Personal Branding: Transforming Event Participants into Community Advocates

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Episode description

HOT TAKE: An event without community is worthless.


Because community creates connection, and connection creates relationship.

In this episode, Katie Ray, Director of Community at Metadata, and Tiffany Sanford, Demand Gen at Cvent, discuss the contrast between audiences and communities and how, using that understanding, you can enhance events and conferences.

They also discuss strategic approaches to strengthen community bonds during events and integrate personal branding as a powerful tool in this process.

You won’t want to miss it.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The importance of personal branding
  • Ways to improve the community at events
  • Community building strategies

Things to listen for:

  1. [05:04] The difference between community and audience
  2. [07:23] Why collaboration between event planners and marketers is important for ongoing engagement and networking
  3. [14:40] How to engage, include, connect, and care for all individuals
  4. [17:42] Advice on getting started and being consistent with content creation
  5. [26:39] How to smart small then evolve your community within events
  6. [30:17] The importance of promoting community engagement in events through fun activities

Meet your host

Paulina Giusti, Senior Manager of Meetings and Events, Cvent

Meet your guest hosts

Katie Ray, Director of Community, Metadata
Tiffany Sanford, Assistant Team Lead, Demand Gen, Cvent

Episode Transcript

Tiffany Sanford:  So, I'm just starting to kind of dive into this personal branding. I'm definitely late to the game, and I would like to blame it on the fact that I had a baby seven months ago. But I think it's more of this imposter syndrome that you hear a lot of, and it's like, okay, you know, I, you know, lead demand gen here at Cvent, but how is my content going to be different than anyone else's? Like, how do I get started? How am I going to be this me it's that competition of these well-known b, two b marketers that you hear of all the time. And I think it's really just getting started—one and then two, being consistent.

Alyssa Peltier: Great events create great brands. And it takes a village to put on an event that engages, excites, and connects audiences to your brand. And we're that village. I'm Alyssa.

Paulina Giusti: I'm Paulina.

Rachel Andrews: And I'm Rachel.

Alyssa Peltier: And you're listening to Great Events, the podcast for all people interested in events and marketing.

Paulina Giusti: What is going on in the wide, wide world of events. My name is Paulina Giusti, and I am excited to welcome you all to this week's episode of Great Events. We've got a stellar cast of guest speakers on today's episode, and we're going to be talking about some really awesome topics, including community building, the power of personal branding, and really how combining these two efforts can create a community powerhouse by way of word of mouth and credibility, effective partnerships, advocacy, retention, all of that great stuff. 

And so, without further ado, I'd love to introduce two very talented marketers who are going to walk us through these two segments and how we're thinking about community and personal branding this year and into 2024. So I'd love to start with our guest, Katie Ray. She is the Director of Community at Metadata. Metadata is a company where she spends a lot of her time developing a truly member-first community. She's also focusing on events and partnerships and is now managing their SDR team.

Wow, you have a ton of free time, I can tell. And she's taking communities from 6000 members to 30,000 members in just a year's time. That is an epic stat. And I'd love to get into all of the amazing things that you've been talking about or shared with us pre today's podcast. But in addition to that, she spends her time learning new ways to grow communities, connecting with other community managers, and she's engaging with her own members. She recently received her MBA from Texas Tech University and she won…oh my gosh, I don't think I knew this...Cmxer of the Year in 2022. Massive snaps for this chicky here in her downtime when she's not living on all her dogs, who you all just missed out seeing. She loves to read and write and go on date nights with her husband, and play with their three adopted Huskies. So Katie, thank you so much for joining us on today's podcast.

Katie Ray: Welcome. Thank you. I'm excited. This is going to be such a good session, y'all. This is going to be great.

Paulina Giusti: Awesome. And our second guest she is a lady behind the scenes. She is what keeps this podcast running. She is the engine of Great Events. Her name is Tiffany Sanford. She leads Cvents demand gen marketing efforts. She is an absolute big believer in working smart, not hard. And a lot of that sentiment is around leveraging community-based marketing strategy.

She is a huge fangirl of Metadata where Katie Ray works, a big proponent in how Cvent has gotten involved with leveraging all of the key solutions that Metadata offers. And fun fact, this is her first time on the podcast, but I am willing to bet that it is not her last. So really, really excited to have you on the podcast today, Tiff. Welcome.

Tiffany Sanford: I'm excited. And actually, believe it or not, this is my second time on the podcast.

Paulina Giusti: I can't believe I misspoke. Was I on that episode? If so, it doesn’t count.

Tiffany Sanford: It was with Alyssa.

Paulina Giusti: Well fine. It doesn't count if I'm not on, right?

Tiffany Sanford: Yeah. First one was Katie. That's all that matters.

Paulina Giusti: That's true. This is the party. All right, well, let's get into the topic, right? The first segment that we wanted to chat about is really centered around community, and you know, as an event professional, community is at the epicenter of how I design events and experiences. And it's thinking about bringing together communities for an in person event experience, for virtual event experience. All of that is very similar to developing and marketing to and cultivating communities in sort of the marketing sphere. So I'm going to go to Katie first. 

What is community building in the context of events, from your perspective?

Katie Ray: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think one of the biggest things to highlight, kind of jumping into this conversation is the difference between community and audiences, right? So think about going to a concert. It's a big event and you're there, you're enjoying it, you're singing along, and that's great. But once you leave, you'll probably share some pics on social and that's kind of it. The biggest difference is with community, it's you're there, you're enjoying it, but you're also connecting. It's really the relational side, and you've got different activations at certain events that will really encourage and foster the relational aspect of the audience. And so I think that's one of the biggest defining factors. And so whenever we think through different ways to do community building, especially within events and conferences, as an example, specifically, it's really how do we convert people from just another person in the chair to a part of the relational building that comes through conferences or virtual events or smaller in person events as well? And so it's how do we think about engaging with them? How do we get our speakers engaged with each person that's in a chair? How do we get the attendees engaged with each other? How do we make sure that this isn't just a one off situation where a bunch of people came, they learned, they left, versus they came, they connected, they built relationships, they left, they continue to connect.

And so for me, that's really what is always top of mind whenever I'm planning out different types of events and the community aspect of them.

Paulina Giusti: I love that. I feel like we try to extend the life of an event by offering this sort of access to content or access to social, right? But there is this additional layer of beyond the constraints of the event, what are people doing? How are they continuing to talk? You work with me on a pretty daily basis, so I feel like you get sort of the event planner mindset, and you, being a marketer, how can others have as tight-knit of a relationship? How can marketers and event planners work together to build and foster communities? Like what Katie was just describing, are there certain tactics that we should be doing or things that we should be thinking about?

Tiffany Sanford: I'm definitely on the flip side, so I am actually like a community member. And I think I'll hit on Katie's point. It really does go beyond like a one-time event. And I think the goal is really to foster that ongoing engagement through the community, and it's where you share common interests or goals like related to the event or the audience. So I think that event planners and marketers can work really well together to build those networking opportunities, including anything on social media. How can we build the hype for this event? Who is maybe the face of an event marketer within Cvent? And is this person are they attending most of our events? Because if they're attending most of our events, they're going to kind of be that face of Cvent. So I think especially going into 2024, that's something that I'm hearing a lot of is like, you kind of have this advocate within your company that goes to the events and they build that relationship with other marketers or event planners. So I think that is probably going to be key going into 2024 is really honing in on personal branding and building those relationships and having that one or two kind of SWAT team that attends these trade shows just to build that familiarity. I can never say that word, so I think that's what's important.

Paulina Giusti: So I'm thinking about this from an event design perspective and only because it's super top of mind for our 2024 conference. But we're taking like a vertical approach, right? We're thinking about unique industries and fostering unique experiences for them. At the same time I'm designing an event for 4000 people, right? So there's a sense of balance. 

Katie, any insight or suggestions for those thinking about, okay, we're looking at this from a 10,000 foot view, but I've also got to look at it from a ten foot view based on unique subsets of our communities that are interacting together.

Katie Ray: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think the biggest thing is really understanding what the members in those subsets really care about and what's most important to them. I really think for any type of community building program, you have to understand who are these people, what is most important to them, what do they actually care about? And then really hone in on that. So whenever you're planning a big conference like that and you're thinking, how do I get these different types of people interacting with each other in that subsect? As well as crossing the borders as well into other types of industries, you need to be thinking about, okay, well, if I've got a group of engineers, for example, they're oftentimes a little bit more reserved, a little more shy. They may not enjoy being forced to go and do like a networking game. That may not be the best thing for that group, right? I mean, hey, you may get lucky and they're as bubbly and lively as I am, right? But not every engineer is going to be super excited to go and chat with random people, right? So trying to create different types of activations for them while also thinking about, let's say I've got a group of marketers, we're all there to go network, and we enjoy it most of the time, but then it's also figuring out how do we cross those verticals? And so whenever you're thinking about these big conferences and you're thinking about the micro activations that are a part of all these large events, you need to be thinking about, once again, who is this affecting? Is this something they would even care about? Have we even asked them? I mean, I'm a huge proponent of so many times we think that, oh, this is going to be the most amazing idea and it's not. And that's okay. You test it and you say, let's mix it for the next one.

 But I always try and go to the community and say, what do you want to see more of? And give them options to fill in the blank, too. And same thing with different types of activations. One thing that we've done for our demand community events, whenever we do in person events that I am very happy that we get to is we always provide some type of an activity because once again, not every single person in the community is super comfortable just going up to a random person and having a conversation. So we've done activations at like a mini putt putt place or a ping pong bar and different types of activities where you don't have to be super vocal and loud to be able to participate. And it's really cool. One of the mini putt putt that we did in Denver last year, it was awesome because we did have folks that weren't super comfortable, but wanted to be there. And it was cool seeing them kind of come out of their shell because we ended up just grouping people and sending them down to golf. And they did better in smaller groups and they liked being able to focus on an activity if they didn't know how to participate in a conversation.

And I think that's something, especially when you're doing large activations. Now, you may not be able to send everyone on different micro events, but whenever you're planning, think about those people and think about how do they want to interact, ask them how they want to interact and really follow through with it too. Because then you're building loyalty at that point because you're listening and you're doing what they're asking. And if you can't make everyone happy, but you say, hey, we pulled X amount of people, this is where the biggest response was. So this is what we're doing. If you want to see something different, make sure you participate next time. And so I think that's what I would always recommend for people in that situation.

Paulina Giusti: I've got a quick follow up question to that because we've talked about designing experiences for extroverts, for introverts based off of personas or verticals, and thinking about sort of the grand scale in play. But when we think about some of the core KPIs of an event or of managing a community, one of them is largely growth. And when I was introducing you, you have this unbelievable stat of growing a community from 6000 to 30,000 and any event professional, ears are going to perk up and translate something of that nature to registration, right? Maybe they're promoting a cool new experience. And so that's activating that growth. Give us some context as to how you were able to grow so much so quickly.

Katie Ray: Yeah, well, I was very lucky. That was over at Sales Hacker, and at the time they were owned by Outreach. So of course the brand, and I know we'll probably talk about brand a little bit later, but the brand plays such a huge role in growing. I think that's one of the biggest things is you have to I don't even know a good way to say it, but it's tough if you don't have that well known brand, it's really tough to start growing. So if you don't, I'd say get out on social, get brand advocates, get people involved and excited and give them a reason to want to share it with other people.

Paulina Giusti: Would you say events?

Katie Ray: Yeah, get people excited, give accessible events too, really meet people where they're at, give other voices a platform where they may not have it in other ways. And so I think that was something at least with the DEMAND Community, whenever we got started that was really important for us, still continues to be very important for us. But at Sales Hacker, like I said, we had such a great brand recognition. But it was also and I just wrote about this in my newsletter one of the tactics I tried whenever I joined there was every day we'd get a whole new batch of people, hundreds of people, and I would spend hours individually messaging every single person in the platform. One, if they saw it in the platform, it brought them back into it. So I could count on some level of engagement in the platform. But I wanted them to feel welcome. And that's always something that's so important for me, is every single person I interact with, I want them to know like, hey, I genuinely care about you, I want you to be successful. I'm here to support in whatever that looks like. 

And I think that same thing goes with events. And I will say outreach has always done a really good job. At their annual conference, they'll have a whole line of employees like, we're so excited you're here. And it's kind of like a tunnel you get to run in and it's just a cool experience. But they labeled the name tags in certain color coding that everyone on the outreach staff knew. And so you knew who was new, who was a first time person, who has come before.

So you can say, hey, looks like you're new. Are you by yourself? Did you come with the team? Oh, no, let me introduce you to someone. And I think that is like a huge part of it. And just by making people feel welcomed, they'll probably want to share it with others of, hey, I had such a great experience, let me get other people involved in this too. And I think that is what really skyrocketed that growth as well as providing value. They loved our webinars. We did two webinars a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, every single week. And so the value that came from that content and access to speakers that they may not have access to before was such a game changer in how we grew. And I think the same thing with in person events as well. You have to have that listening to.

Paulina Giusti: Your personal outreach to the new members that very much sounds like you. That sounds very on brand for you. Someone who's going to be super proactive and engaged with their community.

Let's kind of switch gears here to personal branding. And admittedly so, I am at a complete crossroads of what my personal brand is. And I'm a host of a podcast and I feel like I do more events than a human typically should. So I feel like I should have a sense of what my personal brand is and how I should engage with the larger industry and community, but kind of at a crossroads, like I said. And so would love to hear how you've designed this for yourself, and Tiff jump in because you also are so intent on how you navigate your personal brand story and cultivating that for our own podcast host, minus yours truly.

Paulina Giusti: So would love to hear best practices from you both.

Tiffany Sanford: So I'm just starting to kind of dive into this personal branding. I'm definitely late to the game, and I would like to blame it on the fact that I had a baby seven months ago. But I think it's more of this imposter syndrome that you hear a lot of. And it's like, okay, I lead Demand Gen here at Cvent, but how is my content going to be different than anyone else's? How do I get started? How am I going to be this SME? It's this competition of these well known b2b marketers that you hear of all the time. And I think it's really just getting started. One, and then two, being consistent with it. Like, how Katie, you are all over my LinkedIn. So how did you approach that? For one, I mean, obviously you're a community pro, but how did you know what you were going to talk about? And then how are you staying consistent? How are you doing this on top of doing all the things that you do at Metadata? Give us some pointers.

Katie Ray: All the behind the scenes! So it's actually funny that we're talking about this. I literally right before hopping on here, of course, had some calls. But earlier this morning, I was like, man, I need to write a LinkedIn post. I haven't written anything since, like, Monday. And so I was just thinking like, wow, I'm really inconsistent with this. 

But I think the biggest thing, I think a lot of people get caught up with, what is my brand? Kind of like what you're saying. For me, I have no idea. I don't know what my brand is. I just want to build in public. I want people to see it is what it is. This is what we're doing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Because I have spent so much time getting so frustrated with LinkedIn influencers and thought leaders. I'm like, you haven't done this job in so long. What are you doing? You're a consultant, you're not even on the battlefield anymore. What is this? And I get so frustrated.

And same thing. That's kind of why we chose a lot of speakers we did for DEMAND this year, is because there were so many amazing speakers. But a lot of them, it's the same stuff they say at every single conference. And I don't think that's fair. There's so many great frontline people that are doing the damn job that aren't getting that exposure because they're not building on LinkedIn as much as they probably should in order to get that. So for me, of course, I have imposter syndrome, right? Like, there's always going to be someone better than me out there. And I think that's amazing. But what I know today is probably more than some people know today, you know what I mean? And so that's how I just think about it is I just want to build in public and hopefully it helps someone else.

Hopefully it gives someone else a leg up so that they don't have to deal with all the crap I've had to or they don't have to test in certain ways than I've had to. And so for me, that's all I think about. So when we were planning demand, I tried so hard to put like week one, here's what we did. Week two, things are on fire. But I'm also very honest with it, and I think people appreciate that because it's not all rainbows and daisies all the time. I mean, it's tough and it can be incredibly defeating. I think for me, that's what I focus on. So maybe my brand is just trying to be real, but I'm never going to be the one.

Like, I'm just being real with you. I'm never going to do that. And that's just me. I want to share resources, ideas. I just started my newsletter and that's the same thing. It's the exact same stuff of, hey, here's what I learned, here's what I did. Some of it worked, some of it didn't. Good luck.

Take it with a grain of salt because it may not work for you either, but that's what I do so but it's also like, I mean, there's always going to be someone out there better than me doing things differently, and I hope that they're sharing as well so I can learn too. And I used to be whenever I was at Sales Hacker. Scott Barker and I had a conversation about building brand, and he was like, create a schedule. Every Monday you post about this, every Tuesday you post about this, every Wednesday is this, Thursday this and Friday that. And it was really good. And I actually had as my background on my computer, and I've definitely strayed away from that, but I probably should get back to it.

Paulina Giusti: I love that. I think a lot of people listen to this podcast for tangible information that they can say, okay, I'm going to take that and I'm going to do it. And for me, hearing you say, okay, create a routine with it or add it into something that's habitual in a way that to me is like what I needed to hear to say, you know what, it doesn't have to be every week. Maybe it's every event and start give yourself small milestones. I think what's also a little intimidating too, though, is, at least for me, event professionals are notoriously behind the scenes creatures, and so, as extroverted as I am,  it doesn't feel natural for me to be promoting all of the learnings or the successes of something that I've been very much behind the scenes on the experience. So I think a lot of us event professionals kind of have to navigate that thought process a little bit.

Tiffany Sanford: But, event planners work their ass off and other people want to know how are they doing that? And I'm just going to call out, Paulina, that really awesome word of mouth event that happened at Cvent CONNECT last week.

Tiffany Sanford: If you want to tell that story, I think you should be the one to tell it. But I think the power of all of this is people do want to know. Like, you are the expert at Cvent and believe it or not, there are a ton of people that want to know. And I think for me, I see a ton of b2b marketers. I don't see a ton of event planners, like building their personal brand on LinkedIn. Maybe it's not in my algorithm, but I don't see that. And so I think that there's so many benefits, not just for yourself for personal branding, but also for the company that you're working. You know, Metadata, for example, I would not have joined the community had I not been following Katie.

I saw her post like, hey, we got this community for demand gen, folks. If you're in demand gen or marketing or brand, you should definitely join it. And I was like, I'm going to click on that link and I'm going to join it. And I'm a member now, so I think it's such a powerful tool for yourself, for your company success. 

And Paulina, I really want you to share what you experienced last week because I think that speaks volume into people are listening to this podcast. They're listening to you, Paulina. They know your voice. Please share that story.

Paulina Giusti: Oh, gosh. Well, now in the hot seat, I can't remember his name, but he is going to email me and I do want him to join the podcast. So last week we hosted our European annual user conference in London and smashing success. Record number, registrations and attendance. And in addition to sort of planning the conference with the support of an amazing team, I had the luxury of speaking at it too. And in the throes of all of the planning, I think I forgot to upload my own speaker headshot bio description of who I am for the session. And so when I'm speaking in the session, people in the audience had no idea who I was. And at the end of the know, a couple people came up to ask a couple questions.

And one individual came up to me and said, I don't know who you are, but I recognize your voice. Are you Paulina from the podcast? And my jaw hit the ground. I was like, are you telling me that my dad isn't the only one who listens to this podcast? I was absolutely floored and Alyssa happened to be standing nearby, caught wind of the conversation, and we were like, have we gone global? It was a moment where we were in just awe and it was one person. But it certainly goes to show that one person listening in makes it absolutely worthwhile. We shared tons of feedback. He said he listens to our podcast on his runs or whatever. He loves the quick format, digestible format that we provide and that makes it all the worthwhile. But to your point, Tiffany, I don't see many event professionals kind of putting their personal brand out there.

And so I think this is for our listeners assigned to that should be maybe something we try next year. Doesn't have to be before the end of the year. I know we're all scrambling to finish out the year, but I think that is call it a New Year's resolution or a personal branding opportunity for growth. I think that would be amazing for us.

Tiffany Sanford: And I would just add, I know we're all so busy, so I would say just try it for maybe one event that's upcoming. Or try it for a webinar that you're going to be presenting on or a podcast. Try one post and just see where that goes and then you can continue to evolve from that. But I think that's the most important thing because we are just all trying to do so much at once. But I think really simplifying it and testing it before you just totally dive into it because I know starting it is going to be tough. Like I said, try it for one event that you have up and coming and see if you get responses like that word of mouth, like, hey, I saw your post, so that got me to register, or anything like that. Any kind of word of mouth feedback.

Paulina Giusti: Love it. I feel like we're at the point where we're able to really connect the dots of today's episode. And it's all about building community, designing experiences that obviously grow your community by way of events, by way of experiences, and other sort of traditional marketing channels. And it's all about all of these working together, right? Opportunities for collaboration and overlap.

And I kind of want to just leave with one sort of data point question that, Katie, maybe you can help us answer. But when it comes to measuring the impact of your community, we think about measuring the impact of an event, right? Return on investment, return on an event. How do you think about measuring and defining success for your community building efforts?

Katie Ray: Yeah, absolutely. Well, they're actually very similar. So for us, a lot of the KPIs that we track, I mean, some are kind of considered vanity metrics in the sense of engagement and growth, but I really like to go under the hood of all of that. And if I'm seeing, let's say on average we have about 41 posts in messages in the DEMAND community a day. So that's a great metric. Love that, good numbers. But what's most important to me is about 60% of that comes from personal messages with other people. Now, I can't see the messages, but that's just what the data is showing us is people are DMing each other. And I love that because they're building relationships, they're connecting with each other. That's huge. The other 40% or so are conversation posts in the actual channels and that's amazing as well. Same thing as with growth. We love seeing the community grow. I love seeing people recommend each other into the community. All that makes my heart so happy.

But it's also diving underneath. Is it referrals? Are people coming from word of mouth? And if so, what does that really look like? What are we doing that would encourage someone to want to invite someone else to the community? If we're not growing, what does that look like? And so that's really important for us. But similarly, I have to show how the community affects bottom line. And so for us, we see how the community affects opportunities. If the community is organically, bringing in business from people in the community through different conversations. And then my long term goal is to figure out how the community members affect retention internally with opportunities and such. It just hasn't been around that long to really track it.

It's only been like a year and a month or so. And so we're just starting to kind of get all that data in there to see how community actually affects our retention and reducing churn efforts as well. So that's super important for us. So just like events there's the bottom line. We all have to answer too.

Paulina Giusti: I love that and think about event organizers listening in. How are you activating your own community efforts at your annual user conference or within your total event program. This year at our Europe event that just wrapped was the first year we were really intentional on what our community activation looks like in the Innovation Pavilion, what our community programs look like, and it was all about having really fun and engaging activations onsite. I think we had like beanbag toss. There was like a painting, paint-by-numbers kind of activation there, where to your point, not everyone's an extrovert. And so someone who wanted to just sort of fill in a piece of a mural by painting, but someone stepped up next to them, it afforded them an organic opportunity. It's bringing that community, that digital space, to life on site. And I think that is exactly what we were hoping to get across today, that there's a lot of opportunity to dig into your existing communities or bring a community to your organization and activate it on site within your Total Event program.

So, thank you both so much for joining today's podcast. I absolutely loved it. We could talk for hours on this topic, and in fact, we just might. Maybe we have a part two in the new year. But you both were great, and I just want to thank you again for joining us today to our rockstar listeners, or I should say our global listeners. Thanks again for tuning in, and if you have any additional things you'd like to share with us, have questions, or just want to send us a DM, find us on LinkedIn, or you can send us a note at greatevents@cvent.com. Don't forget to subscribe and rate our podcast. And we can't wait to see you guys next time.