Emeri Schweigert, Pixel Wrangler at NEAT Creative Media, and I decided to mark the 5th HUG Super Forum by driving the 788 kms (that would be 489.64 miles for you American folks) from our offices in Kitchener, Ontario. Over the 18 hours of driving to and from Arlington, we learned a bunch of things. Some of it was normal road trip stuff; like the importance of caffeine, diets don't count when you're driving, a good rest stop can make you feel like a new person and that Fleetwood Mac makes everything better.
In addition to the usual road trip stuff, we learned a lot of things that can be applied to community management and site design:
1. Be prepared: Like any good road trip, we were well-prepared with provisions. We had junk food, real food, healthy drinks, sugary drinks, energy drinks and WAY TOO MUCH coffee. For the conference, we had no fewer than 12 devices and chargers, casual clothes, dress clothes, heels, flats (okay...the shoes were Martha, not Emeri), band-aids (one blister can ruin a conference), pain meds, umbrellas, pens, notepads, bathing suits, business cards and cash in two currencies. In short, we were prepared for just about any situation, event or obstacle that might come our way. Is your community prepared for anything that might be thrown at it? Do you have training documents, templates, screenshots and other team members who can preform basic community management and editing functions in the event that you're unable to? Do you keep updating your site to the latest best practices in site layout and navigation? The best time to get prepared is before you need to be.
2. Look back at where you came from: 489.64 miles x 2 over 4 days is a really long way in a Toyota Matrix. An enjoyable way, but any way you cut it, it's still a really long way. When we were losing our minds in traffic, the best thing was to glance at the clock and realize that really, much of the trip was behind us. Same goes for your community. When you're doing your reporting and speaking to your colleagues and leadership, remember just how far your community has come. Remember when you launched and you went for three weeks without an organic post? Remember when 2% of your members had profile photos? Remember that time you stood in an expo booth and not a single person you talked to knew about the community even though you launched it with great fanfare eight months ago? Those days are long gone. When you get frustrated, remember just how far you've come. It's the journey, not the destination, right?
3. Your plan can be recalculated: On more than one occasion, we ran into construction or traffic that forced us to change our plans. Our butts were definitely saved by our GPS that would take a second to "recalculate" and then send us off in the right direction. The same goes for your community and site. Sometimes, because of technology, resources, member behavior or another change at your organization, you're going to need to "recalculate" your strategy. This is probably going to happen more frequently than you expect. Take some time to produce your own community GPS. This is a document with the mission statement of your community that you can revisit with each new obstacle and will point you back in the right direction.
4. Enjoy the journey: The thing about community management and site design is that it's pretty much never done. It really is just a series of repeated tasks and processes that even years after launch you'll still be working through. If you're looking at your community as something you can "finish," you're probably not going to get there. Truth: Your community is a big job. It's a crazy combination of people and technology and can touch every part of your organization. It's really easy to get lost in day-to-day tasks and forget that what you're doing is pretty darn amazing. You're providing a platform for your members to connect with each other 24/7 - that's incredible. On our road trip, there were times when it felt like it would never end. We were hungry and tired and our brains were exploding from so much HUGSF information. Those were the times when paying attention to the awesomeness around us made a huge difference. There were amazing autumn leaves, incredible views, a rest stop that had a fire pit and Adirondack chairs, funny bumper stickers and conversations that made us realize how great it was that we could take a few days to explore and hang out. In your community, that might mean taking a second to send a personal message to a member, sharing some fun member news, getting creative with digital ribbons or even just taking the time to read a really amazing exchange between members that you made possible. Have fun with it!
5. Home is pretty awesome: We had an amazing time at the Higher Logic Super Forum, no doubt about it. So many great people, conversations, new ideas, food, drinks and enthusiasm. We're both already psyched for HUGSF15. That being said, coming home was pretty awesome too. We know home, we don't get lost in the Metro at home, we don't have to use different spellings/words/money/measurements/try not to say "eh" when we're at home. Make sure your members feel like that about your community's home page. It should be familiar and cozy and fun. Using user controls, you can easily bring over all of the latest dynamic content from your communities, but consider adding HTML content items like member news, profiles, photos and video content to help members get to know each other and your organization. Make your homepage a place they want to come to check in with what others are up to, that they can easily navigate and will be one of their most frequently visited pages.
So that's what we learned on our road trip...whether you're local or traveled some distance, what did you learn on your journey?
Thanks for being so welcoming to a couple of Canucks! HUGSF15 or bust!
- Martha and Emeri