March 11, 2024
By Olivia Cal

Community is integral to human life. It provides belonging, safety, support, and identity. It reduces stress. It makes us healthier. That’s why focusing on community as an event marketer is a no-brainer. Building a community and sense of belonging with your events enables you to establish trust, increase customer loyalty, and cultivate brand advocates.

A recent report by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) found that by building community roadmaps, organisations achieve high levels of return on key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals. So, what do you need to know to achieve these kinds of results? Let’s explore how you can design your events to create a thriving community around your brand. 

Benefits of building a community with events

Community-building has significant perks for both you and your audience. In fact, 50% of organisations report increased product usage and 36% experience higher new purchase rates or retention because of community-building. Let’s look at seven key benefits you and your audience will experience: 

  • Stronger relationships: Events provide face-to-face interaction, fostering deeper connections and trust among community members.

  • Increased engagement: Regular events keep community members engaged and active. This promotes participation and involvement in community activities.

  • Knowledge sharing: Events facilitate the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and expertise among community members, leading to mutual learning and growth.

  • Brand visibility: Events raise the visibility of your brand within the community and beyond, attracting new members and increasing brand awareness.

  • Customer loyalty: Engaging with your community through events encourages loyalty and fosters a sense of belonging among customers. That could mean repeat business and referrals.

  • Empowerment: Events empower community members by giving them a voice, a platform, and opportunities to contribute to discussions and decision-making processes. 

So, what is it about community-building in events that leads to things like brand visibility, empowerment, and increased engagement?

Katie Ray, Head of Community at Metadata, describes two types of community-building organisations can adopt:

“There’s ‘Big Sea Community’, the business of community, how you can monetise communities. But where I think the magic happens is called ‘Little Sea Community’. That’s where relationship-building happens. That’s where the social conversations that you can’t always track happen. It becomes more than just a LinkedIn connection, but you’re able to have that personal, relational aspect.”

Both of these community-building options work toward a common goal: growing your business. But it’s more than just new business opportunities. Using events to build a B2C or B2B community enables you to form deeper, more meaningful connections. 

💡 Check out more tips and strategies on building a strong community through events from our panel:

Types of events for community building

Big events, small events, online events… There's a lot to work with when it comes to community-building.

In-person, virtual, or hybrid?  

Although the three event formats (in-person, virtual, or hybrid) bring different strengths to the table, they all help you build community. It’s about the way you design them, but we’ll get into that later. Let’s look at each format and how they help:

  • In-person events: Face-to-face interactions, networking, and immersion are the staples of in-person events. They enable your audience to make connections with your brand and their peers at their own pace while they enjoy the pleasures of a coffee or cocktail. 

  • Virtual events: Breaking down barriers: that’s what virtual events are all about. They provide global reach, enabling you to connect with a larger, more diverse audience. Virtual events enable participation from individuals who may not be able to attend in-person events due to geographical constraints, health concerns, or scheduling conflicts. 

  • Hybrid events: Hybrid events give your attendees the power of choice, flexibility, and accessibility. Some audience members may prefer to engage in-person while some may prefer to join from the comfort of their home. 

Time to choose your community-building events

Here’s some great news: there are a variety of event types to help you build a strong community. But picking the ones that work best for your audience can be tricky. Let’s look at a few to get you started:

  • Networking eventsThese events focus on facilitating connections among community members, providing structured activities such as speed networking sessions, icebreaker games, and informal mingling opportunities.

  • Workshops: Educational events centred around industry topics, skill development, or best practices provide valuable knowledge and encourage a feeling of camaraderie.

  • Conferences: Larger-scale events that bring together professionals from across the industry for keynote speeches, panel discussions, and breakout sessions offer ample opportunities for networking, knowledge sharing, and community building.

  • Webinars: Virtual events such as webinars provide a convenient platform for community members to engage with each other, ask questions, and share insights regardless of their geographical location.

It may be helpful to create an event programme that utilises the best of all three event formats and event types. The most important thing, however, is to test them. The right event format or type for creating a community depends on the goals, interests, and preferences of the target audience, as well as your resources and capabilities. 

Find out what works best for your organisation and community, and then adapt your programme to reflect your findings. 

How to design events that foster community

Building brand community with your events comes down to the way you design them. It pays to put a little extra thought into the way your events will bring people together and inspire. Here are a few ways you can design events that build community:

Understand your audience and what they want

Understanding what your audience and your organisation need are the first two steps of designing events that foster community effectively. That’s because no two communities are the same. They’re based on different interests, different demographics, and different wants. 

For example, having an audience that is largely tech-averse means you will need to rethink how you use or introduce technology. While you don’t have to cut out virtual or hybrid formats entirely, adjusting the ratio of in-person to virtual or hybrid could mean better results. 

In cases of tech-aversion, Mylissa Patterson, Vice President of Demand Generation at Cvent gives some top-notch advice on what you can do to encourage participation: “You’ve got to make it worth it. New things are scary. That’s ultimately what makes people turn away from something. So, making a safe space for people to be able to approach but also to understand what they’re going to get back if they put the effort into learning something new.”

Enrich your events with smaller contained experiences

Something we like to do at Cvent CONNECT Europe is include curated small events within the larger event based on attendee profiles and interests. Curated experiences enable like-minded people to come together, spark conversation, and build their own network and communities.

That might include in-person and virtual meet-up events in designated zones for first-time attendees, training workshops and the Cvent Excellence Awards for customers to get to know one another, and happy hours to bring everyone together to connect, network, and have a good time. 

This strategy enables us to create diverse, immersive, and memorable opportunities for like-minded attendees to connect, learn, and engage within their communities. Fancy trying this out in your events? Here are a few other ways you can implement this strategy:

  • Interactive workshops: Smaller, more intimate experiences such as workshops allow attendees to dive deeper into subjects of interest, interact closely with experts or facilitators, and engage in practical learning.

  • Gamification and challenges: Incorporate gamification elements or challenges into the event programme to encourage participation, teamwork, and friendly competition among attendees. You could host scavenger hunts, trivia quizzes, or photo contests to get everyone chatting and having a good time.

  • Post-event meetups or reunions: Organise post-event meetups or reunions for attendees to reconnect, reflect on their experiences, and continue building relationships beyond the event. 

Engage introverts and extroverts equally

A reality of events is that your audience will be made up of a variety of personality types. These can sometimes fall into two buckets: introverts (quiet, reserved individuals) and extroverts (more socially outgoing individuals). 

Ensuring an inclusive environment where both extroverts and introverts feel valued and heard will enable everyone to shine and contribute in their own way. There are a few ways in which to do this, including:

  • Diverse event formats: Offer a variety of event formats to accommodate different personality types. This allows your audience to pick activities that align with their comfort levels and preferences.

  • Designated quiet spaces: Create quiet spaces within the event venue where introverted attendees can retreat and recharge when they need a break from the crowd. 

  • Icebreaker activities: Incorporate icebreaker activities at the beginning of the event to help attendees break the ice and feel more comfortable engaging with others. 

Identify and activate community advocates and influencers

Identifying and activating advocates and influencers ahead of your events is a powerful strategy for building a strong and engaged community. Here's how you can effectively identify, engage, and leverage these key individuals:

  1. Identify advocates and influencers: Look for attendees who consistently participate in events, contribute valuable insights, and demonstrate leadership within the community.

  2. Build relationships: Offer opportunities for involvement, such as speaking engagements, panel discussions, or advisory roles, to demonstrate that their voices are valued and respected.

  3. Provide value: Offer exclusive perks, benefits, or access to advocates and influencers, such as VIP invitations, behind-the-scenes tours, or early access to event content, to incentivise their participation and support.

  4. Empower advocacy: Encourage advocates and influencers to share their experiences, insights, and perspectives with their networks before, during, and after events through social media posts, blog articles, or live streams.

  5. Measuring impact: Track and measure the impact of advocacy and influencer efforts using metrics such as engagement, reach, conversions, and brand sentiment.

Strategies for keeping your community engaged all year round

So, you’ve created a community. Good work! Now it’s time to keep that community alive, thriving and engaged throughout the year. This requires consistent effort and strategic planning. Here are some best practices to achieve this:

Regular communication

Maintain regular communication with your community through channels such as email newsletters, social media updates, and community forums. Share relevant industry news, upcoming event announcements, and valuable resources to keep them informed and engaged.

Encourage attendees to create profiles on event apps, allowing them to showcase their expertise, interests, and objectives, and facilitating targeted networking based on commonalities.

Exclusive content and resources

Provide exclusive content, resources, or perks to your community members to reward their loyalty and participation. This could include access to premium webinars, whitepapers, industry reports, or discounts on event tickets.

Online and in-person community-building opportunities

Plan a series of online and in-person community-building activities throughout the year to keep members engaged and connected. These activities could include virtual workshops, networking mixers, panel discussions, or social gatherings.

Offer a diverse range of activities to cater to different preferences and interests within the community and promote inclusivity. Do this by ensuring that community-building activities are accessible to all members, regardless of geographical location, time zone, or technological proficiency.

Engage attendees through interactive elements 

Incorporate interactive and participatory elements into your events to keep attendees engaged and actively involved. Use polling tools, live Q&A sessions, and interactive workshops to encourage audience participation and feedback.

Encourage collaboration and co-creation by involving attendees in group activities, brainstorming sessions, or problem-solving exercises related to event themes or objectives.

Use events to create a community that pays for itself

The benefits of building a community with your events are clear: greater loyalty, more revenue, and happier customers. But getting those perks depends on how well you know your audience. 

In-person, hybrid, or virtual? Conference, networking event, or workshop? These are important choices, but knowing what your community wants will take the mystery out of the decision-making. 

Find out how you can create an in-person event experience that your audience will remember in our eBook, The Marketer’s Guide to In-Person Events.

Olivia Cal Headshot

Olivia Cal

Olivia is a copywriter and content marketer specialising in hospitality, events, and retail. After five years of in-house experience, she now works independently, writing articles, eBooks, case studies, and more for a wide range of clients.

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