The C2C Podcast: Why Community Is The New Marketing

EP57: Maintaining Connection and Empathy Through Virtual Events w/ CreativeMornings

Episode Summary

Tina Roth Eisenberg, the founder and CEO of CreativeMornings, joins us today. She currently oversees a worldwide chapter-based organization that brings creative professionals together monthly for community and learning. We talk about the challenges of adapting creative-based in-person events to a virtual platform, consistently maintaining connection and empathy with community members in a time of stress and how reaching new audiences is now possible.

Episode Notes

Tina Roth Eisenberg, the founder and CEO of CreativeMornings, joins us today. She currently oversees a worldwide chapter-based organization that brings creative professionals together monthly for community and learning. We talk about the challenges of adapting creative-based in-person events to a virtual platform, consistently maintaining connection and empathy with community members in a time of stress and how reaching new audiences is now possible.

Who is this episode great for?

Non-profits, Virtual event leaders, In-person Communities

What’s the biggest takeaway?

Tina illustrates that it’s not always as simple as transitioning an in-person event to a digital one exactly as is and expecting the same results, especially during a time of crisis and when your community members are likely experiencing extreme stress. Tina says community organizers need to take into consideration what their members are going through and find unique ways to keep engagement and empathy strong when producing digital events.

Episode Transcription

Derek Anderson:
In 2010, I co-founded a company called Startup Grind with one goal, inspiring, educating, and connecting every entrepreneur on the planet. Today, Startup Grind is now in 125 countries and has millions of members. Along the way, I found the most powerful marketing tool of all time, customer to customer marketing.

Derek Anderson:
C2C marketing empowers your greatest ambassadors, your customers, to evangelize your brand and grow your community. This is a podcast we wish we'd had when we start building our community a decade ago. Each episode, we talk to the brightest minds and companies on the planet to learn how they build their community and empower their customers. I'm your host, Derek Andersen, and this is the C2C podcast.

Speaker 2:
And we're back. Thank you so much for joining us back at the stage. I'm really excited for this next session. Our next session brings together two totally incredible minds from the community industry. Take a seat. Join us in this fireside chat and hear about how a resilient in-person community is still finding ways to commune even in days like this. On this stage, we will have the founder of CreativeMornings who will share how they figured out how to scale their field trips globally with over 14,000 attendees over the last three weeks. She will be joined by the co-founder and CEO of Bevy, as well as the co founder of Startup Grind. She does a lot of things. Startup Grind pivoted like lightning and hosted over 500 virtual events since mid March. So please welcome to the stage, Tina Roth Eisenberg and Derek Andersen.

Derek Anderson:
Well, I'm so excited to be with one of my favorite people and one of the most inspiring community people that I know, who I didn't know for a long time i just watched what you were doing at CreativeMornings and took so much. Always forwarding your emails or forwarding your programs to my team like, "Why aren't we doing this? This is so cool." And for the three people in this event today that haven't heard of CreativeMornings, tell us what it is and what problem you all solve.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
Hey Derek, thank you so much for having me. By the way, I'm really impressed, I've been following along today. So thank you for putting this together. So the community, it's just this is my happy place right now being amongst community builders around the world. There's nothing better. So yes, my name is Tina Roth Eisenberg. I'm the founder of CreativeMornings which is the world's largest face-to-face creative community. And then basically, the problem I try to solve was a very personal problem. I graduated as a designer, moved to New York. It was supposed to be a three months stay and then I ended up staying here working as a designer and making very little money and just wondering where are my people? Where are my heart forward? I didn't understand why we would always meet up in those silos of graphic designer photographers.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
And I'm like, "Wait a second. We're all believing in the same sort of big umbrella of creativity. Why are we not meeting up and why isn't there an event that is accessible for everyone?" So long story short is we've now grown around the world and put on monthly events for free in the morning. It's like breakfast and a lecture completely volunteer driven. We're in 67 countries in 215 cities around the world. This has been a long and steady and a labor of love. We're turning 12 this year, so it's not an overnight success or anything. I've never started this thinking it would become global. I just ran it here in New York for about two years and it just gave me so much joy every month. Seeing really kind creative humans getting together and just making connections because in the end of the day the quality of life is basically comes down to the human connections you make, and the friendships you make.

Derek Anderson:
Well, with the tens of thousands of events that CreativeMornings, and I would say, Startup Grind have created over the years or been a part of, there's probably no two people that were sort of more at the front picket lines of holding the line for in-person. But you, you were leading that charge so if anybody was going to cross the picket line to virtual, I would have not seen it as you doing it so quickly and so efficiently and incredible at scale. Why have you done that and what's been the result of it?

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
Well, you know me well, Derek because I mean, I'm the founder of an in real life event series. I am such a feeler. I am all about, I'm honestly really suffering in this virtual time right now because I can feed off people's energy and their... I'm a feeler. So when we started realizing that we are in for this for a while, to be honest, I'm at the top and I'm kind of resisting to going virtual. But then CreativeMornings, the beauty of CreativeMornings is that this is like a living, breathing organism. We couldn't even turn it off anymore. I'm sure you know that feeling as well. And our hosts were leading the way. I must tell you, I was in tears after attending the first virtual CreativeMornings, which I think the first one was Austin and that that team is just incredible.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
They've been leading the way and they're just so fearless. And they launched into this and I admit I attended kind of hesitant, but the Zoom breakout rooms where I had deep conversations with people in Austin and from around the world kind of really convinced me that when done thoughtfully and with a lot of care and still with this love of CreativeMornings, when you do an online event with a lot of thought and care, it can still be very moving and touching, and I walked away completely converted.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
And we here in New York for the past few weeks, my team has helped all of our chapters, the ones that are willing to move digital. We help them to get online and we wrote our own Zoom guide. Alexa on our team has a lot of Zoom experience and we shared that publicly. And with last month, we had 146 virtual events. If you think of it going from 0 to 146, this was a heavy lift for volunteers. They're volunteers to begin with.

Derek Anderson:
Yeah.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
And it's a whole other beast to run a virtual event because we just had our first one last Friday and I admit, I felt like I'm learning a whole new language. I mean, you know what it's like after years of putting on in real life events. You kind of get good at it. You know what could go wrong. You can improvise on the spot. But man, our event on Friday, as wonderful as it felt like everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. And here we are, learning as we go.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
But I tell you, the thing that comes out of it is that when done right, virtual events can feel such a huge void and it's what the world needs right now. Just feeling like you're connected to other kind humans.

Derek Anderson:
Yeah. Just to echo that, the guide that you mentioned is incredible and everyone should go find it and download it. We have about 250 virtual events this month for Startup Grind. In February, we did one and it was in Wuhan China. So just see things shift so quickly and to be so inspired by our organizers and leaders as you are to just see them. These people are on those front lines too. These people are building and spinning for decades and now their whole sense of what's important has been totally shifted. It's been made illegal basically and for the safety of our neighbors. And you're a designer and so you have this sort of designed first approach to a virtual experience. How are you thinking about adapting and enhancing these online events? When you talk about being thoughtful about that experience, walk us through some of the details of how you are looking and thinking about making something great virtually.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
So the thing that I really love in this exercise and my team and I have really enjoyed, is taking a step back and really thinking about what is the purpose of our event. It's not just a translation of one-on-one, what we'd done before, but more of a, "Okay, wait a second. What is the purpose?" To me, all I care about is that people feel connected to their local community, but they feel like they're not alone, that their hearts are being opened, Inspiration with a talk? Great. But in the end of the day, what I want is that people feel like they're not alone in this right now. So then we've scaled it back from there and said, "What are the things we can do to make people feel connected?" And I find it so interesting to see all the experiments right now of people using the different platforms.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
For example, for me, it is very clear that I need to see the people. So for us, it's Zoom right now, I'm sure that some [inaudible 00:08:48] my pop up at some point. But seeing people's reactions to you, talking and giving the sense of community is really important for us at CreativeMornings because we're all about to community part or to breakout rooms where we call it coffee line, for example. So we're trying to translate in a cute way things... That now that we can pour you a coffee, we can at least put you in a coffee line, which we call the breakout room in Zoom. So we've really started thinking about what works, what can we translate and what can't we translate. I feel strongly that we actually shouldn't have talks. I'm not here to listen to a talk.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
The beauty of this platform like what are the opportunities of the platform that we're using? So for example, our first New York event, it was a conversation with Priya Parker, who's by the way, the queen of gathering. If you haven't read her book The Art of Gathering, I highly recommend it. And also, listen to her podcast Together Apart that she's doing about this time right now. The first event that we had, it wasn't the normal format that we normally have. Our format normally is lot like a 20-minute talk, but we purposely made it a conversation. So it would have sort of this liveliness of being in a room with people and we pulled in people that had questions.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
So the participation of the audience made it really lively and really wonderful and sort of, it didn't just feel like a webinar. You're sitting there at home. No, actually, you were able to be called on and participate. So what we're trying to do right now is what brings the magic of a CreativeMornings to an online platform. And I'm pretty sure that guide that we're forming right now looks very different than what a real life event is. And I think that's what I want to appeal to everyone who's tuning in right now is really think long and hard, what is the purpose and what are you after and how can you best achieve that. And don't just do what you've been doing in real life because that's what you're used to.

Derek Anderson:
Yeah, I love that advice. And look, we've all been to in person events that were incredible and we've been to ones that were terrible, right? And usually the difference was the thought that the organizer put into that experience, every part of it. And why shouldn't it be the same now virtually? I think that's a really great insight. I know you have this new program called FieldTrips and I was on your website recently trying to join one and I wanted to kind of just tell you how upset I was because they're basically all sold out and I'm unable to attend. And if you just wanted to say publicly in front of a thousand people just to see if I can get into one, if you would allow me to-

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
I might have some [crosstalk 00:11:19] Derek.

Derek Anderson:
And if you can find a way to squeeze me in. Tell us what these are and how they came to be and why are people dying to attend them.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
I'm so glad you're asking about this because to me personally, I think everyone thinks that an impersonal event series is dying right now and it's very much the opposite right now. I actually think I'm going to look back as the most pivotal moment in the 12th year trophy history of our organization. And the FieldTrips are basically small community-led workshops offered by the community for free. And we've been prototyping this in New York city for the last two and a half years.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
And normally what I would ask at an event is we play this game, Stand Up If, and I say stand up if you're really good at something and the whole room stands up. It doesn't matter whatever it is. Piñata making, dumpling making, I don't know, moonwalking, I don't care. And then I usually say, "Keep standing if you're willing to teach this to this community for two hours," and no one sits down. And that's basically what FieldTrips are. All I care about is that our community meets each other and sort of helps each other. And so when we've been putting on over 600 of these here in New York and we've been working tirelessly trying to figure out how we can scale it globally. And the big issue we've had is venues. How do we find venues in different cities?

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
Well, here we are, global pandemic. And we started moving them virtual very quickly and I tell you Derek, it's giving me so much life. I run another company and that company is really not doing well at all. So about every morning I wake up and I think of the FieldTrips and how many thousands of people we're connecting. I think we got the number wrong in the introduction actually, we had 31,000 signups since we started, which is since March. The first virtual FieldTrip was March 22nd. They all fill up and once you attend one, you'll see it is warm, generous, loving, kind, grateful. It is everything I want CreativeMornings to be and it's community teaching each other generously.

Derek Anderson:
Yeah, they sound warm. They sound generous and I think anybody watching this is going to feel that. And again, if you want to create a unique experience and something that's memorable and something that really is impactful which we've all felt in real life, listen to how Tina is describing this and the way that their organization goes about this and look at the results speak for themselves. Obviously, we've been doing and focused on community for a long time so we get it. I think the community word is getting thrown around so much right now, which is exciting because hopefully it means, it's going to lead to more investment for all these amazing community people that are part of CMX into their organizations. How have you seen examples of your chapter volunteers, your chapter leaders keep a sense of community strong without actually getting in person?

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
Well, so a few examples that I have is for example, that the chapters have really... They have sent out new surveys to their communities which I think is so beautiful and basically just flat out saying, "What do you need? What do you need in this very moment?" And again, all of our chapters are volunteer, Derek.

Derek Anderson:
Yeah.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
To me, it is just such so beautiful that they're putting this thinking cap on and let's just give them what they need. And what everyone is saying is they need connection, they need to feel like they're connected to this community still. And so what a lot of them has to have done is a bit similar to what I think what you're doing with the networking session, which by the way, that chat roulade kind of thing is the best thing ever. I want that. I want that functionality so bad.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
So they've done these virtual coffee mornings, not a regular event. Just getting to community in your room and then breaking them out in Zoom into little coffee chats. I think that is so beautiful, especially if you know our community has sort of a shared values based. So when you come into those chats, you just know if you're part of the CreativeMornings community, there's a level of shared worldview that just makes it pretty probable to have a great conversation even if it's just 10 minutes or 15 minutes. And that I think is beautiful. And then what they've also done is sort of helping their local communities with a shared Google docs where they said, "Hey." Sort of this collaborative helping approach that is emerging out of our community is just really moving me.

Derek Anderson:
You mentioned this briefly earlier and I was speaking to a head of community at a very well known organization yesterday and they mentioned this too, and that is organizers trying to transition from being an in person community builder to now a virtual community builder. It's very difficult for some people. It's difficult for me and I'm somebody that's generally tries to be innovative and look for new things and it's very tough for me. And so I can imagine other people, you can empathize with that. How have you transitioned people? How have you, ideas or suggestions of what we can do to get our in-person community leaders excited about the opportunity of this? There's clearly incredible opportunity. As you said, this is the most exciting time ever for you. How do I check that excitement into the life and the time of a volunteer who is been totally in person focused?

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
I so feel you in all of that, but just like me, I think I have so much empathy for everyone who kind of says, "No, I don't really want to do that," because I was reluctant. But all it took for me is to experience one of the events and just sensing my heart opening, sensing the connection I was able to make. And I think what I'm just trying to do is just really highlight within our community. That's what my community team is doing, really highlighting to everyone saying, "Hey, if you're skeptical, come to our community hour. We'll talk about it." We'll talk about it because I've been skeptical and I can totally relate to them and we can't force anyone.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
We can't enforce anyone to see the opportunity here, but we can do is just continuously share the good stories that come out of it, show the good examples, ask them to participate in one, and then also just being really understanding. I think we are in an extremely stressful time and we don't know what other people are going through. So for us, if somebody just says, "I'm checked out right now, I can't give this thought." That is totally okay. I think what we just need to do is align our hearts and just be really understanding and generous with each other. And they will always be those fearless ones like our Austin team that just launches into this without hesitation and convinces so many of us. All we need is a few people that just see the opportunity and then show us and then just ignites the fire with the other ones.

Derek Anderson:
Yeah. For Startup Grind, we have our chapter leader in Barcelona, Spain, who is doing these chats on almost a daily basis. And it is purely out of love and out of support for the people in his community and his local community that need it. And this isn't something we ever did before and I think what I'm hearing from you is find sort of these champions in the community and show the success they're having, these people that are way in front, and try to replicate that for people that are struggling with sort of figuring out how to fit in and identify in this new world.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
I just want to follow up. We're also saying that I am mourning the loss of our in real life events. I'm mourning them, that's my jam. But I am so trying to, as we call it at our HQ, to flip it and really seeing the opportunities here. And I think it's just a slight shift in mindset. It is okay to be sad about what we've lost right now and we don't know when it's coming back. But when I look at the feedback we're getting from all of these events going virtual and granted, they are not the same. You can't compare them to what the old thing was. But by slowly but surely integrating new elements that are playful and joyful and just different and adapted to the platform right now and the feedback we're getting. We have an ego boost channel in our HQ stack where we put in the feedback we're getting and I'm holding onto that because then there's also so much positivity coming out of it.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
There's people who have never been able to attend an event and because of, I don't know, time constraints or because they are disabled or whatever. There's so much accessibility that comes out of this, or me being able to attend CreativeMornings events around the world now. My Fridays are basically a trip around the world at this point. We really need to hold on to the beautiful, weird things that come out of this, and hold onto the thought of what is the opportunity here and not just constantly focusing on what have we lost and what can we not do.

Derek Anderson:
Yeah, I mean for the first full livestream or virtual event that we did was in early 2012 and literally, dozens of people watch. I mean it was so disheartening because it costs so much. It took so much, and again we probably weren't thoughtful about the experience, but it wasn't 200x worse than what you're getting today. And so it's been really invigorating in a time where, I mean, you said it well, where we are mourning, some of us, the loss of what we had in person. And look, lots of smart people and I was like when Disneyland opens, what's it going to be like on the first day? It's going to be crazy. I mean, people are craving what we have and we're going to hopefully get back to some sense of at least I think CreativeMornings or orgs like Startup Grind that have focused on local, in-person, smaller groups and I mean, those things are going to be coming back sooner than later.

Derek Anderson:
And maybe the bigger things tougher to see what happens there, but it's just really inspiring to see you and your entire organization really leading the community industry yet again on how to make this transition and how to be successful with it. My last question for you is around sponsorship. Many communities like CreativeMornings start prior to getting hit financially because the crisis business models completely offended. We could probably spend an hour talking about this, but I just want to know, do you see new opportunities for sponsorship for revenue generation inside of a virtual that maybe didn't exist before?

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
Yes. Well, I can't give you an exact answer to that. I just know what I was sensing and this is so funny. Again, I've run partnerships with really large companies for over 10 years now. So sort of my network of people that know how our business model is partnerships, basically global partnerships. And so I've had a few people that have made these happen in the past or reach out to me and say, "I hope you're realizing that you are in an incredible moment of opportunity here. Do not think that you are actually in a weak place right now." Companies more than ever need to find ways and new ways to connect to likeminded.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
Let's say, creative is in our case. Our angle is creativity and it was a reframe that I needed to hear because if I'm honest, I was a bit near based first in the very beginning because I was like, "What is going to happen? Can we still deliver what we promised our partners?" But then what is happening is that actually our numbers are skyrocketing. We have more participants now than we've ever had. We're almost 2x of the exposure-

Derek Anderson:
Ours as well, by the way.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
That we can give up. So I mean, who would have thought-

Derek Anderson:
Not me.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
And the crazy thing is now, we have really legit big companies reach out to us and say like, "Hey, is there room to partner?" So I feel like once again, it's like just be open to what is happening. Nobody knows what's happening right now. And again, every day, I'm getting up and I'm trying to go choose a place of love instead of fear. I don't want to give into fear and just don't want the unknown to scare me. And if this is teaching me something is that there's real opportunity in a moment of crisis like this and what people want is people want community, people want connection and we will find a way to make this happen digitally for the time being.

Derek Anderson:
Well, that optimism is infectious and I appreciate you sharing that and I know this is not been all optimistic for you or any of us, but I've learned so much today as I have many, many other times from you. So thank you for generously giving your time to us and hopefully, I can also do the Friday tour of CreativeMornings If I can get into some of the sessions. I'm going to just remind you of that, that they are totally sold out and this is very frustrating to me, and now everyone in the community world knows. So if you would, don't let them in. I just need to get in. That's all that matters. So thank you for making that happen.

Tina Roth Eisenberg:
Thanks for having me and we'll make sure you get in.

Derek Anderson:
Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod, that's B-E-V-Y-L-A-B-S.com/pod.