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Bums in Seats

Building a community of interest

Send out your brochures and e-mails, but is doing more with less the only way to improve event attendance?

Randall Craig

By Randall Craig

Enter social media. The conventional wisdom is that if you add Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and perhaps an event blog, you will also add more bums in seats. This is partially true, as potential attendees may expect to find you in these venues; the more visibility your event has, the greater the likelihood someone may choose to register.

This approach, however, does not cut through the clutter and certainly doesn’t compel anyone to attend for strategic reasons. From a meeting planner’s perspective, surely we can do more than merely have a “successful” event. What if we considered the event in a bigger context? If the event is what builds community, shouldn’t the community itself be the engine that drives both the event’s agenda and registration?Screenshot 2014-09-01 21

If this were the paradigm, social media might be used quite differently. Event speakers would be (contractually) encouraged to interact with the community before the event, using LinkedIn discussions, guest blog posts and Tweet-ups. This would strengthen the community and build anticipation among potential attendees to see (and meet) the speaker at the live event itself. From the speaker’s perspective, these interactions would help them better customize their presentation.

Most meeting planners already use social media. Before spending time on that next social media activity, ask whether it just promotes the event, or whether it builds the overall community.

Screenshot 2014-09-01 21-2The meeting itself is made possible through partnerships with sponsors who also face their own marketing and budget challenges. In fact, their investments in your events are tied directly to the events’ marketing effectiveness. Changing the paradigm from an event-based to a community-based model opens up sponsorship opportunities beyond the event itself – and provides your organization a competitive advantage. Sponsor retention will be higher if their year-long marketing programs are synchronized with a vibrant, always-on community.


Each of these ideas – and there are hundreds more – can help drive event attendance. More importantly, they also build community.

  • Kill the event-only blog: make it a year-long community blog;
  • Put together a plan to add content throughout the year and include content from your speakers and sponsors;
  • Ask the community what they would like to learn at the annual event;
  • Use webinars to deliver “Part Two” learning after the event;
  • Tweet with related hashtags to increase the size of the community;
  • Switch from a “broadcast” mode to one that encourages conversation;
  • Ask speakers how they can contribute to the community: each will have a unique perspective;
  • Capture audience feedback on video to help market next year’s event;
  • Set up a live-Tweeting group to broadcast events to those who were not able to attend; and
  • Collect two key insights from each speaker and send to the community as an ebook.

Running a successful event is not just about running a successful event. And, building a community is not just about building a community. By using social media to link the two together, you create a more powerful raison d’être and strategic advantage for attendees, partners, speakers and your organization.

Randall Craig is the author of seven books, including the just-released Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business. He is the president of consulting firm 108 ideaspace and speaks on digital marketing, social media strategy and risk.

Appeared in Speaking of Impact, Summer 2014 Edition

1 Comment on Bums in Seats

  1. This is what people gradually will start to intuit more and consequently will be less fooled into buying what they don’t need.

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