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Digital Event Engagement Manager: A New Role for Association Pros

The following is a guest post from Maggie McGary, online community and social media manager at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Last year, my first year attending ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, I was totally overwhelmed by the experience. This year, I was a little better prepared and went in with a game plan: Pick a session during each timeframe, then two backup sessions in case the first was full. I also spend so much time immersed in social media—learning, doing, speaking—that I thought my time would be best spent not attending any sessions dealing with social media.

At any rate, that's how I came to attend the Learning Lab "The Strategic Impact of Digital Events on Meetings," even though I'm not a meeting planner (currently; in past jobs I have done meeting management). As luck would have it, the session felt a lot like a social media session—a lot of talk about traditional versus new, with face-to-face meetings being the gold standard (like traditional communication media) and virtual or hybrid events the shiny new thing (like social media).

Lots of the same issues were addressed as are addressed in nearly every social media session: How do you get executive buy-in, how do you generate revenue from this new way of doing business, will this new way ruin the old, tried-and-true way we've always done meetings? As with social media, there are a few examples of associations who are already demonstrating success with virtual or hybrid meetings, but there still remains a lot of skepticism about moving into foreign territory.

What struck me most, though, was that I was sitting in a room full of seasoned meeting planners, many of whom are certified meeting professionals and have invested entire careers learning the business of running meetings. There I sat, a person who has spent the past four years in the business of online engagement, and it occurred to me that there's an entirely new field open to online community and social media managers: digital event engagement manager.

If the future of events is driving online engagement and being able to generate measurable results online in addition to, or instead of, face-to-face meetings, community management is at least as valuable a skillset as—if not more valuable than—meeting management. I wondered which education gap would be harder to fill—community manager retraining to learn meeting management, or meeting manager retraining to learn online community management? I also wondered who will fill that gap. Will fundamentals of online engagement and social media management be added to the list of things you need to know if you want to be a meeting manager, and, if so, will that be a new part of the certified meeting professional program? Or will community managers need to learn stuff like what's a BEO and which is a better seating setup for learning, hollow square or horseshoe?

Obviously, I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know this: Build it and they will come doesn't work for online communities, so it probably won't work for online events either. Meeting managers planning on adding digital meetings to their association's learning mix would be smart to start boning up on the fundamentals of online community management.

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Comments

Maggie--great post. Couldn't agree with you more. Since I now focus entirely on working with event planners & show organizers, it's clear that there is a gap in their knowledge of social. It "seems" that it is easier for them to learn social and add to their skill bank, but I always find that the marketing people are taking on social. I do think that we are seeing a true convergence of digital and event worlds giving rise to the new discipline of event marketing and meeting architecture. We work on these concepts a lot at etouches and are supporting the emergence of these new types of roles. We believe that there's a huge future out there for people that understand both the power of virtual and face-to-face engagement and the architect that can put the experience flows together in a way that promotes consistent touch and minimizes the dips in engagement curves is going to be a key position in associations.

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