The Big Social event in Dallas, Texas, is the largest gathering of social community leaders, and it adopts a “Customers come first. Period” approach to both its products and event.
GRACING THE SILVER SCREEN AS ONLY THE GLAMOROUS GRACE KELLY KNEW HOW, her ultimate appearance in the 1956 hit musical High Society had her sing and dance her way through a socialite’s dilemma of just which of her milieu of suitors might she marry. Through the preoccupations of the era’s society shapers, the movie captured the world of a prominent and influential community of people seeking out the partnerships that might equally serve to promote and strengthen their social sphere’s business interests.
A half-century later and a new community, one entirely without such society prestige, is exerting an equally strong influence over today’s social and business worlds—the online community. Unlike traditional groups easily bracketed into a specific type and place, it consists of a broadly anonymous and globally disparate gathering of people. Business strategists are alert to the vast potential of not only reaching the new consumers of this community, but also tapping the extensive information available about them to enhance their own products and services. Organizational structures are constantly being altered to focus more on communication and networking, which is presenting the business world with the major challenge of how to harness, communicate with and profit from a customer base that is potentially anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Fortunately, expert help is at hand due to the growing number and potency of online communities matched by research and investment into how businesses can optimize tangible outcomes from them. Telligent of Dallas, Texas, is a leading research and software solutions organization for online communities, and their annual The Big Social event is the largest gathering of social community leaders. Adopting a ‘Customers come first. Period’ approach to both its products and event, the September 26-28, 2011, outing at the W Dallas Hotel created the perfect forum for sharing information on how businesses can maximize returns from online communities as well as what the future might hold for them.
“All facets of business are benefiting from the information that’s being exchanged in online communities: marketing, sales, customer service, HR and much more,” said Megan Yunker, education director of the Telligent Knowledge Center. “Show me a business need, and I’ll show you a company that’s using online community to satisfy that need. Telligent’s user group is about people sharing their stories and best practices for using online community to advance their missions.”
The rapid escalation of online community activity and the sense of mystique surrounding their user base is a modern story certainly worth sharing, and faced with the unique challenge of creating an interactive meeting to address how best to communicate with an invisible community, organizers have placed this story firmly at the heart of The Big Social.
“The event focuses on storytelling—peers sharing how they’ve developed creative uses for online community that solve problems and create new opportunities,” Yunker said. “The main draw for people is our customer-led sessions. We are enormously grateful to our customers—they have excellent stories and are willing to share them. To be successful, online communities must have measurable business objectives. Our customers give a voice to the real-world application of online community for business. They demystify how social media is used in business, by real professionals who are challenged to make work better, faster and at a lower cost.”
Gratitude for willing customer engagement in The Big Social’s storytelling sessions is expressed through the organizers’ approach to developing its annual program, one offering a glimpse of the uniquely personal touch that Telligent cultivates to bolster its own business and consequently its customers’ ability to nurture the full potential of their online communities.
“Event programming is designed with our customers in mind,” Yunker said. “Our customers are developers, community managers, social media strategists, executives, customer care professionals, marketers and so on. Keeping all of their interests is paramount, so we actually have customers’ pictures displayed in our planning meetings. We ask ourselves, ‘Would this topic interest Austin and Shelby?’ and ‘What does Justin need to start making these widgets a reality when he gets back into the office on Monday?’ Our planning ‘personas’ are real people who we want to make happy.”
Having pictures and ‘personas’ drives program scheduling and strives to ensure customer satisfaction is clearly effective for developing a program for the actual event, but such a level of personal touch may initially appear contradictory for reaching out to the online community, often perceived as impersonal and hidden behind computer screens across the globe. The Big Social organizers, however, quickly dispel any such misconception and through their research stress the importance of being personal as the key approach for developing meaningful and fruitful connections to a company’s online community.
“World Class Communities is an ongoing thought-leadership series that is authored by Telligent, part of which identified the nine characteristics of world-class communities, one of these being an emphasis on being personal,” Yunker said. “World-class communities are personal and emphasize connecting members with real people within the business. They foster real dialogue and are authentic. This is the foundation of The Big Social.”
With personal connections set in a storytelling environment the bedrock of the event, The Big Social aims to create as homely a feel as possible for its customers, who can then take this sense of intimacy to the online communities they engage with. This aim is stretched into every corner of event planning, from programming and customer engagement right through to venue choice and the social networking sessions.
“When we invite people to Dallas, we invite people to our home,” Yunker said. “Some conferences use destination as a lure—we don’t. The W Dallas venue is ‘cowboy chic’ and a premier hotel, certainly, but more important is that it’s in the heart of downtown Dallas, next door to where the Mavs play, down the street from the House of Blues and walking distance to a steak joint or sushi if you prefer. And, it’s our backyard. We want people to come away from The Big Social knowing us better for who we are and who our customers are.
“Networking at The Big Social is not about playing your typical conference networking games,” Yunker continued. “We create the environment—like a party at your own house—we plan the music, the food, the entertainment and introduce you to people with common interests. Simple. And, our focus on storytelling means that you’ll get to know the speakers from their sessions.”
Striking the right balance of education, networking and fun in a domestic, storytelling-filled ambiance is, for the organizers, the ideal recipe for customers to continue to benefit from The Big Social. In the spirit of embracing the event’s theme and further showcasing its value, Telligent also engages throughout the year with its own online community to extend the knowledge base of best practice and continue conversations that were kick-started before and during the event.
“What sets Telligent apart, and specifically this event, is the sharing of customer success stories and best practices, conversations that also continue throughout the year in our customer advisory online community,” Yunker said. “More companies are adopting social technologies, and this is the BEST event worldwide to learn about social communities, hear customer testimonials and share a vision of the future.”
With advancements in how to maximize online community communication and enhance customer engagement continuing to accelerate, this ongoing user group dialogue is a vital portal for Telligent to keep pace with what it considers to be this shared ‘vision of the future’ and share it with its customer base.
“Adoption,” Yunker said. “Telligent was created in 2004 and, back then, we were a developer toolkit. Since then, we’ve seen major brands build their key businesses around customer engagement. In the near future, every company will have some level of social interaction with their customers via their website and with their employees through interactive intranets.”
As the final musical bars of High Society brought the movie’s medley of social interaction to a happy resolve, Grace Kelly knew that her own future would be moving into an even higher society than that of her on-screen character, shortly afterwards becoming Princess Consort of Monaco. Increasing levels of website social interaction will continue to see the high society of today’s social community leaders annually descend upon Dallas at The Big Social, an event that is showing the business world that the future of their online communities is a little like their own, modern-day, online Monaco—a huge net worth principality of global residents that you will want to get to know personally through a great story that you want to share with them. It’s a story that with the aid of Telligent’s The Big Social you’ll be able to tap to great advantage. You may even wish to make it into a full-blown musical. One+
business of meetings,
One+ August 2012