IABC BC President Jeanette LeBlanc shares the chapter’s tips on creating a successful special interest group (SIG) program.
How to start a SIG program and why your chapter needs to love SIGs!
In 2015, Canada’s BC chapter overhauled their special interest groups (SIGs) program to reach more
members, create more meaningful networking opportunities and connection, profile different member
segments of the chapter, and engage more senior members.
Special interest groups are free to members and focus on different topics of interest either by industry,
sector, skills or specialties, or by experience level. Usually attendance is limited to 15 people to keep the atmosphere relaxed and conversational.
In years past, BC has had SIGs for intranets, social media and for independent communicators, among
others. But, awareness of these groups was limited, and meetings were typically invite-only and closed-group. Although this structure has value, too, we saw an opportunity to market this program more and open to our broader membership.
In doing so, we have observed an increase in SIG attendance, including from non-members, which
created a new revenue stream for the chapter, among other value-add benefits for members.
These peer-to-peer learning opportunities are growing in popularity for many reasons, and support the
new #1720 strategic framework pillar of Create Connection.
Reasons to love special interest groups
1. They appeal to all levels of membership. From students to senior communicators, create groups based on experience level, and discuss topics relevant to each experience level. This is a great way to engage your senior members, to chair a group or be the special guest at a specific meeting topic.
2. They generate revenue. Open this free member program to non-members by charging a nominal fee. Try starting with $20 per meeting.
3. They create more volunteer opportunities. Chairing a SIG is a manageable commitment for someone who wants to volunteer but doesn’t have a lot of time. Start with asking the chairs to commit to four meetings in the year.
4. It’s a low risk/cost program. There is no cost to establish a SIG program. Have SIG chairs host the
meetings in free spaces.They are 60–90 minutes long and no formal catering is required.
5. They provide an opportunity for informal networking. Attending large networking events can be
intimidating for many, let alone finding the right people to connect with in your area of interest. SIGs cut through all of that, and you connect with like-minded peers faster.
6. They create chances for peer-to-peer learning. Because the content of the SIG meetings is informal, it’s about sharing our expertise with each other rather than in a classroom setting.
7. They provide membership growth opportunities. Opening SIGs to non-members is a powerful yet casual way to introduce them to the value in joining IABC. We create connection and learning opportunities.
If you’re wondering how to start a SIG program, here are a few best practices.
How to start a SIG program:
Have a dedicated board member or program manager.
Whether part of a portfolio, an individual board role on your board, or a volunteer program manager,
ensure someone owns the program to be consistent with registration, marketing and communications,
and liaise with the SIG chairs.
Know your membership.
Look at your segmentation from experience level to industry sectors. Start with interest group themes that appeal to these groups to better serve their interests.
For example, we have a strong segment of communicators in medical or health related organizations,
and our Health Communicators SIG is one of the most popular.
Find SIG chairs/champions, based on these member segments.
Our SIGs this year included: senior communicators, independent communicators, health communications, internal communications, and digital strategy communications. We are looking at groups on education, non-profit organizations, and B2B communications this coming year.
Program structure and setting expectations
What is your minimum request of each chair? Start with one meeting on a set day each month, or a
minimum of four meetings throughout the year. Ask chairs to commit to draft topics for each meeting and tentative dates for each meeting in the year. Then follow up to confirm as each date approaches.
Avoid scheduling a SIG that conflicts with your other programs or events.
Informal meetings focused on discussion
No formal agenda or presentation required.
Chairs ask a few questions to spark discussion and conversation unfolds from there.
Invite a special guest to speak to their experience like a mini-case study discussion.
Use existing systems
Once chairs, topics and dates are identified, use your existing event registration system and communication channels to promote the meeting like all your other events.
Profile your SIGs and chairs
Include them on your website: take a look at SIGs in IABC/BC.
If your chairs don’t know what your members want to discuss, ask them at the first meeting, and plan discussion topics from there.
SIG chairs are the event managers
Chairs identify the free venue space and the topic and bring in their special guest speakers, The chapter manages the registration and marketing.
The success of our SIG program has led us to create a dedicated board role for the 2017–2018 year and look at further growth opportunities for this program. Our new director of SIGs will manage the overall program.
We also must share kudos to IABC/Calgary for a strong SIG program, which we’ve taken notes from and adapted for our chapter.
If you have questions about the IABC/BC SIG program, connect with 2017–2018 Chapter President
Jeanette LeBlanc at email@example.com.