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Grow your events with online community platforms

Online communities have emerged as a way to drive year-round revenue and engagement with audiences, as well as improving the experience of your event.

Many in our industry were cautious when their businesses were forced to shift to the digital space due to the pandemic.

The lack of human connections and tangible experiences at virtual events weighed heavily on the stakeholders.

However, the benefits with digital became all too evident – flexibility, accessibility, lower operational costs and more.

As the world became more connected, organisers sought to extend these virtual connections beyond the typical timeframe of an event.

With online communities, they found a way to stay in touch with their audience and help attendees and exhibitors network and engage any time of the year.

Online event communities

Getting access to a niche support community with like-minded people and authentic conversations opened a new avenue for business discourse and dealings.

Community members could share experiences, find people facing the same challenges and get a quick resolution to issues.

Moreover, in the age of uncertainty with abrupt cancellations, an online community became a place to build connections and relationships that are all valuable for business.

For organisers, online communities have become indispensable tools to support and grow their events.

One can create a pool of readily available attendees, get brand advocates to promote an event, and convert meaningful interactions into sales.

This article provides a detailed look at the role of online community platforms for event planning and growth.

Here’s what all we will cover:

What is an online community?

An online community is defined as a space on the internet where people with similar interests can meet, interact and connect.

Popular communities are based around common topics or events like sports, movies, books, games e.g. Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc.

On the other hand, B2B communities cater to a specific niche and are designed to facilitate professional networking, collaboration, training and education. Examples include Institute of Directors, British Chambers of Commerce, UFI, PCMA.

These communities play a major role in influencing members’ decisions by opening up communication and encouraging shared experiences to deliver value.

Let’s understand how online communities can benefit your events.

Advantages of 365 online communities – take your relationship beyond events

An online community offers plenty of opportunities to take relationships beyond the event. It is a place where exhibitors and sponsors can get user insights into their brands and products, while attendees can find like-minded people to converse with.

365 online communities

There are numerous advantages of using online communities:

Networking opportunities

Online communities help connect people with mutual interests and passions. Individuals and businesses can expand their networks and market their products to a wider audience, and in the process create a thriving business.

Year-round engagement

You can engage year-round with potential customers and suppliers without having to wait until the next big trade show or conference to reach out to new contacts.

Easily share and manage content with members

Communities are a great way to distribute your content and get more traction for your business.

If you’re looking for feedback on your latest project, you could ask questions directly within the forum.

Or perhaps you’d like to see which products or exhibition booths were most popular during last month’s event. You can easily search through the forums and pull together some statistics.

Managing and curating the content is also crucial so the community doesn’t get spammed with irrelevant posts that could turn away members.

It’s recommended to craft a continuous engagement programme that keeps the community active.

Content engagement programme

ExpoPlatform chief growth officer Luke Bilton has highlighted the role of content editors to achieve this:

He said: “One of the key roles is to have someone whose job it is to garden that community.”

“It comes down to having solid editorial skills, content editors and community managers, who schedule various activities going on a weekly or monthly basis.”

“That could be things like meetups around particular niches, roundtables, advisory boards – you can use hosted buying programmes to pre-arrange meetings for people.”

Sponsorship opportunities

Online communities allow sponsors to gain exposure among hundreds if not thousands of engaged followers. Sponsorships range from freebies, giveaways to paid ads and content.

Sponsorship options for communities

This sentiment was echoed by Community Leaders Institute founder RD Whitney, who says that community marketing is the model of the future and creates “awesome” opportunities for event organisers.

He said: “Why wouldn’t you take advantage of the fact that you have a great connection and trust with the buyer and the seller?

“Create validation products, create online training products, create certification products, create online directories that can help people connect 365.

“Create peer networks, subscription-based peer networks where non-competing people can come together to learn from each other’s failures and successes.

“You don’t need anybody in the middle and then you can just connect them.”

With digital expected to account for nearly 25% of exhibition revenue post-2021, virtual monetisation can provide new revenue streams to organisers.

What is an online community platform?

An online community platform is a dedicated space for event professionals to interact, network and do business all year-round.

These platforms are integrated with the tools and functionalities needed to foster collaboration and provide users a seamless engagement experience.

For example, a community for buyers and exhibitors will feature a content hub, 24/7 online marketplace, AI matchmaking and digital sponsorship options.

365 Marketplace

How online community platforms differ from LinkedIn or Facebook groups

Facebook or LinkedIn are usually the first names that pop into mind when you hear the term ‘online communities’.

While an online community platform does the same job of connecting people as these social media networks, their function is vastly different.

These are highly focused private groups where members invest their time to seek personal, professional and business growth.

As an organiser you cater to a niche audience that seeks a comfortable space to ask questions and share experiences while valuing their privacy.

A community platform built on proprietary SaaS software is recommended as it allows you to:

  • Exercise more control: Communities hosted on social media or open-source platforms are subject to any changes made. In comparison, you get more control with a dedicated community software as well as a team of professionals to handle issues like hosting, email deliverability, software updates and security vulnerabilities.
  • Access data insights: Get data-driven reports to help improve the community experience.
  • Use community management tools: Content creation features, engagement tools, performance analytics, omnichannel support and media libraries help create a productive community platform.
  • Ensure security: Online community platforms provide enhanced security options for members as they comply with GDPR and other data regulations, which is not always the case with platforms like Facebook. Before selecting a platform provider, read what their data policies say.

CASE STUDY

PGA 2021 Merchandise Show- Virtual Experience and Marketplace

PGA 365 Community

PGA Shows wanted to connect the global golf community through multiple channels including virtual events, an online marketplace, webinars, educational content and seasonal in-person events. 

Read how ExpoPlatform helped them drive their 365 strategy to fruition and create a thriving community to support their flagship PGA Merchandise Show. 

Benefits of using an event community platform

Benefits of using online community platform

Here are the different ways an online community platform can support your events strategy:

Building connections

When you use an online community platform, you’ll find yourself connecting with lots of interesting people who may not otherwise come across each other. This makes networking much easier than trying to meet strangers at trade shows and conferences. Additionally, if the platform has AI matchmaking features, you can even connect to relevant content, products and companies.

Engaging audiences

You can build relationships with attendees before, during and after your event. For instance, you can share video teasers, post snackable content pieces and highlight any notable speaker to stir the audience imagination and build hype.

Streamlining communication

You can send out reminders via email, text message, push notifications, etc. to remind people about upcoming deadlines, registration dates, workshops, etc.

Increase brand awareness

Exhibitors and sponsors can increase their brand visibility and reach out to a large audience on an online community platform. One can also find and partner with influencers for business opportunities.

Access to downloadable resources and courses

Many online community platforms provide access to downloadable guides, templates, checklists, tips and tricks, etc.

These platforms also offer training and workshops, webinars, podcasts, e-books that can be found in the resources section.

Strengthen messaging and marketing

The best way to communicate effectively with your target market is to speak directly to them. Online community platforms make this easy because you can easily add a link to your website, blog, landing pages, etc.

It’s important to remember though that while you want to engage with your followers, don’t forget to keep things professional. Don’t spam them with promotional material; instead focus on providing useful information and engaging conversations.

Access to ‘always on’ online marketplace where buyers and sellers can connect, availability of products, services and solutions

Online communities also give you access to an always-on online marketplace where buyers and suppliers can connect, search for products, services and solutions, compare prices, read reviews and leave feedback.

These features can help attract quality leads from all over the world.

Additionally, they are a great way of building relationships with potential customers who may be interested in attending or sponsoring your event.

User engagement is the most critical factor to grow your events community. Read next on how to keep your community engaged.

Tips to improve engagement on an online community platform Improve community engagement

Online community platforms provide ample opportunities to keep your target customer base active and engaged. Here are some ways through which you can improve engagement with community members.

Rewarding brand advocates

One of the most effective ways to encourage participation is to reward loyal participants. This could mean offering discounts, freebies, special offers, invitations to exclusive parties, etc.

You can create a brand advocacy programme through which members can become advocates and affiliates of your community.

Encourage user-generated content

Encourage community members to post and share their insights or any new piece of content they have created. This will give them more visibility while your online community will stay active.

Additionally, when users upload images, videos, links, etc., other users can comment on those posts. The comments section allows everyone to interact with each other and discuss topics related to your business.

Make the community platform mobile-friendly

Mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular as consumers use smartphones and tablets to browse the internet. As such, it makes sense to ensure that your online community platform is accessible via smartphone and tablet too.

If possible, consider creating separate apps for Android and iOS phones/tablets. You’ll then be able to reach even more audiences than before!

Organise giveaways and contests

Giveaways and contests are another excellent way to increase awareness of your product or service.

To organise a giveaway or contest, allow sharing details of the competition on social media channels like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.

Create a unique hashtag for your campaign so people can easily find out what’s going on.

Seek feedback from members and implement suggestions to improve community

Community managers often receive requests from members asking questions or suggesting improvements. It’s important to respond promptly to all queries and concerns raised by members. Appoint moderators to resolve multiple queries simultaneously.

In addition, don’t forget to thank members for participating in your community. A simple ‘thank you’ message goes a long way towards encouraging further interaction between members.

Crowdsource event ideas from members and reward the best suggestions

When organising an event, try to crowdsource some of its ideas from members. Ask them to submit their own proposals and vote for the ones they think would work well.

Reward the top winners with prizes. Also, keep track of the number of votes received per proposal. That information helps you gauge whether there was enough interest among members to hold future events based on similar themes.

Robust reputation management to recognise user participation

It’s also worth considering different ways to manage your reputation once your community has been established. This includes recognising positive contributions made by members and rewarding them accordingly.

You could offer special rewards to members who have participated in several activities over a period of time. Or perhaps give away free products or services to loyal participants.

Tools you need to build an online community platform for events

Tech tools to build an online event community_Twitter_Facebook

An active and engaged online community is built around technology that serves your event goals.

Here are some tools you would need to create an online community platform for your events:

Interactive website

A user-friendly website serves as the virtual platform where your community can connect.

It should have interactive features like polls and surveys, meetings and messaging tools and allow integration with third-party services to streamline engagement.

Above all, it should have an easy onboarding process so members can make the most of the platform and actively contribute to keeping the community active.

365 Marketplace

The rise of digital has allowed buyers and sellers to connect any time of the year instead of limiting interactions to a one-off annual event.  

An ‘always-on’ online 365 marketplace acts as a ‘product discovery platform‘ for community members who can browse new products and services year-round.

Additionally, exhibitors can create business profiles to keep members posted about product launches and industry updates. One can also network with each other and initiate conversations to undertake commercial transactions.

AI matchmaking

The real value of online communities lies in the networking opportunities they provide.

Instead of taking the funnel-based approach of lead generation, you just need to make the right connections from an already qualified pool of people.

But how does one find these connections in a community teeming with members?

AI-powered matchmaking tools can help cut through the noise to make relevant recommendations based on a user’s preferences.

This feature goes beyond making connections to people by providing suggestions for useful content, products and companies.

Learn how the AI matchmaking algorithm works.

Monetisation and sponsorship options

There are many ways to successfully monetise an online community platform. Below are some examples:

  • Offer subscriptions for premium content and offers once the community has a large, dedicated following
  • Digital ads and banners
  • Sponsorship options for events, mobile apps, podcasts
  • Sponsored content and business profiles
  • Sell branded merchandise
  • Branded giveaways
  • Offer paid training and workshops
  • Promoting products through affiliate marketing

The digital medium offers endless opportunities to generate revenue. However, it’s recommended to focus more on providing value to the members and explore the monetisation options as the community grows into a group of loyal advocates.

Learn how you can accelerate digital revenue growth with the Monetisation Blueprint.

Conclusion

While nothing matches the value of face-to-face interactions, a dedicated online community keeps the engagement going before and after the live events. It’s not enough to simply create one as a value asset – you need to manage and nurture it throughout the year. As the community grows, it can serve as a powerful tool to expand and scale your events and influence positive business outcomes year after year.

Find out how ExpoPlatform can help you build a 365 event community from scratch.