On The Record Online

Debbie McGrathSocial networks have been mainstream for less than five years, but HR.com has been delivering much of the same value to its members for more than a decade. Founded in 1999, the site today serves nearly 190,000 members, most of them human resources professionals. Its jewel in the crown is an active calendar of webcasts which attendees can attend to earn professional certifications. The site also has many contributions in the form of blogs and expert articles.
Like any site that's been around that long, HR.com has had its share of twists and turns. Originally founded as an online magazine, its site was recast as a community when social networking became popular.  Today, the Ontario, Canada-based company employs 32 people, is profitable and has a successful model in which all of the content is contributed by members.  A diversified revenue stream includes advertising, events and webcasts; speakers pay $3,000 for a chance to get in front of the site's coveted audience.
Debbie McGrath calls herself the Chief Instigator of HR.com. A serial entrepreneur with a background in computer science, she founded HR.com in 1999 after selling her previous venture, The CEO Group, to the Washington Post Co..
This interview is guest hosted by Paul Gillin of Paul Giilin Communications and was conducted in association with research for an upcoming book on B2B applications of social media, to be published later thia year or early next year.
How HR.com was started
The evolution from magazine to community
The most popular features with the audience are in learning and education. About 30 sessions are webcast each month with average attendance of about 400 people. Contributors can get certification credit for what they learn in the webcast.
Why experts pay to give webcasts: “They get to showcase their expertise, be a thought leader in the space and for lead generation in some cases.”
HR.com’s primary revenue sources include events, advertising and suscriptions
Requirements for registration.  Anyone can register as long as they agree to receive one ad per week.
How forms are administered
Debbie had no prior experience in VB communities.  She discusses how the characteristics of different professional communities makes the learning process a constant challenge.
Surprises of managing communities. “There seems to be no relationship between quality of content and attendance.” People who charge $60,000 for a one- hour keynote seem to draw no better than unknown speakers.
The role of HR.com's surveys and the goal of creating product and service guides. “We believe the Forrester/Gartner model is flawed.”
The upside surprises of running a community. "I'm shocked at how many people come to us from all over the world."
Guidance to would-be b-to-b community organizers: unique domain experts and it's really hard to get started in today's crowded market.
How HR.com runs virtual events
HR.com’s revenue mix: events, e-mail, PPC advertising, events
Memorable moments in HR.com’s industry. It was the first site in its industry to do webcasts. Internal resistance to the transition to a social network model.
Plans for the future: making events more self-service and profitable
Strictly regulating webcast content. “If presenters gave sales pitches, attendance wouldn't be as good.”
Gaining permission to work in the certification program. A large association charges for the same basic information HR.com gives away for free.
About the Guest Host
This episode was guest hosted by Paul Gillin (@pgillin) of Paul Gillin Communications.  Paul was founding editor-in-chief of TechTarget, one of the most successful technology media entities to emerge on the Internet. Before that, he was editor-in-chief and executive editor of the technology weekly Computerworld for 15 years.
He wrote The New Influencers, Secrets of Social Media Marketing and the Joy of Geocaching and is currently co-writing a book with Eric Schwartzman about business-to-business applications of social media.
Paul writes a regular column for BtoB magazine and contributes to various blogs and online publications. He’s also a Research Fellow and a member of the advisory board of the Society for New Communications Research.

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