Event Management

5 Essential Strategies for Building a Successful Event Community

Skift Take

Want attendees to feel FOMO 365 days a year? Learn how to turn events into touchpoints for a year-round community with these five strategies.

The digital revolution may have begun decades ago, but it has undeniably accelerated over the past two years. Technology has helped to bridge many different facets of our lives, most specifically through the event platforms and solutions that have allowed people to connect when it’s been needed most. As a result, adoption rates for event technology have never been higher. But now that you’ve brought attendees onto the platform, how do you get them to keep returning after the live event? If there is one thing that event planners and community organizers have in common, it’s that they both need to figure out how to turn FOMO into a year-round phenomenon.

The idea of building and nurturing an online community may not be groundbreaking — but what is new is the ability to seamlessly connect event experiences within a digital space that’s fully interactive, brandable, and engaging.

As vital as a shared online space is, however, it’s not enough in itself. Members need to be able to identify with the community’s core purpose; think of the pride that comes with joining the Peloton community and subscribing to its mission of self-improvement. Further, for a true sense of belonging, members should feel that not only do they belong to the community, but that it belongs to them. And that means striking a balance between intentionality and inclusivity: Content curation should be equally matched with crowdsourced collaboration.

To this end, your event platform needs to facilitate tailored experiences based on registration levels and member profiles, while also enabling attendees to set their own agenda to form those meaningful connections with other members — even to the point of allowing them to organize their own mini-sessions and breakout activities. Notified, an event tech provider currently building its own year-round community, successfully enabled this kind of self-organizing potential at its Festival for Communicators earlier this year.

It’s time to reimagine your event as more than just a one-off session. You should treat each event as a milestone along a collective journey, keeping attendees connected and personally invested as they help to chart your path forward through crowdsourced content and active participation. Here are some tips to get you started.

Find a Purpose that Members Can Share

Year-round engagement begins with articulating a sense of purpose that resonates on each day of the calendar.

Allie Magyar, chief product officer at Notified, began her career as a meeting planner before launching her own event tech company and later joining forces with Notified. “As marketers, we are often stuck in a middle ground between what our company wants to say versus what people are actually interested in,” she said in a recent webinar hosted in partnership with the American Marketing Association. “We have to find the intersection of those two.”

Before you try to locate where those two roads cross, dive into the different types of audience members sitting behind the steering wheel. Magyar highlighted the importance of building personas for your different audience segments to step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes.

“People experience and interact with the world around them in different ways,” she said. “There is no real ‘right’ way to think about how we learn or behave.”

Understanding the different types of learning and behavior patterns begins with traditional demographic information — their role at work, their age and other basic pieces of data that can help segment your audience. Magyar, though, likes to leverage a more multi-dimensional and empathetic approach for persona building.

“I like to think of a ‘day in the life’ story,” she said. “What triggers different decisions for each of them?” Think about what topics are most relevant to their day-to-day pain points, and then find the overlap with your organization’s key messaging.

Ultimately, you want to give members a reason to come back. That means providing continual access to what they value most: a channel for both old and new content, a platform for connecting with other community members, opportunities for earning CE credits and engaging in industry-shaping conversations, and a healthy dose of that essential element — fun.

Let Members Take Ownership

We refer to our audiences with a lot of traditional words — members, customers, or buyers, for example. But if you really want them to embrace your organization’s mission, it’s time to think about them in a different light: owners.

One way to do this is to give your attendees a seat at the content table. Through its Festival for Communicators, Notified takes suggestions from its audience for future topics, and then leverages the chat conversations to better understand what they are looking for.

Plenty of major names in the event business work to include the audience in the curation process. Consider SXSW’s PanelPicker feature, which gives the community 30 percent of the power in session selection. Notified’s most recent edition of its Festival of Communicators took that idea even further, allowing the program to be partially written by participants.

At this event, Notified gave attendees the power to host their own sessions, which would then be added to the program. Under this model, the event organizer acts as an industry connector — creating a platform for collective collaboration rather than dictating a rigid agenda. Building this principle into the event tech itself, the Notified platform includes a feature that allows community members to create their own breakout brainstorming sessions.

For event organizers accustomed to developing every minute of the program, handing over the keys to the content can sound a bit uncomfortable, but this is a crucial piece of empowering participants.

“Ultimately, events are about enabling the greatest value for our audience,” Magyar told EventMB. “We need to get out of the strict thinking that we need to do a 75-minute session; break; [followed by a] 75-minute session and not allow any choice based on what benefits the attendee. Our job as meeting planners is to build environments for people to succeed, which includes allowing them the choice to create that value for themselves.”

By giving your participants some degree of control and ownership, they will be more invested in the program and appreciate having some influence over the conversation.

Appeal to a Sense of Accomplishment

While each of your audience members has a set of unique needs, desires, and triggers, the entire community does share one key ingredient: goal setting matched by a little friendly competition.

By now, most event professionals are familiar with the role that gamification plays in making people more productive: Plenty of studies have shown that games can make employees happier and more engaged. The event industry has taken a cue from that research, and games have become a go-to component for increasing on-site engagement. Now, it’s time to focus your energy on the benefits of gamifying off-site time and create recurring challenges. For example, how about a daily newsletter quiz? Or a weekly competition for participation in your community’s chat board? What about a monthly competition for the number of continuing education credits earned? You don’t have to wait until people are together to make them players in a game.

Games can allow new members of the community to immediately join the action, and they also allow the most seasoned members of your community to show off their loyalty. For example, long-standing members can display badges that indicate their commitment to learning and networking.

Your organization might be in a serious business — helping physicians stay up-to-date on the latest breakthroughs in research, for example — but that shouldn’t stop you from helping your community have fun.

Amplify Engagement, and Learn From Your Data

Before you begin chasing engagement, it’s important to recognize that it has a different look and feel for each of your personas. For introverted members of your community, downloading your content might be the signal that they are engaged and will be digesting the material on their own. Other members might be looking for a dynamic back-and-forth conversation in an online chat during a livestream.

“There is a wide variety of people who will get value, but not engage,” Magyar said. “They will watch. There are those who love to talk, and there are those who love to focus and not chat. We can’t force people to do things. All we can do is learn from what they do.”

But before you try to collect data on your community’s actions, make sure you have an idea of what you plan to do with all that information.

“Measure what matters,” Magyar said. “There isn’t any ‘right’ way in what data you measure. You just need to know the actions you will take with it.”

That’s not an easy thing to do, either. Consider this telling finding from a survey conducted by MIT and Databricks: Just 13 percent of companies are delivering on their data strategies. As you work to harness the power of data to build your community, avoid collecting information without a real grasp of your why. Think about what you want to achieve. What will give your audience value? Which insights will let you know if you’re helping deliver that value? What kind of adjustments can you make if you’re failing?

For example, are some audience members not engaging in the chat, but still returning for webinar after webinar — and watching them to completion? Repeat participation can be a great way to gauge engagement levels for some of your more introverted community members. As a bonus, the ability to track this kind of engagement is also valuable for awarding CE credits. If you’re doing it right, it’s a win-win for both you and your attendees.

Create an Experience Economy With Ever-Evolving Content

When you read the words “ever-evolving content,” you might feel the overwhelming pressure to hire an entire team dedicated to creating a mountain of material. However, building an educational library that informs, inspires, and entertains your audience is not about making more pieces of content — it’s about making the most of what you have.

For example, consider launching an ebook — what the Notified team likes to call an “anchor piece of content.” That ebook is not a one-and-done installment in the library. Instead, it’s about thinking about all the ways you can repackage that ebook.

It’s important to realize that each of your community members will have different preferences for engaging with content. Some people may prefer to download and read a long ebook at their own pace. Some prefer to listen to a podcast while walking their dog. Others like to actively participate at part of a panel discussion. Part of building a successful event community involves figuring out how to repurpose individual pieces of content to meet each of these needs.

Creating the content is just the first step in building your organization’s experience economy. As your audience engages with it, your job is to keep a pulse on performance. How much time are your community members spending with it? What are they saying about it in chat feeds and online forums? Have you conducted a focus group to dig deeper into the emerging trends that are presenting challenges and creating opportunities for your audience? And outside the walls of your own platform, what’s the sentiment on social media? Are people sharing, commenting and helping fuel the momentum? It all boils down to one fundamental ingredient: value.

“If there is value to a person,” Magyar told EventMB, “it will equal engagement.”