Planning Virtual Customer Advisory Board Meeting Social Activities: Pros and Cons to Consider

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With customer advisory board (CAB) meetings continuing to take place virtually, many host companies are attempting to re-create the face-to-face experience for their members as much as possible online. As such, in addition to their standard meeting agenda and content, some companies are including virtual social activities as part of their gatherings. Examples here would include virtual happy hours, wine tasting or other online engagements.

After a year of managing online CAB meetings during the pandemic, we’ve seen some virtual activities go well, and others fall a bit short of expectations. As such, here are some pros and cons to consider when planning for virtual CAB meeting social activities:

PROS:

• Maintaining personal relationships: Experienced CAB professionals know that personal interaction and networking are one of the top factors of a healthy, successful advisory board program. Thus, holding these—even virtually during the pandemic—allows CAB members and your management to foster personal relationships and learn additional insights that the meeting itself may have missed. In addition, your CAB members may have developed relationships with each other, and virtual activities offer an opportunity for your members to touch base and catch up with each other.

• Break from the daily monotony: With everyone conducting hours of Zoom meetings these days, virtual social activities provide an opportunity to break from the everyday monotony, and do something more social and fun. As such, your CAB members might look forward to engaging with fellow CAB members on a more informal and personal level – something we might all relate to these days.

• Making CAB members feel special: Arranging for virtual CAB social activities, perhaps even sending snacks, drinks, wine or other giveaways, can make your members feel special, and remind them how much you appreciate their support of your company. The investment is almost always worthwhile, and helps ensure CAB member dedication in the future – when in-person meetings will surely start up again.

CONS

• No substitute for face-to-face: While virtual social activities always have good intentions, they usually seem to fall a bit short of the mark. Most online environments just don’t enable the personal interactions members are used to, especially more private, personal or even delicate discussions that flow more easily face-to-face, but don’t happen naturally with larger audiences online.

• Questionable spend of scarce time: As most of us realize that virtual discussions fall short of personal interactions, some professionals seem to prefer to avoid them entirely – instead favoring for CAB meetings to “stick to business” and not take up any additional, always-scarce time. While most of us may be working from home during the pandemic, workloads likely haven’t gone down any, and most professionals would prefer time invested getting things done and then spending more time with families rather than socializing with other professionals.

• The hassle factor (theirs and yours): Coordinating virtual social activities may involve incremental work for your team, such as time spent on researching and discussing member gifts (I’ve seen a lot of companies spend a LOT of time on this), collecting home addresses for each of your CAB members, mailing and receiving packages, utilizing virtual meeting rooms, setting aside the time for social interactions, etc. You certainly don’t want to make participating in virtual social activities a hassle for your members, so consider the overall time investment along with the benefit you are hoping to achieve.

Whether or not you decide to hold a social activity with your next CAB meeting is a largely subjective decision; one that might depend on your CAB member makeup and your company culture. If you’re not sure whether to hold such an activity, you might poll your members to see if they want one. If so, be sure to create an environment for discussion that makes sense and works for all participants. (Don’t, for example, plan a wine tasting event in the morning for your west coast members). In the end, you might simply ask yourself or your CAB planning team whether YOU would want to attend such an activity, or whether you would prefer your scarce time be spent elsewhere.

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