By Kristin Janacek, Partner & Digital Strategy Officer, VNCTech Group

The Covid Pandemic brought the world to a halt, or so it seemed. So many businesses were impacted by the pandemic last spring, leaving leaders questioning what to do next. Every company big or small had to adapt to the new pandemic-life work environment. But, had you considered what it was like for the formal and informal groups that met regularly giving professionals a forum to discuss trends impacting their industries and businesses? These had previously relied on live meetings with professionals in our industries or functions to share best practices, and networking for business growth. In what seemed to be an instance, everything was canceled.

I have been involved with the Technology Association of Georgia in many capacities over the past two decades from a general member to holding a couple different leadership roles. Organizations like this have been critical for my professional development through the concepts I learned with the presentations and from the relationships fostered through the events.

When the pandemic caused a sudden cancellation of events, the TAG Marketing Society scheduled informal opportunities to meet via Zoom. Initially this was an opportunity for the board members, including myself, to make sense of what is happening and discuss ways to move forward. As the societies title would suggest, the board members of the TAG Marketing Society are comprised of CMO’s and marketing leaders from a variety of types of businesses. While each of our businesses are in different in so many ways, we were united by the challenge that marketers faced suddenly in March 2020. The marketing plans, events, expos and collaboration with partners that took months to create – not to mention the financial commitments already deployed – were canceled instantly leaving marketers to rework their annual marketing plan and budget.

This opportunity to collaborate with business leaders helped us all lead our respective business’ marketing activities in innovative ways. Over time, these meetings expanded as we started inviting others in our network that we thought would benefit from the discussion. Eventually, we started having topics to add a bit of structure to the discussions. Whether it was our strong ties that kept this going and growing or the lack of other outlets, we realized that we enjoyed this opportunity and wanted to continue.

This is where we ran into a snag…

The meeting invites were sent from one person’s calendar. We didn’t know who was planning on attending and that one individual had to carry the brunt of the administration of this meeting. Week to week, we would have new people invited with the intent that they would be invited to subsequent events. With one person managing this series from a single email client, we fumbled and as marketers, we knew there were better solutions.

This sounds like a typical challenge which probably has been solved a million times. But, we were operating with no budget and with a volunteer workforce. TAG provides the societies with support for the structured, advertised events. These weekly discussions were more organic in nature and would be a burden to the administration of TAG to take on. We also didn’t know if this would be a few weeks or if the pandemic would last months and if these sessions would continue through that duration.

After a few weeks of this event taking place and realizing it would continue, I took the lead on creating a solution to keep ourselves organized. I searched for a way to keep our current list of attendees informed, to have them keep this time on their calendar marked off, for them to receive the current zoom link and a way for future individuals to join the distribution list. As the meetings gained popularity, we started encouraging topic leaders to facilitate the discussions. This allowed for individuals to highlight the best practices they are implementing at their company or to talk more specifically about the challenges they are facing to get feedback from the leaders in this group.

The solution I created is not sophisticated. It is not sleek. But, it provided more visibility to all of the leadership team. This solution allowed for multiple people to be involved in the administration of these meetings. And it, for the most part, solved the problems we were encountering. Oh, and it’s free and available to anyone. The result was better attendance, more engagement by participants and more engagement by the board to help with the implementation. Meaning, the volunteers could share the responsibility.

Process including Google Calendar, Calendar Snack and Mailchimp.

 

I am all about sharing best practices, tips and tricks to help others learn. Hopefully by sharing this, someone who is reading this will be able to solve a problem of their own leveraging some of these tools or they can be inspired to search a little further for the tool that simplifies their work.

Before I get started, I should state that I have no affiliation with any of these tools so there are no kickbacks or incentive for me to share this.

The new process integrated Google CalendarCalendarSnack and Mailchimp to send the meeting invitations out and for the attendee to block off their calendar. I know of other tools that has this capability integrated together but not for the price of this solution. (I will note that since this process was created, there now is a limit to how many meetings can be created using calendarsnack.) The meeting occurred in Zoom. Pro-tip: we used the breakout room feature for most of our meetings so people could network with others. It was fantastic and I personally gained professional connections to help grow my business.

When we started adding topics of discussion and asking for individuals to facilitate the conversation, we created another, very simple, workflow of sorts to help organize the topics week to week. For this, we created a simple Google Form and sent a link to it out in the Mailchimp meeting announcement. When the form was completed, the board was notified with a simple email powered by Zapier. I cannot take credit for thinking of using Zapier. This was my first attempt at using that tool but it was very easy to implement.

There were some challenges with this solution. For one, some of the emails went to spam or were filtered by the recipient’s email client. This was not a problem when an individual sends an individual an email but when you use a tool to send an email, this occurs depending on how the email is set up and how the recipient’s email system is set up. Other than that, this process worked great for our needs.

Process including Google Forms and Zapier.

In general, these processes helped the TAG Marketing Society stay connected and carry on the mission to create an environment for professionals to network to share best practices and grow their business. Over the following weeks of implementing this process, there was improved attendance and improved the quality of the discussion.

Each year, TAG has an “Impact Award”. Each of the TAG Society boards nominate someone from their board for this award. Then, all of the nominees are evaluated and a winner is selected by popular vote. I was selected for the TAG Marketing Societies’ impact award nominee for the second year in a row. I was on maternity leave when the board made their selection. I have not heard why I was selected. However, I think implementing this process was one of the reasons I was selected. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to stay connected with the professionals involved with TAG during this pandemic. Creating this process was a small contribution which benefited me and many others greatly.

I hope by reading this, someone was able to solve one of their challenges they are facing, or they learned something they didn’t know at the beginning of this. Enjoy!

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