365 Media Launches Institute to Help Event Professionals Build Thriving Online Communities
Creating community around events has become an increasingly important way to build awareness, boost engagement, drive attendance and deliver on ROI goals. 365 Media, a leading expert in virtual and hybrid events and online community consulting, recently debuted a completely free resource that helps industry professionals create, build and grow online communities year-round while continually advancing their careers: the Community Leaders Institute (CLI).
The platform was designed to unite a global network of community leaders, founders, managers and launchers in various industries (including events), enabling them to share, learn, network and thrive. It is guided by the expertise of a steering board composed of world-renowned community leaders.
The platform, which is dubbed “The Community for Community Leaders,” is the first of its kind, according to RD Whitney, founder of CLI and CEO of 365 Media.
“Until now, there has never been a global, independent home for corporations and brands, associations, nonprofits, media and event professionals, and entrepreneurs managing communities,” Whitney said. "We are bringing the community profession together for mutual growth and benefit, and CLI is well-positioned to be a special place for leaders from many different channels to adapt and grow.”
The massive convergence toward community in all aspects of business and social life, along with a global marketing shift, was the impetus for starting CLI, according to Whitney.
“Everyone is moving to a community model—corporations, associations, media and event companies, nonprofits—because the world expects it,” Whitney said, pointing to examples such as software company user groups, social media groups and community-based products like Peloton. “At the same time, marketing is moving to this model because it's so effective, as seen in a TechCrunch headline earlier this year saying, ‘The Chief Community Officer Is the New CMO.’”
Whitney believes event professionals are ideally positioned to benefit from community building.
“There's an incredible opportunity at hand by leveraging events fast and moving towards the community model,” he said. “It’s a profitable extension of an event asset, and we've proven that when you put these things around an event, the event itself grows and gets stronger.
Whitney continued, “It results in recurring revenue streams, and it creates a defense mechanism for anybody trying to come into your niche area.”
Building community before, during and after an event is key to continued event growth and ongoing success, Whitney added.
“It’s become apparent that you can’t just have an event and say, ‘See you next year,’ because nobody needs that information just over those three days in particular, so you have to serve them on a 365 basis. Communities do that,” he said.
Whitney explained that with off-the-shelf SaaS, strategy planning from the start and a solid network, communities are very easy to create and grow.
“The tools are very affordable, and a lot of times you already have the content because you have the SMEs and the speakers as part of your network already, and they're hungry to be positioned as thought leaders,” he said.
The CLI platform was designed to connect all the dots to streamline the community-building process, utilizing various “pillars” that follow best practices that reflect an actual community model, such as education, tools, forums and events.
Dedicated to providing unbiased, market-leading insights, resources and training, CLI features an innovative and expanding toolkit with hundreds of templates, worksheets, playbooks and guides to help industry professionals create successful communities. A comprehensive program of masterclasses and training led by the most respected thought leaders on community is also available, and CLI plans to continue developing cutting-edge tools and coursework through its team of experts.
“CLI provides online training on all aspects of community best practices and monetization strategies,” Whitney said.
One major highlight of the online institute is a series of specific courses CLI members can take to receive their Community Professional Certification of Excellence (CPCE), a brand-new designation developed by CLI.
“We have developed this unique certification program that is inclusive,” Whitney said. “This program recognizes relevant training in community development from all credible sources and SME's, and provides a mechanism for members to track their learning towards continual learning—at no cost.
Meanwhile, CLI provides a vendor directory with nearly 3,000 technologies, platforms, solutions and services that support communities, a dynamic forum for members to crowdsource and tap the expertise of the CLI community, regional CLI events and a magazine that highlights best practices for building community. A community marketplace and comprehensive directory of communities will also become available soon.
CLI has enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive reception since it was unveiled, having grown to more than 1,300 members so far, according to Whitney, who hopes to see membership rise above 10,000.
“We want to be a growing resource that is unbiased and helpful,” he said, pointing to one perk that members receive simply by signing up: the 36-page Community Management Playbook. “It’s a compilation of our best practices that we've already seen from helping companies build communities, and it’s absolutely free. Everything on the site is free and always will be free.”
Meanwhile, CLI has confirmed dates for the inaugural CLI Conference Expo (CLIX), set for April 4-5, 2022, in Memphis, Tenn. CLIX will be chaired by Community Strategist Marjorie Anderson. Confirmed speakers include Eric Ly, co-founder of Linkedin; Richard Millington, author of Buzzing Communities and The Indispensable Community; Ashley Friedlein, founder of eConsultancy and Guild; Venessa Paech, co-Founder of Australian Community Managers and SWARM, and David Adler, CEO of BizBash.
"We're bringing community leaders from around the world, and we're super excited about our first event," Whitney said.
In essence, the CLIX event “pillar” is where CLI comes full circle for the event industry—reflecting how utilizing best practices to build community results in successful events.
“We recognize the importance of live, in-person events—that's a key monetization strategy for CLI and one of the important pillars of a thriving community to keep it sustainable,” Whitney said. “This will help us on our mission to become the association for the large, emerging, global community profession.”
Photo: RD Whitney, founder of CLI and CEO of 365 Media