Right now, connecting with other humans is important. Many of us have converted our in-person events to virtual rather than waiting until the pandemic is over. Some have transitioned the same event directly to a zoom call and called it good enough (and maybe that works). Others have put more thought into it. They've considered the value of their in-person events and figured out how those values could translate to virtual. They've considered the opportunities that virtual has to offer. One of those opportunities is that we can be more inclusive.
For the last few months, we’ve been able to reach more and different people with our virtual events. Now we can engage with someone who can’t get away from work during the evenings or the workday. We can engage with people who can’t afford to travel or to take work off to attend. We can engage with people who might not enjoy in-person events for various reasons (maybe they are introverts who prefer small groups). We can engage with new parents who can't or won't attend in-person events. We can include parents who can’t find or afford childcare or those who are caring for elderly parents. We can include kids. Some people are more comfortable in front of a webcam and mic instead of 1500 people in a crowded room. Some attendees might be more likely to ask questions by chat instead of in that crowded in-person room. We can include people who might not otherwise feel welcome in our communities because of their gender, race, religion, or ability. We can engage with other communities.
We've taken this opportunity to include more folks. How will you maintain the new online community that you've built (either from scratch or as you've grown) as we start relaxing the rules and laws surrounding in-person events? We are going to be adjusting to a new normal for quite a while, but eventually we'll be able to meet in-person. How will you engage your online community then? Will you go back to excluding them, making it harder for them to take part in and give back to your community? Or will you continue to meet them where they are and offer ways to engage in ways that work for them?
Start thinking now how you will engage this new and different community you’ve been building over the last few months. Offer your digital membership after your in-person communities reopen and events start happening. Stream your small (or large, whenever we get to that point) in-person events. Find a place where your online community can connect outside of your in-person and virtual events.
Don’t forget about the new people you've welcomed into your community over the last few months. Don't go back to the same old, same old. You were there for them at a time when it mattered, so don’t put the responsibility back on them to come to you after the pandemic ends.