Online communities meeting offline

Today marks the first anniversary of the formation of Be2camp, an online network that I helped co-found last year. Focused on the use of social media (Web 2.0) in the Built Environment and taking its inspiration from Barcamp-style events, Be2camp aims to bring together people with interests in social media and its application in the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) and property sectors. It now has over 200 members.

To mark Be2camp’s first birthday, Be2party events are being held today in London, Birmingham, Preston, Sheffield and Tucson, Arizona. Some of those unable to get to one of these Tweet-ups are contenting themselves with a glass of something cold at home – indeed, some of the Antipodean members have already celebrated! (I’m off to the London Be2party later.) There is also a charity link – people can make donations to Breakthrough Breast Cancer (click on the logo).

Today is also significant as Be2camp has announced that its next London event will be a two-day unconference run in parallel with a mainstream industry exhibition, Working Buildings 2009, at London Olympia on 7-8 October. For me, this is good fit: exhibition organiser UBM approached us about hosting a Be2camp event to give a new dimension to their trade shows, while Be2camp members have been keen to reach potential audiences in the facilities management, building services and related sectors. As a result, Be2camp@WorkingBuildings2009 promises to be a step forward in debates about the use of Web 2.0 in these fields.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, a strength of Be2camp is the community’s willingness to take activities offline as well as communicating online. Be2camp events bring people together to network and share knowledge, often combining both face-to-face and online meetings – whether they are social events like Be2party, or more educational workshops (in Liverpool last month, for example, Be2campnorth had twice as many in the online audience for its streamed video as it had in the venue itself).

From my perspective this demonstrates that by using Web 2.0 techniques, organisations interested in building communities related to their products or services can efficiently reach a much bigger audience, and engage with them more richly and for longer, than through conventional PR and marketing approaches. Complementing (or in some cases, replacing) conventional websites, email newsletters and traditional seminars or conferences with Web 2.0 approaches can create genuine communities of practice where individuals can actively share ideas with each other rather than being passive recipients of cascaded corporate messages.

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