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How to build communities of the future: advice from TED

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During the global pandemic, businesses wanted to connect with their audiences. It became more critical as in-person events stopped and people were working from home. Creating that sense of community became harder. Audience engagement changed, and companies had to try and reach communities in new ways.

How will the lessons learnt shape the future of meetings, and what will community building look like in the new normal? That’s what Carla Zanoni, Director of Audience Development for TED Conferences, set out to answer at the ICCA Canada Summit.

When asked about community building, Carla argued that building communities was a misnomer as they are already out there - our role is to create a container. “How do we create a space where we can facilitate conversation, where we can bond our audience to us, we can bond our audience to one another, and we can create the kinds of connections that create change and fulfil a need that is lacking in the world?” 

Community building is vital for connecting with your audience and getting them to actively engage over time. “There is a great talent in winning attention, especially for a convention centre or a destination. That one and done relationship - we see that it’s not a successful model anymore. We need to be thinking about how to use active touchpoints over the years.” 

Data and active listening are crucial to building community

The keys to community building are active listening and engaging with your audience in genuine and authentic ways. Carla said, “We need to be able to understand what that audience needs, what they are looking for. A lot of that work has to happen before your event.” 

At TED Conferences, they do this by using a mix of data analytics and psychographics. “We are constantly looking to better understand not only what our audience habits are, what kind of content they are consuming,and  what they are coming to us for. We’re also taking a look to see what they are going to others for that we might have some unique positioning and a unique value proposition that we can meet,” she added.

Storytelling and authenticity to connect your audience and add value

Centring on a feeling of love, goodness and creating positive change in the world gets a response from people. “If you are an organisation and you have social media channels, tell the stories that you think your audience will find the most value in. This is not about centering the story on your organisation. It’s about focusing on your audience and identifying the ways that you can help them. That is when you’ll see the greatest engagement because they will keep coming back to you.” 

Carla argued that storytelling needs to be authentic to be powerful, and there are several ways you can do it. “Creating testimonials and stories where you have people speaking about the work you do authentically. That is incredibly powerful,” she said. 

With behind the scenes footage, she argued that it doesn’t have to be too raw and can still reflect your organisation in a good light. “How do you make someone feel like they were there? That they have some insight and they were able to pull back the curtain and get a sense of your organisation, how you are accessible, how you are relatable,” she said.

Then finishing up by talking about storytelling with emotional content, Carla said, “What is it that can make someone feel? That you are working on something dear to their heart. What is that emotional pull?” 


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