We recently started planning for next year’s IMPACT conference. In April of next year we will hold our second of what we hope are many annual gatherings of business executives focused on enterprise learning and talent management (you can learn more about it here). Last year’s conference was highly successful, and it also served as the focal point for our organization’s first experimentation with community building and enterprise social software.
Mzinga, an enterprise social software vendor with a long history in the Learning & Development space (formerly the LMS provider Knowledge Planet), provided the platform for our attempt at a conference-focused community site. Prior to the conference, we invited attendees and presenters to kick-off their conversations ahead of the event itself. And afterwards, we placed conference materials and session recordings on the site, hoping to spur ongoing interaction.
I sat down recently with Mzinga to chat about our experiences from last year and to discuss our plans for next year. You will be able to download a podcast of that conversation here soon. I’ve also included some highlights of the discussion below.
Why build a conference community?
Put simply, we wanted to expand the value of the conference for participants. We wanted to stimulate interest in the conference prior to the event, engage participants early, get them connected to each other and to the presenters, and – very important from our perspective – get a sense in advance as to what were they looking to get out of the conference.
How did it go?
We definitely think there was value in doing it. Participation levels were small but certainly consequential. On a practical level, we were able to determine in advance which sessions would likely draw the most interest – allowing us to make room adjustments beforehand. The posted materials proved very valuable and helped to spark dialogue. Overall, the site served as a great source of feedback for us on the conference itself – perhaps better than any survey would have.
And as a researcher in this area, taking part provided valuable first-hand experience related to the cultivation of community sites – especially the amount and types of work required.
That said, I came away convinced that, while we as an organization needed to continue such community building efforts, our attention should not be solely attached to a moment-in-time event like a conference. The conference did not have the scale to generate a self-sustaining community, and the intervals between events year to year would be difficult to bridge. Instead, we should grow a community around our larger research efforts and those interested in what we do. The Impact Conference community should just become an interest area within that larger, ongoing community.
That expanded direction, I am very excite to report, is exactly what we intend to do. We have started efforts to bring community building tools to our website. Coming out of last year’s IMPACT conference, attendees told us one of the largest benefits of the event was the ability to connect with other learning and talent professions with similar business problems and possible solutions. In the coming months we will add means by which you can make similar contacts on our site. On a similar note, for those of you LinkedIn users out there, we have started a LinkedIn group called “Bersin & Associates Research Network.” This group is for anyone interested in our work and/or willing to assist us with future efforts. We invite you to join.