New Resource for Building Online Communities

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Community Leaders Institute

The Community Leaders Institute is a new resource for building online communities around business events.

A community for the leaders of online communities sounds very meta. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the time seemed right to provide a place for those who have founded, own, and/or manage communities to network and find the resources they need to thrive and grow, says RD Whitney, Founder of the Community Leaders Institute and CEO of 365 Media.

“Until now there has been no global, independent home for corporations and brands, associations, nonprofits, media/event professionals and entrepreneurs managing communities,” Whitney says. The time seemed right for an unbiased and independent platform for community leaders to learn, network and thrive, he said, especially since the community model has become ubiquitous among marketers in organizations ranging from corporations like Peloton to associations. He points to a TechCrunch headline earlier this year that puts an exclamation mark of sorts on this shift: “The Chief Community Officer Is the New CMO.”

rd Whitney Community Leaders Institute
RD Whitney, CLI Founder and CEO of 365 Media

“Even big trade show companies that used to just be trade shows now have year-round communities,” he says. “I was just talking with someone from a company that makes electronic components, and she said their community is one of their most prized assets because the members, all raving fans, help the engineers determine how to design and sell its products.

“There’s a real convergence by organizations around the world. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that communities kept the world’s companies and associations together during COVID. They’re all community companies now.” With more than 1,400 community professionals worldwide already in the Community Leaders Institute fold, he may just be right. The plan is to get to 10,000 members in total, he adds.

Among those who have plunged into community-building are those who organize meetings and events of all types — not just associations, which had a bit of a head start in the community-building area by virtue of their very nature. Now it’s become a standard feature to extend the few days of an in-person conference online well before and after the event itself, often transforming an event-marketing vehicle into a year-round community resource, he says.

And it’s easy enough to do, at least on the technical end, with affordable platforms that are easy to launch and grow a community on. Event organizers have the added plus of a ready and willing stable of thought leaders and subject matter experts who are already committed to speaking at the event — and an attendee list of potential members who are eager to learn and network, says Whitney.

Building Online Communities: The Four Pillars

The online CLI, which is free to join, has a full slate of resources planned to help community leaders launch and grow their communities — and CLI itself is based on what Whitney calls the four pillars of community: Education, tools, forums and events.

RD Whitney, CLI Founder and CEO of 365 MediaFor education and tools, CLI offers a toolkit with hundreds of templates, worksheets, playbooks and guides to help members build and maintain successful communities. It also has a masterclass program and a series of training courses by respected community thought leaders. Among the masterclasses available to members are courses on building an in-community research asset; launching and growing a community-based membership model; and developing a community awards program. Also available to members will be VEI’s Virtual Events Certification, Diane Tower’s 12-Week Community Manager Training, and Strategic Community Management by Richard Millington at Feverbee, who also authored Buzzing Communities andThe Indispensable Community.

The Institute also has developed a certification program, called the Community Professional Certification of Excellence (CPCE), which members can earn at no cost through their CLI membership as part of their continuing professional development, says Whitney.

CLI also offers a directory with entries from thousands of community-support technologies, platforms, solutions and services, as well as a forum, a magazine and an awards program to highlight, celebrate and share best practices in community-building. Another directory, this one listing communities, is in the works, as is a community marketplace.

And what would a community be without that fourth pillar, an in-person gathering? The inaugural  CLI Conference Expo (CLIX), is scheduled for April 4–5, 2022, in Memphis. Chaired by Community Strategist Marjorie Anderson, CLIX will feature speakers including Eric Ly, Co-founder of LinkedIn; Millingon; Ashley Freidlein, Founder of eConsultancy and Guild; Venessa Paech, Co-founder of Australian Community Managers and SWARM; and David Adler, CEO of BizBash.

“Media, technology and marketing are all trending and intersecting toward the direct-to-consumer economy,’” Whitney commented. “As they continue to accelerate to form community-based models, media and event organizations were jolted because of the pandemic to move towards year-round community models. At the same time, associations who have employed the community model for years can benefit from the techniques now being developed by innovative community builders and leaders. 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.”

For more information about CLI, contact RD Whitney at [email protected] or (603) 440-9332.

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