On social, brands are beginning to see the value in focusing their efforts on smaller digital communities instead of the big public broadcasts that have long defined the space.
Online communities might not offer the same reach or potential for virality as big, public social campaigns, but niche groups help brands foster deeper connections with their audiences on an ongoing basis. What’s more, members can network year-round, not just during a three-day annual event.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at building online communities and why it’s a huge value add for attendees and brands alike.
Why It’s Time to Think “Small” When it Comes to Relationship-Building
Okay, it’s not like Facebook Groups are new, but the social media giant and others like LinkedIn have started placing more emphasis on making connections than helping brands manipulate the algorithms into helping them capture more followers.
For event marketers, the online community is especially powerful, given that the whole purpose of attending a live event is to connect with people in the same industry. Groups—whether we're talking Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, also provide an opportunity for your brand to leverage the community-building power of your speakers, sponsors, and industry peers. Click To Tweet
For example, you might try partnering up with another company that’s attending the event. Assuming they aren’t a direct competitor but have the same or similar target audience, joining forces to build a digital community can help you tap into a whole network of receptive potential customers.
Or, you might work with high-profile speakers and sponsors that can promote your group to their more extensive network of followers. Consider inviting them to host exclusive Q&A sessions, short talks, or an “Ask Me Anything” style chat.
Whether you’re targeting influencers, sponsors, or speakers, this strategy can help you connect with the people your competitors are targeting—allowing you to start building relationships early in the event cycle.
Updated Algorithms Demand a Different Approach
If you do any type of social media marketing, you’re likely aware of some changes that have hit social in recent months. With a newfound focus on community building and personal relationships, publishers and brands are having a harder time reaching users on Facebook and Instagram, as algorithms are now programmed to prioritize updates from friends and family over content posted by public companies.
We’re in this weird moment in time where we’re on the brink of a “Social 2.0,” but haven’t quite figured out how to strike a balance between increasing reach and fostering personal connections.
Some brands started experimenting with this exclusivity factor before Zuckerberg’s pivot. Condé Nast Traveler is one such example. In 2017, the travel mag tried something new—instead of focusing on follower volume and maximum engagement, they went the opposite route and closed their Facebook Group, Women Who Travel the World.
Instead of pumping out social posts aimed at collecting followers with incentives and promo codes, the company started asking people to apply to the closed Facebook Group, a digital community for female travelers.
While the group didn’t exactly adopt strict membership criteria, applicants did have to explain why they wanted to join the group – a step that allowed the publication to vet potential members to ensure they had a basic understanding of how to behave in a digital community.
How to Use Social Groups to Build and Nurture Online Event Communities
Before launching your group, you’ll want to set a few goals. What do you hope to gain by engaging in this way? Is the primary goal to collect feedback from attendees? To increase retention year after year? To increase product sales?
More importantly, you’ll need to figure out how this community will help your audience achieve its goals. Creating a forum where people can participate in discussions, ask and answer questions, and share information should be the focus. Avoid being overtly promotional, otherwise, you may lose the trust you’ve worked so hard to build.
Where’s the Value?
Why should someone join your group in the first place? You must provide real, ongoing value to group members if you want them to engage with the platform. This example from SproutSocial shows how brands should interact with users in this context.
Here are some examples:
- Offer in-depth insights on a particular topic. Consider sharing original research or exclusive comments that members can’t find anywhere else.
- Provide a space where users can get support from other community members. This isn’t the same as a customer support center, but rather a space where users can learn from each other and collaborate on solutions. Industry newcomers benefit from access to seasoned pros, while veterans have an opportunity to position themselves as experts or thought leaders.
- Share exclusive deals. Whether we’re talking event-specific deals or discounts on products/services, member deals are a tried and true tactic for driving membership. If you do this, be sure to add UTM codes to track conversions from your Facebook Group.
- Host Influencer/Speaker/Sponsor Q&As. Again, using your online group to give members access to the people they want to hear from will drive signups and encourage members to stick around.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to continue to add value for your community members – otherwise they’ll abandon ship.
When you set up your community, build it around a specific topic. For event marketers, you’ll want to think broader than the event itself or even your business, as you want to create something that continues to grow throughout the year.
Which Channels Work Best for Starting an Event Group?
The easy answer to this question is you should focus on building communities in the places your audience already hangs out. Introducing a new platform or hosting conversations on channels your audience don’t use often just creates a point of friction—and ultimately, may prevent people from joining in.
Here’s a look at your main options when it comes to community-building:
Facebook has the advantage of having the largest user base of any social media site, so there’s a good chance that your audience is on Facebook. While the platform is more personal than professional, group members can share a wide range of content, host live webinars, add videos, photos, and tag other members.
Because Facebook comes with a certain “friendly” vibe, it’s important to follow a few simple rules:
- Keep it conversational
- Don’t treat it like a sales forum
- Address pain points and offer advice
- Let users do most of the talking
LinkedIn, of course, is known for its focus on professional networking, making it an obvious choice for event marketers in the B2B space. While Facebook offers more features and a more engaging experience, LinkedIn might be a better option for industries where users don’t spend a ton of time on Facebook.
LinkedIn also has the advantage of allowing users to reach out to specific connections and personally invite them to attend an event or join the group. Additionally, you might use the Sales Navigator add-on to engage with group member-prospects away from the community environment.
This option is a bit of an outlier here, as Facebook and LinkedIn Groups are more effective for building more exclusive communities, but hosting group conversations on Twitter might be a nice way to take this conversational approach to a more public stage and drive more signups.
Sure, Twitter is more megaphone than an intimate communication channel, but you may want to host Twitter Chats to promote your event, as well as your speakers, sponsors, and brand. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a Twitter Chat is a conversation that centers around a specific hashtag.
While anyone can join, hosting events like this can help you increase your reach, while remaining focused on a relevant subject–plus, you can always promote your Facebook or LinkedIn group toward the end.
Finally, your other option is the dedicated event app, a tool used to deliver a range of event details to your attendees. As a community-building tool, event apps often provide networking features like match-making or a community forum. Another advantage is, many of these tools come with interactive features that can help drive engagement on the big day.
For example, there’s Attendify, an app that allows users to create a private social network. There’s Whova, which gives attendees the ability to plan their event experience by choosing a goal, ensuring they attend the most relevant sessions. It also provides attendee bios with social media links for easy networking. Or, Pathable, which offers personalized agendas, a networking directory, and the ability to set up private meetings.
While we definitely recommend using an event app, as the utility extends well beyond the networking features, we’re not sure that this is the best way to grow and nurture a group long-term—users will likely engage with an app during an event, and perhaps to follow-up with new connections, then switch back to their usual channels.
In the end, online communities are but one channel in a larger event marketing strategy. You’ll need to promote them on your website and on public-facing channels to help people find them, so keep in mind, a Facebook Group doesn’t necessarily replace traditional social media efforts.
As mentioned above, it’s getting harder and harder to drive organic growth on social media, due to changing algorithms and a shifting focus on communities and engagement (and of course, paid ads). With that in mind, event companies should take community building more seriously, focusing on nurturing attendee relationships year-round.
Ready to modernize your event marketing strategy? Contact Echelon Design and we’ll help you put together a seamless experience that connects your pre-show marketing to the live event and follow up.