Tipsheet

10 Ways to Build Community and Grow Your Local Event

Gathering is an essential part of being human. And whether it’s catching a live performance from a favorite musician or networking with other professionals at an industry conference, events play a crucial role in fostering a sense of belonging.

In fact, 80% of millennials say that attending live events makes them feel more connected to other people, the community, and the world. So how can you harness the power of your community experience to bring people together and transform them into community members?

Here are ten tips for tapping into your attendee networks before, during, and after your event.

Before your community event

Long before you start outlining an agenda, booking speakers, or reaching out to potential sponsors, it’s important to get clear on why you’re creating your community event in the first place. From there, you can energize your audience around your why.

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1. Define your why

If you want to ignite the fire inside your attendees and build an event community, you need to emphasize why your event exists in the first place. 

Ask yourself what purpose your event serves. Are you a nonprofit trying to rally passionate people around an important cause? Or are you a brand gathering industry thought leaders who’ll show professionals the way forward?

Push yourself at every turn to be as specific as  possible, because the core purpose of your event will be the foundation everything will be built on — including your community.

Discover the “why” of your event and community in four questions:

  • Why are you hosting this event? Why does it need to exist?
  • Who is this event for? Why should they attend? 
  • How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to learn? 
  • What will be your call to action post-event? What will be the takeaways?

2. Spread the word and engage your community

No matter how much hard work goes into your community events, they won’t attract an audience on their own. A few random social posts might help sell some tickets, but if you want to attract a crowd, you’ll need a promotion plan. 

You don’t need a huge marketing budget to reach potential attendees, you just need to know how to make the most of what you’ve got. So do your research on email, social, and other promotional channels, then put together a timeline (like this one) to make the biggest impact.

As you plan, keep these three event marketing hacks in mind:

  • Add a personal touch to emails, social posts, and messages when possible
  • Craft a clear and concise event description
  • Enable community members with a promotional toolkit

3. Recruit speakers who align with your purpose

The people you hire to speak or perform at your event also play an important role in your strategy to build a community. Look for perspectives that will make your community event as interesting and diverse as possible.

Three ways to seek out speakers and talent that align to your purpose:

  • Tap into your network. Think about the most inspiring, connected people you know and ask them for help. To make sure you don’t end up with too many people, ask them to make suggestions rather than connecting you outright.
  • Look for lists. Start  by looking at speakers who’ve participated in other events and conferences, as well as lists that celebrate highly accomplished professionals.
  • Join groups. LinkedIn and Facebook groups can be invaluable in your search for speakers. Become a regular contributor so that when it comes time to promote your events, you have a built-in network of people who will be interested.

4. Partner with sponsors who will help you cross-promote

In general, sponsors are increasingly interested in deepening their interactions with event audiences in new and exciting ways. So do your research on local brands who’d be a good fit for your event’s purpose and mission, then partner with ones who are mutually interested.

From there, you can collaborate with your sponsors to help you enrich the on-site experience, as well as promote your event to larger audiences — whether through paid activations or by lending their social presence to boost your ads.

During your community event

After months of planning, promotion, and hard work, the day of your event is an exciting milestone. It’s the moment you and your attendees have been waiting for — but you can’t relax till it’s over. Here’s how to continue building your community on event day.

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5. Cultivate an engaging experience

One of the worst things you can do is bore your audience. If your event is a panel discussion, for example, set the context and build excitement for the conversation. Tell attendees what to expect — will they be entertained, or perhaps gain a new perspective? 

The most important thing is to encourage participation. Something as straightforward as asking people to raise their hands can go a long way. You could also change the layout of the room or start a session off with some group exercises.

For example, your speakers can poll audiences during their sessions with an app like Sli.do to get answers boost engagement in real time. Or, you can create a hashtag for specific topics (or one unique to your event) and display audience tweets on a social media wall next to the stage.

6. Use audience check-ins to collect feedback

At regular intervals during your community event, have your team do tiny pulse checks with attendees. Your main feedback survey will be sent out after the big day, but it’s useful to gauge audience sentiment with a few check-ins here and there.That way, if there’s something that’s not working that’s in your control, you can make last-minute changes to adjust.

7. Put your mission front and center

People are attracted to attend your event because your big “why.” So put that mission at the center of everything you do. 

This can be part of your event branding, from banners or event signage, or even giveaways like swag bags. The more your messaging shines with your event’s purpose, the more people will feel like they’re plugging into a community that understands them.

For example, say you’re putting on an environmental justice conference. You want to not only make sure your giveaways are environmentally friendly, but you’d also want to take advantage of your swag bag to rally attendees around your cause and mission.

You can even sprinkle this tactic into your speaker and panelist prep, so that everyone engaging with your audience can hammer home the reason you’re all there. Creating multiple opportunities for panelists and moderators to interact with the audience is always a good thing!

After your community event

All your hard work has paid off, and people loved your event. They’re engaging with you and your speakers on social media, and all that user-generated content is gold for getting a head start on promoting next year’s event. Here’s how to harness the momentum after your event.

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8. Follow up with attendees and partners

Gathering attendee and partner feedback in a survey is the best way to understand the community you serve — and how your events can bring them closer together. To be successful, your post-event surveys need to ask the right questions to gather helpful feedback.

Here are the most common question formats and how to use them:

  • Open-ended. Use these sparingly, perhaps as your last question.
  • Multiple choice. Limit your choice of answers to three to encourage survey completion.
  • Interval scale. Best used to gauge Net Promoter Score, or how likely to your attendees are to recommend your event to others

9. Identify the community you want to develop next

Once you’re ready to scale your event to a new community, take what you’ve learned about running your event and recruit trustworthy volunteers to create a sister experience in a new city. How? By creating a community ambassador program that helps you find interested fans.

Much like finding a new team member, recruiting volunteers takes clarity and transparency:

  • Vet interested applicants with an interview
  • Set clear expectations for the role’s responsibilities
  • Outline the skills and characteristics necessary
  • Set volunteers up for success with a Community Event Toolkit

10. Leverage your community to grow your audience

Your event community is a valuable part of your promotion strategy. All you need to do is help them help you. Here are two ways to give your fans the tools they need to spread the world about your event to their networks.

  • Enable community members with a promotional toolkit. This includes visual assets for them to share on social media, templated copy for them to use in their posts, and links to your event ticketing or registration page. 
  • Empower your community with incentives. Increase the likelihood that people in your fans’ networks will buy a ticket or register through a personalized discount code they can share with their networks.
Pro Tip

Make sure to include UTM parameters (tags you add to the end of your URLs) on the links you share with community members. Why? Because it lets you track who is bringing in the most new members into your community

Harness the power of your community event

The transformation from attendee to community member is significant. Discover how to attract a larger audience through loyal ambassadors and more from the experts at Ladies Get Paid in Better Together: How to Build (and Maintain) a Strong, Thriving Event Community.

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