by Anna McAfee | Featured Contributor
Offline communities have immense value when building know-like-trust relationships. For brands and individuals they really help showcase more of who you are and what you do. Offline communities grow brand advocacy, build your audience and help retain customers. With so many events in the calendar though how can you make ours stand out, and create a community around your idea that will grow and thrive? The answer is in the planning and execution, and more importantly, in the intention.
Create an environment where people feel valued
The best in-real-life experiences should not be designed to sell, but be intended for the purpose of adding value. It should not simply be done with the view in mind to collect as many email addresses as possible for the sole purpose of marketing and selling. It should be about bringing people together to meet, learn, collaborate and share ideas. Creating a non-selling space where people feel valued and can interact without pressure to buy or pitch is key to brand community. A lot of people are fed up with being sold too so give them a reason to spend their valuable time with you. What topics are your ideal attendees interested in hearing about? It might be life balance, personal branding, or expanding their software skills. If you do decide on topics, offer a diverse range to attract new people continually and to ensure existing attendees don’t get bored.
Connect people under a common theme or idea
There are a significant number of options in any city’s events calendar, so why will people come to yours? The answer is in the way it is themed, communicated and promoted. Events designed around your brand should have a clear purpose and it is that purpose that people will buy into. LinkedInLocal has always been about getting to know the people behind the profiles, and that’s been significant for LinkedIn users as face to face connection for many beats online networking. CreativeMornings has always been pitched at the creative community. The Moth’s mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling. Humans have an appetite for so many things, you just need to find that theme, tap into it, and spread the word.
Whatever your theme or idea, make it simple and easily communicated. Ensure its promoted in the right places in order to capture that audience. Find out where your target audience are hanging out. Use your social media channels, your own and partner websites. Tools such as Eventbrite, Facebook Events the upcoming LinkedIn events all offer free opportunities to spread the word too.
Create events that are open and inclusive
Truly diverse and inclusive events should be made available publicly unless you are offering it to your subscription-only community. But even exclusive events in the way that are promoted should always consider inclusivity and the message its sends to prospective attendees. For example, if you are using panels or speakers these should be diverse in order to attract the right crowd. Costs should also be kept low in order to remain inclusive, especially for short events of a few hours. Shutting people out with high ticket prices will turn some keen attendees away.
Be consistent and show up
Offline community is not about one event, its about creating several events so that people can build upon the ideas and get to know the people they meet regularly. You don’t build a house with one brick, you need several bricks added to one another over time in order build a trust and a solid community. Create an online space for theme to share ideas online too, through a Facebook or LinkedIn group. These groups will also act as a way for people to communicate and meet pre-event.
Share the love (and the workload)
With many events some organisers feel there is a prestige or exclusivity in being to sole host. It provides an opportunity to build their brand and create some social capital. In order for events to be sustainable though you must acknowledge the time it will take, and share the workload. Events solely build around one individual will never be well attended, as potential attendees are put off by what seems to be a very sales event. Diversity in event organisers not only shares the workload, they bring new ideas to the table. Events work well when collaboration is utilised among event organisers with a shared mindset and intention. Through new ideas and a shared mindset offline communities will grow and continue to add value to the audiences.
Remember not everyone will get it
Within any community or event there are always going to be people that simply don’t get it. They won’t understand why you would network outside your industry, or why they need to learn about storytelling. Don’t be disheartened. You’re creating events for your tribe, not the whole tribe. If you receive criticism from people who don’t get it, know you’re doing something right.
Offline, in real life communities can add a real and quality addition to your marketing, but they need to be designed with the right intention and with consistent execution.
Anna McAfee is a Community Creator, LinkedIn Educator and Storyteller. She is a co-creator of the #LinkedInLocal movement, in initiative to connect offline in real life in 85 countries, and CEO of LocalX, a startup that empowers brands, organizations and charities to create, nurture and scale their own communities.
Based in a regional city in Australia called Coffs Harbour, Anna spends her weeks working to change the world through community projects and using tech for good, and spends her weekends simply wanting to be a wife, mom to 2, to read a lot, and grow vegetables.