Earlier this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura, (Laura on the Future Shop Community and LauraB on the Lithosphere) who isthe Social Community Specialist at Future Shop and the community manager of the Future Shop Community.
Future Shop has held a number of successful live events with their customers, which they extended into their online community for further dialog and discussion. And despite the hectic holiday retail season, Laura was kind enough to take a quick break from her busy schedule to answer a few questions about events for us here:
Scott: Hi again, Laura, thanks once more for your time today. Before we dive into events, could you tell us a bit about how you started with online communities and social media?
Laura: I've been with Future Shop managing the Community for just over a year now. I got involved with online communities while in University - my school was the first to launch an Online Learning Community for its co-op program. I became involved first as a regular member, then took on a more active role in member engagement, promotions and writing while working for the department.
Scott: I've seen some live chats you held on the Future Shop community in the past, like the recent Discussion on the Future of Computing. Can you tell us a little bit about how these events came about?
Laura: The first Live Chat was held in 2007 as part of the Community launch. Since then, we've had a few more, with the most recent being the Discussion on the Future of Computing. We wanted to do a Community event around the Back to School season that would help our members and customers better understand the technology that we sell. Our community motto is "Connect. Share. Learn.", so bringing experts into our Community to do just that made perfect sense. We actually ran two events on this topic - one in English and one in French (we're a Canadian company and have two separate communities for each of our official languages). Being that we are Future Shop, it made sense to hold a chat around what sort of technologies will be coming out from some of the industry's leading computer companies. We had reps from Microsoft, HP and D-Link, a discussion panel moderator, a video crew, a whole team of Product Experts and ConnectPro support descend upon the Toronto and Montreal stores to make these events happen. I stayed back in Vancouver and managed to set up of the online portion while everyone else made sure that the stage and location of the video was all set.
Scott: How did moderating a live event differ from how you moderate the rest of your community? Did you need to bring on any more resources to make it happen?
Laura: We sure did. Hosting a video live chat event of this size takes weeks of planning and a whole team of people to pull it off. In terms of moderation, we had the regular "official" coverage from our moderator team to manage the regular boards, plus we selected several Home Office Product Experts from the stores we were filming in and trained them as moderators on the live chat tool. These PEs were responsible for screening and answering questions submitted by the online audience and filtering up some good discussion topics to the panel. The discussion panel was able to address several questions submitted by the Community, while the Product Experts were able to provide advice and insight for all the others.
Scott: How did you determine if the event was successful? Were there both business benefits and benefits to your community?
Laura: The immediate benefits would be that it generates a buzz amongst Community Members. It also attracts a whole new set of members who join because they hear about the event, then find out about the Community. We're able to offer our Community access to a group of people (in this case industry experts) who they would otherwise never be able to interact with. Long term, it's not necessarily tied to the number of computers we sold on the day of the event because someone watched this video. These sorts of events create a connection between our customers and Future Shop. The same with the Community, it's no longer just a static ad that they see, but they are able to interact with us and ask questions.
Scott: I also noticed you are running a board on the site for questions during the holidays, the Holiday Help Centre. How does this kind of event differ from the live chat? How is it the same?
Laura: These are two very different things. The live chat is a one-time live event that requires a great deal of planning to pull off as it is "live" and leverages the live chat tool and a whole team of event organizers. The Holiday Help Centre came about based on our learnings from last year's holiday season. It's not so much an "event", but a resource that will live there temporarily. We saw a huge spike in registration and participation during the holidays last year as thousands of people signed up to get advice on what gifts to buy, what the holiday return policies were, what time we opened for Boxing Day, etc. These questions were scattered throughout the Community and mostly landed on the Off Topic board - but they weren't Off Topic questions, there was just no place to put them! So this year I created a board and an FAQ based on some of the questions we received last year in the community. It's just a better way to manage the type of questions that are coming in at this time of year. It gives people a place to go to talk about what is most important to them.
Scott: Do you have any advice for other community managers who may be planning an event of their own?
Laura: Get feedback from your community before, during and after! I always try to include them in every important decision to make sure that there aren't any surprises along the way. Make sure to have a clear objective - be able to clearly communicate the goal of the event and how it will contribute to making your community a better place for your members. And make sure you are promoting the event!
Scott: What topics would you like to hear about from others in the community?
Laura: I'm always interested to hear what others are doing around rewards and recognition and superuser engagement.
Scott: Thanks so much Laura!
Feel free to post your questions here in the comments, or if you have any ideas for other interview topics you'd like to see. Or feel free to post your questions in the forums to see what your peers have to say about events!