Five steps for developing a community from your event.

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For many event owners, 2020 was a year of paralysis, as face-to-face meetings were cancelled around the world. For those who evolved, the concept of a ‘community’ that would be engaged through content, virtual events, and networking has become increasingly important. At the end of 2020, The Share Theory conducted research with leading event CEOs and founders to uncover the key steps they have been taking to develop communities from their events.

Build your niche

Although it may seem counter-intuitive not to chase volume, the value of a highly targeted, well engaged audience has never been better appreciated.

Virtual engagement is cheaply obtained but harder than ever to maintain and metrics on free subscribers or group members won’t have as much pull as high engagement with a smaller number of relevant experts. Businesses who eschew the ‘carpet bomb’ approach to the market will find it much easier to weather the storm over the next few years.

A comparison which is increasingly drawn is one between the current trend towards community and the monetisation of online content with the shift online for news media in the 2000s. Ten years later and The Times, who cut reader numbers by 90% in 2010 with the introduction of their paywall, is out-performing most competitors.

Keep engagement levels high

A community needs constant sustenance to work and grow. Engagement based around infrequent events won’t work – you need a content and engagement strategy to keep interest high.

Your content is one of your biggest assets. Although the need to pay for access to live events to access insight has decreased, the fact that your content library can be available ‘on demand’ creates a convenient platform for your members, who can access relevant content at times which are most suitable and useful for them.

An engaged community will be a source of content as well a consumer of it. Creating a sharing culture among your members will increase your output and engagement, as long as proper quality control is in place. In addition, you don’t always have to share long-form content to add value.

Offer more than you have to

This doesn’t mean under-valuing your offering, it means valuing your community enough to want to engage and contribute in non- monetisable ways.

The barriers to entry for both community hosting and events are currently lower than ever, as the world relies on online platforms and virtual interaction to get business done. You need to offer something over and above a simple commercial transaction.

It’s important to make and keep your ‘promise’ to your community. The companies which are most popular and well liked in a sector will be those thriving post-recession.

Earn the ‘right to play’

If you’re asking your community for their time and money, they need to trust that you have the expertise and commitment to deliver what they really need.

The ‘right to play’ is the point at which your market sees you as credible enough to charge for your time and services. Without earning this right to play, monetising content beyond proven, tangible products becomes significantly more difficult.

The need to engage, grow and earn a right to play, however, can create friction with the need to monetise. Building engagement and credibility through content and insights and reaching a critical mass of engaged subscribers can accustom audiences to free access which then becomes an obstacle when moving to a paid model.

Work out your monetisation model

From subscriptions to branded partnerships, brokerage fees to consulting – monetising your community will be a fine balancing act between your output and their needs.

Finding the happy medium between engagement and monetisation will be one of the hardest sticking points for budding community hosts to overcome. For many, adopting a ‘freemium’ model where they provide value for free, while charging for more exclusive services will work well, but creating a balance isn’t easy.

The other option – to offer content and community value free of charge and rely on monetisation through sponsorship and the selling of adjacent products – more closely reflects the commercial model of a ‘typical’ events company. In this case, content and value-adds are viewed as a marketing tool, and in a growing number of cases as an alternative vehicle for sponsorship or branding opportunities.

Players who are embedded into their markets and who have won the “right to play” can also leverage their own expertise to offer bespoke advice and solutions to their communities. These services hinge on your ability to deliver either insight which is unique in the market, or which offers clients business-critical information which they lack the resources to generate for themselves.

About the author

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The Share Theory works with partners to help build content that will drive engagement and expertise, and can also to help you ingrain a ‘share-first’ mentality into your operations, empowering every member of your team to become a thought leader who can add value to each customer conversation they have. As businesses become more aware of the need to engage with their markets, creating content that attracts attention, adds value, and inspires your audience becomes more and more critical. Genuinely influential, shareable content isn’t thrown together in isolation but becomes an integral part of your business.