How We Created Online Togetherness in 2020 And The Plan For 2021
One of the biggest lessons that I’m taking from this year is that an online network, one that you build yourself and that isn’t derived from a platform such as Facebook or Slack, can become a place of connectedness, community and support.
Even if you can’t meet up with others face to face, you can still maximise the opportunity for togetherness, digitally.
Just showing up time and time again in an online space sparks genuine connection and when you start creating shared experiences, that sense of community has the opportunity to really flourish.
It works best when you recognise and are prepared to acknowledge the differences between what is possible on and offline and don’t try to impose what can be achieved in one medium on another, i.e. not exporting an in-person conference or exhibition wholesale into the online space. It also works far better when you create something ongoing, with a continuous thread running through it rather than a one-off event.
To me, offline (You Are The Media Lunch Clubs and Conference) magnifies a sense of the social, shared company while the online, digital space (You Are The Media Online and Learning) magnifies shared learning and working towards a common goal together.
Collaborative Networks, What Do They Mean?
Working together creates a collaborative network.
A ‘collaborative network’ is defined as “a network consisting of a variety of entities (e.g. organisations and people) that are largely autonomous, geographically distributed, and heterogeneous in terms of their operating environment, culture, social capital and goals, but that collaborate to better achieve common goals.”
The term may have its roots in engineering but it translates well into any space where people come together to create something of value.
It is possible to create such self-sustaining support groups in the virtual space.
What This Year Has Brought With It
I don’t believe in being ‘Zoomed out’ as a reason for not wanting to attend and be a part of online events.
The reason people are often reluctant to attend a virtual event is normally down to the pedestrian nature of how the material ends up being delivered.
No one wants to watch a presentation that is broadcast with zero energy and offers precious little insight (read how to make Zoom more fun).
Far too many of us have, far too often, found ourselves “online networking” in 2020, sitting on one side of the screen whilst a stranger pitches to us against the background of a branded banner stand. When this becomes assimilated as the “norm” we lose our appetite to join in online, however much we may crave the company of others.
Although the medium of online meeting / conferencing is not in itself, new, how it’s being deployed during the pandemic – as a near-universal means of keeping us connected – means it does warrant a rethink. This means taking chances and experimenting, even getting right out of our comfort zones, but not compromising on who we are and what we stand for.
For instance, before March I didn’t even have a Zoom account and I’d never delivered an online event. Somehow, You Are The Media Online came into being and has been there every month since the first national lockdown was introduced.
Initially it took place twice a month and is now a monthly event. Of course it’s still very much a learning experience for me but my confidence in my ability to deliver events that people flock to online, has grown.
I would never have experienced doing things this way had the pandemic not ridden into town. In addition, creating this online YATM space has given me more joy professionally than I thought was possible.
According to the Office Of National Statistics (ONS) we have, this November, reached peak loneliness with 4.2 million people (8% of the UK population) ‘always or often lonely’ Before the pandemic this figure stood at around 5% of adults feeling “always or often” lonely (2.6 million people).
A Red Cross survey of 4,000 UK adults found that over half of them felt emotionally unconnected. This is recognised as being as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Acknowledging that we all, unable in these times to mix freely, feel detached from one another is the first step we need to take in order to be able to meet this challenge head on.
Whilst it may feel good to parade large number of social media followers as evidence of connectedness, volume, on its own, doesn’t necessarily translate into a sense of togetherness. Something more is needed to create that feeling of being in the same “team.”
It Feels Better When You Find Common Ground First
We may all be trying to build and grow our businesses, but at the same time we also need to acknowledge that in these hugely uncertain times, staying connected and close to others, has never been more important.
If you can find a way for people to come together time and time again, where you become assimilated into their calendars, you will be ahead of the game. Building a space that people feel welcome in, listened to and enjoy participating in, before you even think of delivering an event, means that when you do, your events will offer far greater value.
This has been the model for You Are The Media in 2020 – creating a space for people to listen to different perspectives for developing their messages and marketing their businesses.
The reason people keep on returning to YATM Online is that there is an emphasis on learning underpinned by a shared set of values and a distinctive YATM spirit.
It’s why we sing. It’s why we have a section in the show for others to share what has given them joy. And why everyone attending has the opportunity to contribute.
Tinkering at the edges, messing up, reinventing, sticking with it and above all else, staying connected in 2020 has helped create clarity for next year.
The Plan For 2021
I should have delivered the You Are The Media Conference in May 2020.
It was moved to September and then postponed to April 2021. I have now made the decision that 2021 is going to be a no conference year. No event organiser can live month to month not knowing how the world will look and no attendee can run the risk of compromising their health.
Bringing a wealth of talented and knowledgeable people from around the world to the YATM Online space this year has meant that geographical location is no longer much of a barrier. Having such prominent and well-known figures speaking in the YATM space has also raised the bar. People know that what they’re going to receive in terms of value, expertise and insight, is always, literally, world-class.
All things being well, 2021 is going to be a hybrid year.
Online and offline will bring people together to learn whilst recognising that that in itself goes so much better when we’re aware of that bigger sense of shared purpose that draws us together in the first place – how people and businesses can grow and become trusted voices within their industries.
The last thing I had wanted to do in 2021 was simply lift the conference and put it online. I acknowleged that YATM in its online form is separate from its offline identity. No one wants to sit in isolation watching people talk at them for a full day. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy.
So, by drawing on the talent from within our community, April 2021 is going to be the…
You Are The Media Month Of Learning
Each week of April will focus on a particular topic that will help you find momentum and get that content mojo working to help you create and build.
This is the calendar for the entire month. It reveals the teachers for each week (Mark Schaefer, Sonja Nisson, Doug Kessler, Trevor Young and John Espirian) and will bring people together within a structured overall plan, where there’s continuity over each week on a dedicated learning platform.
The plan is for everyone at the start of each week to spend an hour with the topic leader, a handful of questions will be set and the study group will reconvene a few days later (either online or maybe even offline) before meeting up again to draw conclusions and wrap up at the end of the week.
At the end of the YATM Month Of Learning, we will have some form of graduation. We’re also working with Bournemouth University (thanks to Ian Jones), as I want that stamp of credibility as a learning platform for people.
Connection doesn’t only happen in physical spaces. People can and will feel supported, and a part of something with others, in a digital space too.
To make something that works, you have to be prepared to take chances, experiment and iterate whilst sticking by your principles and acknowledging the difference between what is possible online and offline.
As we move towards 2021 the online and offline spaces will most likely have to work in harmony. Finding and navigating a balanced path between the two will provide both inspiration and opportunity as we address a new future together.