**Reposted from Tracery Events, 14 July 2016. I wrote this article back in 2016 and came upon it again while organising my files. All still very relevant points as we work together in this great big world!
That's what community is all about...
In the tech world, we often take for granted what the community truly is. No industry can hope to succeed without the building and support of its community. I think we often forget what the community provides, but are then reminded in some in-your-face ways than can not and will not be denied.
Through it all, the community stands to provide a collaborative effort towards the same goal or interest. The coming together of these individuals to form this collective can have magical and positive effects. They stand together with a joint purpose and go on to result in some pretty amazing ideas and projects. We've all seen this first-hand.
So what happens when you piss off the community? They continue to stand together in support and protection of the community they represent. And pity be the person or organisation that stands on the other side. It can be very damaging for the offending side depending on what their goals are and what they stand to lose.
Unfortunately, some organisations, although professing to be community based, don't fully understand the true sense of community. It's more than just claiming to be a community partner or supporting certain elements. It's about truly integrating and learning the ways of that group. Each community is different and what works in one area, may not work in another. Some may be very private and may take some time to become a part of, while others are extremely welcoming and invite the world in.
So let's talk about our community in particular. Being based in Europe, in the tech industry and in events, I see a lot of integration attempts as companies move their products, services or events into other markets. I also hear many of the excuses of why they think they are failing to integrate successfully. Some are valid and sincerely want to change, while others are very narrow in their thinking. The problems often lie in being unyielding and being unwilling to make changes. "We've never had these problems before." "I just can't believe that is the reason we are not selling tickets." The list is endless.
At the end of the day, the problems often come back to poor integration. In business, we all have a product or service we are selling...everyone knows that. How you present that product or service is of great importance, especially in our industry. Since I manage conferences, I'll use events as an example.
Say you want to take a conference into a new market. Where do you begin? What data do you collect? What is your approach? Therein lies the first clue...having an approach or strategy. Take a look at a few things that should be considered when looking at a new city or market:
Strategy or Approach
You can't simply choose a city and expect to begin immediately start selling tickets or sponsorships. You need a plan - a detailed one. Forget that you've done this event a dozen times in other cities. You should consider each city unchartered territory, each with its own unique and specific goals and challenges. And leave your ego at the airport. :-)
Research, Research, Research
You can't know enough about your target market. Talk to other companies that have done events in this city. Learn about the people, the local communities. Spend some time learning about what appeals to them, what issues are they facing, what their interests are and what things might be offensive to them. What works in one country, may be a terrible insult in another.
Remember You're a Guest
No matter how well integrated you become, remember that you are not from this new city/country. Respect their opinions and views, listen to the feedback you are getting, and accept that doing things differently than you are accustomed to just may be the key to your success.
Start getting to know the community. Attend meetups, go to other events taking place there, join groups and introduce yourself. Obviously, this requires planning well ahead of time, some real effort and a travel budget.
Give Before You Take
Don't expect to go into a new market and immediately begin selling without the community knowing who you are. What have you given first to the community? Volunteer at community events, sponsor meetups (without expecting to give a pitch at the meetup even), and just be a good community supporter without asking for a single thing. When asked why you have an interest in what they are doing you may simply say "My company would love to bring our conference here eventually, so we thought we'd take the time to get to know the community first." All done before you even have a date. How cool is that? Giving in the true sense of the word.
Create Alliances and Partnerships
As you slowly integrate into the community, you'll naturally begin building alliances and will find opportunities to partner with others. That's a given when part of any community. Opportunities to collaborate and join together to further a project or cause naturally form. You then begin to find yourself on the inside.
Choose Your Community Team
As you get to know the members of the community, you'll know the people you want representing you...they have connections and are highly active in the local scene. They know it well and are influential. They are well liked and respected and they know what they are doing. That's just the first step, but not the most important. That would be listening to your team. They are your feet on the ground, your eyes and ears and they have their finger on the pulse of the community. Why wouldn't you listen? If something is not going well, look to your team for help. Depend on their expertise. It might take you outside our comfort zone, but honestly, why did you bring them onboard if you aren't going to take their expert advice?
And that's when the magic really begins. You have created a place for yourself within this collective. You are part of this group and when it is time to bring your event to their city, it's a much easier process. You've integrated, you've built your team and you've given without expectation. You've proven yourself worthy. Your actions will have built trust and confidence in what you eventually will be offering. Your team will stand proud to represent an organisation that truly cares about the community, not just talks about it.
Because that's the thing...talk is cheap. We can all say we support community. It's what we are doing and how we are doing it that shows what our true motives are.
It doesn't matter what you're selling...an event, a service or a product.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Always remember you are being watched. What you do to one member of a community, is just as important as what you do to the whole. How you handle situations, especially the negative ones, will brand you in a positive or negative light. It's not just about taking your event, product or service into another market or city. It's about becoming a true part of the community and offering something that will build up and be a benefit to those involved. Given them reason to welcome you with open arms.
One final piece of advice: Always be accountable and take responsibility for your actions. We all make mistakes. Don't try to cover it up or pretend it didn't happen. Things get out. People talk. Lies are hard to remember and lead to more lies. Tweets happen. The truth always comes out. Be willing to say "I was wrong. How do I fix this?" You'd be amazed how far that takes you.
Phew! That was longer than I planned for, but thanks for hanging in there! Looking forward to meeting you somewhere in this great big, but very small, tech world!