Thursday, February 16, 2006

Become a gathering place

B2B publications and B2B tradeshows have much in common. They use each other for ideas, sales leads and list building. Executives move back and forth between them. They sometimes share brand names and are often owned by the same companies.
And I think the future of B2B publications is in becoming more like B2B tradeshows.
Let me explain:

The real reason that most of us go to a tradeshow is to talk. We gossip, pitch and schmooze. Journalists go to B2B tradeshows to find sources. Salesmen go to find buyers. Job seekers look for job givers; bosses look for employees; boys look for girls and girls look for boys; newcomers look for mentors; old-timers look for young blood; everyone is looking for someone. We go to see, but we also go to be seen. We go to trade shows for the people.
Sure, the products are fun. And yes, some of the speakers are interesting. But for many of us, even the exhibit halls and lecture rooms are just places to talk. We look for the guy who made the product and quiz him on the specs. We grab the speaker after the lecture and hand him our business card.
Do you think I exaggerate? Consider this: would you go to tradeshow where you weren't allowed to talk? Assume that there would be new and innovative products on display. Assume that the keynote was to be delivered by someone well-known and respected. Assume that your friends, enemies, sources and prospects were all going to be there. But the rules of the tradeshow forbid you to speak.
Would you go?

A don't-speak-to-us model would never work for a B2B tradeshow.
Nor does it work for B2B magazines in the online era.
Yet few B2B magazines feel comfortable with allowing conversation. Feedback functions are the easiest way to create a conversation between readers and reporters. Yet few magazines have added them to their online stories. External links are the best way to foster conversation with other publications and bloggers. But there are still magazine Web sites that pretend they are all alone on the Internet.

Smart tradeshow executives know that a tradeshow is only a place. The lure is the community that gathers in it. And success comes from creating a show that fosters community.
Those of us in B2B publishing would be wise to follow that lead.
Sure, some of our articles are great. And yes, some of our product reviews are really interesting. But if you want readers to feel as if they belong, then you must let them build the community themselves.

One place where B2B publishing and B2B tradeshows intersect is in the blog of Sue Pelletier, editor of Medical Meetings magazine. And yesterday Sue pointed to this fascinating piece by Guy Kawasaki on building community. Among his suggestions -- welcome criticism and foster discourse.
In other words, let people talk.

tags: , , , , , conversational media

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