How to Use Facebook Groups to Stay Connected After Conferences
Quick: Think of the last conference you attended. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
What was the best part about that conference?
Was it the new information you learned? Was it the swag? (I mean, who doesn’t want another cheap, plastic piece of junk that’ll end up in the trash can before you can say “SXSW”?)
I don’t know what your answer to that question is, but mine seems to be “relationships”. The more conferences I go to, the more I find value in networking.
Simply put, the Web is changing the face of conferences. We can glean the content from events through various social media channels with the click of a button. It’s not hard. Content is easily transmittable.
Relationships, however, aren’t as easy to transport. You have a one-time connection with someone(s), go home, and life returns back to normal. Unless you became pen pals (ha!) that used to be the end of the line.
But I want to show you how to maintain those connections while still learning new things. Keep the “learning tone” of whatever conference you’re attending while staying in touch with the people you connected with.
How? Simple. Facebook groups.
Step 1: Create the Group
Using this strategy can work if you’re attending a conference or organizing it. It’s no surprise that the best results tend to occur when this strategy is implemented by the organizers. But if there’s no mention of an “official” Facebook group from the front, don’t let that stop you from getting started on your own.
Hopefully you’re familiar with the differences between fan pages and groups. If you’re not, this is what you need to know:
- Facebook Fan Pages: Publicly accessible; moderator tools for large online groups; customizable URL.
- Facebook Groups: Private; designed for smaller groups; randomly assigned URL.
The nuances are deeper, but those are the basics. Ready to get started? Head to Facebook.com/Groups:
Create the group. If you’re a conference organizer, give it the same name as the official hashtag or conference URL (e.g. “Super Awesome Social Media Conference”). If you’re not, name it something with the conference title in it (e.g. “Friends of Super Awesome Social Media Conference”):
Pick your privacy level. Here are the three settings and what they mean:
- Open. Anyone can see the group, who’s in it, and what members post.
- Closed. Anyone can see the group and who’s in it. Only members see posts.
- Secret. Only members see the group, who’s in it, and what members post.
No matter what the privacy level, you as creator of the group will have full control over who’s in and who’s out.
Step 2: Invite the People You Connect With
Remember those relationships you formed? Here’s where you harness the full power of Facebook groups. If you want an easy way to add lots of people all at once, make a friends list for the conference and put all the contacts you meet in your new list. When you go to invite people, you can quickly scan through the list to see who you met and where.
Step 3: Publicize Through Official Channels
If you’ve created the group as an organizer, make sure you push the URL out through all your official channels. Make announcements before the end of the event and wrap it in a short URL (bitly, su.pr, etc.), customized if possible (e.g. http://bit.ly/superawesomesmgroup).
If you’re an attendee, you may not have as much power in publicizing the group, but you still have options. Find the official hashtag for the event, let’s say #awesomesm. Send your shortened URL for the group to the hashtag. Tweet something like:
Did you enjoy the conference? We’d love it if you’d join us for all the post-session findings! http://bit.ly/superawesomesmgroup #AWESOMEsm
Don’t let those relationships go to waste! Let’s stay connected. Join the Facebook group here —> http://bit.ly/superawesomesmgroup #AWESOMEsm
Step 4: Interact, Learn, Connect!
I’ve used this approach as both a conference planner and attendee. There’s a natural ebb and flow to these types of groups, but in most cases the content and connections remain. It’s like a giant, opt-in workshop or breakout session that lasts all year.
Here’s an example from NRB 2011, a conference I presented at earlier this year:
Here’s another example from CLA 2011, a conference that fellow SocialFresh contributor Chris Giovagni presented at:
With Facebook groups, there are endless ways to keep learning and stay connected. Groups allow you to email content, start collaborative group docs a la Google Docs and message the entire group at the same time. Here are some other creative ways I’ve seen Facebook groups used after conferences are over:
- Give attendees exclusive access to the presenters notes via SlideShare.
- Offer exclusive discounts to audio/visual materials from the event to group members.
- Promote relevant content through the group, feeding people with more learnings from the conference.
- Discuss highlights from the conference.
- Poll the audience for what needs to be changed/altered for next year’s gathering.
Have you ever used this approach as a conference organizer? Attendee? What were the results? Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!