn more about. Hence all the talk about on community building. I can see blogs helping your attendees connect in all kinds of serendipitous ways: By geography, by topics of interest, by some hobby the blogger talks about in a bio, by who knows what else. But how do your attendees find blogs of interest? While some are sure to know about blog search sites like Google Blogsearch and Technorati (and thatâ€™s just two of a whole slew of these directories), most probably arenâ€™t sure where to go, or even if they want to. Iâ€™d make it easy for them to dip their toes into the piece of the blogosphere that most likely will connect with them.
For associations, how about including links to all your members' blogs (and I'd bet you have quite a few members blogging by now) on your meeting's Web site. You could even put together a Frappr Map, like this one I put together for face2face readers, for both your blogger members and attendees. The possibilities—and the potential connections—are endless.
The American Society of Business Publication Editors is soliciting members right now to submit their blogs for a member blog directory to be hosted on ASBPE's site, which already contains links to blogs of interest to business-to-business publishers, editors, and writers, whether or not the blogger is an ASBPE member. I think this is very cool. (Disclaimer: I'm one of ASBPEâ€™s member bloggers, as well as being on my local chapter's board.) Maybe they can highlight the blogs of members who are planning to attend a specific conference on the conference page, along with a show blog...this could get spun a million different ways, and all of them could help make those connections happen and the community grow. And this is just blogs, which is just one of the gazillion new booming social networking tools that are available to people nowadays.
Marshall Krantz at the MISoapbox picked up this idea, though not blog-specifically, from Guy Kawasaki's ideas on creating community, and all that's involved to make one work in a virtual environment. Marshall says:
Associations that are quick to identify and foster communities of interest that are related to their mission can boost their own recruitment efforts.
Ways to help: Provide technological resources to encourage social networking under association auspices, and organize physical meetings to strengthen and expand online communities.
Which is a great idea, as far as it goes. The only problem, as I see it, is that both corporations and associations are terrified to lose control of the conversation. What if someone says something bad about the organization, or inappropriate, or downright libelous? By providing the resources and encouraging the community, is the organization liable for what that community says and does? But since people are already connecting anyway, Iâ€™d worry much more about becoming irrelevant than about controlling the conversation. The conversation is already out of your control, just as it is at a reception at your meeting. Why not relax, join in, and help facilitate it in a virtual environment, just as you would in a physical one?
P.S. While Iâ€™m feeling geeky, I feel compelled to mention that Apple Computer Inc. has embedded a cute little poem in OSX to warn people not to hack OSX: