To See the Light, Your Organization Needs to Develop a Shadow Board

As an association or a show organizer, you have likely spent the past 18 months focused on how to combat the economic setback from Covid.  This is a normal response to a shock to the organizational system, but it’s time to look forward.  Forward does not equate to going ‘back to normal’.  It is time to start analyzing how the world has changed around us and its impact on your organization.  I’m not referring to whether people want to attend a tradeshow masked or vaxxed because those are just adaptations to an existing model.  Rather, your organization should be delving deeper into the macro trends that impact how and the scary *if* members want to engage with your show or organization.  Let me be clear, I’m an advocate for associations and trade shows but I’m also a realist.  Organizations must start accepting the macro truths around us and not pretend that they don’t exist.  If we can tackle them head on, our ecosystem has a chance to come out stronger.  

A Top of Mind Trend

As an entrepreneur focused on association & event technology, I dedicate time to studying factors that impact social & commercial interactions.  One area that has caught my attention is work productivity and business continuity in our Covid climate.  In a recent Chicago Tribune article, The New Disrupters, Morten Petersen reported that work productivity of a remote culture increased by 13% and created a culture of trust between employees and employers.  Microsoft ran a study that found that 41% of workers were considering quitting because of lack of remote. Remote isn’t just a new concept, it is part of our vernacular and an expectation by employees.

I like to look at trends through various lenses.  We know that employees are more satisfied with remote work – it strengthens the bonds between employers & employees.  This got me wondering what we can distill and apply to what your paying constituents (e.g., members, show attendees, exhibitors) want and expect. Key questions to ask about your constituents include

  • Do they want a remote interaction with your organization?  Will your members be inclined to participate if they do not have the *option* of having remote interaction?
  • What does business continuity mean?  Is it simply swapping a live event for a virtual event or is there more to it?
  • Do all still want traditional trade events?
  • Do they want to consume your content in person or virtually via a platform?
  • How do Millennials and Gen Z want to interact with any organization, let alone an association or trade event?  Have you segmented your audience and dissected their needs?
  • Under what circumstances are exhibiting brands satisfied?  Has your organization delved into the complex world of digital marketing and the benefits brands reap?
  • What mechanisms are people using to engage with one another socially and commercially?

Do you know the answers to these questions?

Your organization is likely to have internal processes and protocols for member and exhibitor engagement, but ask yourself - are they rooted in macro trends, or have they been adopted because they were what was available a decade ago or it is what your peers are using today and accepted because of a lack of innovation?  

We can no longer rationalize that new behaviors such as a reliance on digital connectivity are due to Covid.  We must accept that Covid has forced behavioral changes that have been years in the making.  Identifying trends and figuring out how to apply to a long established organization can seem daunting.  One way to explore trends is to create a shadow board and I’m a huge fan.

What is a shadow board?

The Harvard Business Review promotes this concept of a shadow board.  Shadow boards involve inviting a group of non-executives to work with leadership on strategic initiatives and identify trends.  HBR points out that this role should not be delegated to your “high performers”; rather, a blend of staff. Shadow boards can be tasked with societal listening, community building with external industries, and conversations with members, show attendees, and exhibiting vendors to feed strategic planning and help to disseminate and encourage new thinking throughout your organization.  Examples of successful shadow boards can be found here:

Whether you form a shadow board, hire a consultant, or rely on your own perspective, associations and event organizations have an imminent need to truly understand the world your constituents live in and not assume that back to normal will be our normal.

Written by:

Erica Bishaf, Founder & CEO of CampfireSocial

CampfireSocial is a private, branded social network and commerce solution that provides organizations 365/24/7 access to their stakeholders while creating a modern member, subscriber, attendee, and vendor partner experience that is monetizable to ultimately own the voice of their industry.  Our solution takes the interconnectivity of community, content, & commerce and digitizes the experience. We help organizations:

  • Diversify revenue with a monetizable platform
  • Provide relevance, especially ROI among vendors partners
  • Learn more about their stakeholders with behavioral and social listening data & business intelligence
  • Create a modern member & attendee experience

CampfireSocial also offers engagement consulting to better tap into the needs of your members, show attendees, and exhibiting partners.  Contact Erica at to learn more.

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Meet the Author

Erica Bishaf

Founder & CEO

Erica Bishaf is an award-winning global brand strategist (24 years), market research professional, and a 2X tech startup founder. Her startup experience includes CampfireSocial, the private community & marketplace platform, and Pet Gotcha Day!, the immersive video platform for animal shelters. In addition to her passion for startups, she has worked for consumer-packaged goods companies such as Kraft, Nestle, Kimberly-Clark, the Illinois Lottery, and MillerCoors in a variety of roles encompassing global product innovation, package redesign, brand equity, shopper & retail insights, and strategic planning. In 2015, Erica started her own consultancy where she led projects for startups, growth stage companies, Fortune 500, trade & professional associations, top 10 trade shows, and private equity firms that focused on building brand & communication strategies, strategic planning & workshop design, innovation, segmentation identification, UX/UI design, consumer journeys, A&U work, uncovering shopping & retail touchpoints, and more. Erica has also built teams from the ground up for three organizations. She enjoys bringing an entrepreneurial lens to her work to identify new opportunities for growth and using quantitative and qualitative methodologies plus financial data to accomplish her clients' goals. Her clients have said that 'Erica is a keen observer of human behavior who can translate observations into action and one who spurs others to better thinking and better results.' Erica can be reached at

Erica Bishaf
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