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What I Learnt From Holding an Event to Boost a Community

Within a successful content marketing/PR/Social campaign, any decent marketer will always tell you that varied media will bring you more success. Just churning out written content over and over again gets tired very quickly, so, as good marketers we need to mix it up using videos, infographics, images, ebooks, podcasts etc. etc.

But, within this sage advice, the one media that is constantly overlooked is face to face – An event!

Event example

Now, whilst I appreciate that an event is typically an offline PR thing and this is the state of digital, we’ve been talking about the benefit of channel integration for God knows how long and this should certainly not be something that is contained online. With the growth of social, and PR becoming its own, much-talked-about, area within digital it’s a great time to take a look at traditional PRs and the ways that they boost their results. Events are extremely social occasions, a great place to boost your community, make new contacts and also connect with your users face to face. This will inevitably transfer online – it will do wonders for your digital campaigns!

I recently ran an event for a charity that I’m involved with – I have been involved in a few industry events in the past, but this was a brand marketing itself to existing and potential customers by building and engaging with its community. Overall, it was a big success – we converted a lot of leads created through social media, made some quality contacts for content opportunities, created a lot of buzz around the brand and are we are now potentially creating a separate brand for the event that we can leverage for a whole load of other projects.

So I want to go through some of the things we did that worked. Based on our results, I would say that running events is an opportunity that any brand looking to build an online community should consider.

Always Think About your Goals & Outcomes

We started by setting the goals of the event. When we started, we were determined that it wouldn’t just be an amazing evening, but we had specific outcomes that would contribute to the long-term growth of our brand and the opportunities for future events. We then made sure that we could measure these, to then look back afterwards and say “yes, that was a success”.

This was an extremely important step, it’s so easy to get bogged down with the success of the evening, that you forget the longer term success of the brand. So Whether the purpose of the event is to increase brand loyalty, create PR contacts, find new leads or build a community, you need to understand that and then focus on it at all times. It is equally as important to make sure that you can measure whether these outcomes come off or not. It’s so easy to run an event, be super proud of how it went, basking in all the great feedback you receive, but then not step back and ask “to what extent did this event achieve what I wanted it to?”.

The primary goal of our event was to reach people who had been exposed to our brand and messaging, and either push them over the edge to converting or find out why they weren’t converting. We also had secondary goals of enhancing our online community, reinforcing relationships with certain PR contacts and creating a social buzz by giving users a focused evening of content that they simply couldn’t get online, (which we would encourage them to share!).

Get Your Theme Right and Tie in to Your Campaign

The whole point of the event is to boost your marketing campaigns. Therefore it has to tie in, in some way to your content online. Look at what you’ve got coming up and what users are most interested in.

Remember that people are going to actually be giving up their time to come to your event, so the theme of it has to be a: compelling b: targeted enough so that the attendees really know what they are in for – the more unclear the second is, the more chance of people sacking it off!

The greater purpose for this event was to promote a marathon that we are organising in Africa. Adventure is a key theme for the marketing of this marathon (as it is the perfect event for someone more adventurous), so we chose that as the theme for the event. We found that the audience was specific and close enough to our target market for it to be valuable for them and us, it had a huge amount of brand application, and the content that we could use was really engaging! Had we not gone with a theme like this then we would not have enticed nearly as many people!

Promotion Is (Obviously!) Important

Smiling salesman advertising a product at the televisionNobody likes an evening of standing around in an awkwardly empty room, so promotion was a big area for us. We knew the capacity of our venue and we knew that in order for our atmosphere to be right, we absolutely had to fill it with enough room for people to mill around (we were going for an inspirational message, which is far more difficult if the room is half full!).

We used Eventbrite as our ticketing platform. It’s great because you can track sales using Google Analytics, however be careful if your promotion goes to your site before Eventbrite as cross domain tracking doesn’t work that well and so you can’t see the original source of your signups.

We also used Facebook events to gather & manage attendees. We got people to register their interest by joining the event, and that meant that we could message them with more information about the event to encourage them to buy a ticket.

Our Facebook event worked better than the Eventbrite for attracting signups – it’s nicer looking, we were able to tie it back to our advertising that was mainly done through Facebook ads, we were able to put rolling pictures and information up and we could message people to make sure they were clicking through to Eventbrite to buy tickets.

We considered using other platforms such as Meetup, or registering interest on our site. Facebook made the most sense because we were advertising through there and it meant people would click on an ad and remain in Facebook. It also meant that we could serve content in smaller bites, more often in order to keep people engaged.

Search engines were a bit of a no-go for us because there are so few searches that are even close to our event, so organic and PPC were not big channels (although the Eventbrite page ended up ranking for our brand terms, which was useful).

Because our target market was users already exposed to our brand in some way, our key areas were:

  • Facebook & Display remarketing
  • Paid Facebook ads to people who like the page and their friends
  • Highly interest targeted paid facebook ads
  • Email
  • PR contacts, features and social posts.

We drip fed speaker announcements as they came in so that we always had fresh things to talk about, rather than repeating the “please sign up” message. The brand is quite fresh, so our audience was quite small – this meant click through rate was an extremely important metric for us to measure. Any ads or messaging that didn’t have sufficient CTR were scrapped very quickly.

We were pitching to get influencers to come along to the event – so that they would help promote it. We found this very tricky as, despite it being an appealing event, we were relying on journalists giving up their free time and in order for this you need a really good hook!

In the end, we confirmed a speaker who was the star of a documentary that was running on Channel 4 at the time. This started to spark interest with journalists and bloggers as there was the opportunity to meet him.

If you are looking to get journalists and bloggers along to an event, then you will undoubtedly be in an uphill struggle. Think very careful about:

  • Whether they’d be interested – Is your event something that they are keen on, both professionally and personally?
  • Your offering – what benefit will they have from going to the event, will they get a story out of it? Will they make new contacts? Will they learn something new (bearing in mind that they are probably pretty knowledgeable already!)
  • The goal of the event – pitching to bloggers & journalists eats into a lot of time, what benefit will they bring to the event? They might be nice to have but if you don’t have a specific outcome for them that involves the event then would it be just as effective to pitch to them other content without focusing on them coming to the event?

I would always recommend charging people for a ticket! People will be very fickle if the event is free and so charging a nominal amount will do wonders for your turn-up rate! By turning it into a proper ticketed occasion, then you can put pressure on people buying tickets as you will only have a limited supply. We did a £5 charitable donation per ticket.

Always Think About the Impact to Your Online Marketing

ImpactEverything about the event should be focused towards its goal. It’s easy to get a load of people in a room, talk about something interesting and inject some alcohol to make it fun. What seperates that from the excellent events is the focus on something bigger! Some things that will make this easier:

  • Make sure that there is Wifi – if people can’t tweet or post about it during the event, then you are not going to get a particularly big social buzz…
  • Take lots of pictures – Someone’s sole responsibility should be follow up content! This means pictures, videos, interviews with speakers, interviews with attendees. People will engage with something that they were a part of so jump on this! You could, for example, run a survey of the attendees that’s used for some content later on down the road.
  • Engage with people socially during the event – Again, someone should specifically have this responsibility (otherwise you will forget!). You need to make sure the event runs smoothly online as well as offline.
  • Give attendees something to share – An event is a really good opportunity to give exclusives on certain content or competitions. You can then encourage everyone there to share, giving it a really good initial boost! Also, gauge real-time feedback from the audience, to get an idea of how good the content really is!
  • Collect everyone’s details – A really, really important point! Everyone who comes through the door should give you their email address, like your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter. Give them good reasons to do all of these!
  • Follow up with them – an obvious one, but very few events do this well! Make sure everyone gets an email thanking them for coming and you engage with them after the event. Some of the things we did were:
    • We posted the event pictures on Facebook and tried to get as many people tagged in them as possible.
    • We responded to all tweets about the event
    • We created separate email lists of event attendees with special content related to the event.
    • We’re in the process of creating the event as a separate brand that will be managed on either Facebook or Meetup. This creates a side community that we can develop and integrate with our brand community as and when there are appropriate opportunities.

Always, always focus on your outcomes (can’t stress this enough!)

There is a hell of a lot to do when creating and running an event and it’s very easy to lose focus on what you are trying to achieve from it. Ensuring the best possible impact on your digital marketing means translating an offline experience into an online one, which takes work connecting the dots, so at all times you have to be focused on your objectives.

Once you know your outcomes, and you have the processes to measure them, then you can focus nicely on how to make the event both excellent and influential to your wider social & PR strategy.

Let me know what experience you have of holding an event, and what it’s done for your community. Tweet me on @AndyJM101

P.S. don’t forget to check out State of Digital’s comprehensive list of digital events in 2015, and submit your own event!



Andy is a business owner & freelancer, specialising in SEO, content marketing, PPC and Digital Analytics. Andy loves content & data, especially what happens when you put them in a room together with a comfy bed.