Online Event Communities… A Social Media Marketing Opportunity for Exhibitors and Sponsors
Traditionally, companies use educational events with an expo hall as a marketing channel to reach their target audience and generate leads.
Recently, private label online event communities where attendees and speakers congregate online are growing in popularity as a means to socially network, access resources, create itineraries and increase the overall event experience. These communities often include an online exhibitor listing where you can create your own online booth and be an active member in the community, while sponsors are more prominently featured on the site. The opportunity to be in a community goes far beyond a simple exhibitor listing in print or on the conference CD.
For the conference organizer, it becomes an opportunity to bring all levels of participants together online. It also provides a new revenue source (or value addition) as exhibiting companies are shifting their dollars to social media channels. In addition to ads in on-site program guides, exhibiting companies are willing to spend up to $1,000 to extend their marketing efforts beyond the face-to-face trade show floor.
Here at Omnipress we are sponsors and exhibitors at many events in the meetings industry. So I took the opportunity to ask Chris Uschan, Director of Internet Marketing, his perspective on the value of joining an online community in that capacity. Kari Rippetoe, Social Media & Community Outreach Manager at Tuvel Communications, LLC, also provided her insight on why belonging to an online community would be valuable for her.
Do you think there would be value in being an active exhibiting member in an online community? Why?
I feel that talking and listening are the two main reasons to join a community. You can learn a lot from your audience, and this will help foster better experiences when you finally meet people face-to-face at the event. Participating in the community will give you more opportunities to build relationships, and uncover attendees’ problems and concerns.
From a talking perspective, you shouldn’t go for the hard sell. You contribute valuable information instead. If you’re new to the event, you have a chance to foster connections. If you’re a fixture at the event, you now can focus on potential buyers.
As someone who has formerly exhibited at expos and trade shows, I do think there would be tremendous value in being a member of an event’s online community. The beauty of an online community is they exist even when the event isn’t going on – before and after. If attendees and exhibitors have a means to initiate conversations with each other before an event, then relationship-building can begin before the face-to-face meeting and result in warmer leads (and possibly better ROI) for exhibitors.
Same thing for after an event. The online community is still there and the exhibitor has the opportunity to engage with even more prospects who may have missed their booth at the show, but still have an interest.
I think another great thing about an online event community is content. If an exhibitor can add value to the community through helpful content, then it’s a wonderful inbound marketing tactic.
Is being a member of the online event community worth paying additional fees? If so, how much more?
Having a listing in an exhibitor program book is good and all, especially when you’re on site where the printed book is needed. For example, we’ll pay $1,000 to $2,000 for an ad, but we don’t really know what type of impact it has. I’d rather shift my investment to other places, like an event community. There’s a little bit of risk depending on how active of a community you have. But if it’s done properly it allows you to connect with and reach more people in a more meaningful way before, during, and after the event. And it’s a great opportunity for those in your company that are only attending the event virtually to engage with the community.
We also sponsor sessions and face-to-face meetings, and we’d do the same in an online community if that was offered as it’s more like a targeted ad. In your exhibitor/sponsor profile page instead of just directing people to your website’s home page, you can be more specific based on the attendees’ needs and direct people to relevant products and services. In my profile page I can upload video, photos, mp3s, and links to other resources. When you compare the utility for this investment, with onsite costs like a rented table for $250 or internet access for $1,100, you can see the value inherent in the social tools in an online community.
So, to this end, I do think it would be worth paying additional fees for; however, I would want to know what my money was buying (i.e., would my membership expire at any point after the event, what kind of additional functionality would be available to me as an exhibitor).
You can see a common thread where offering an online community as an additional marketing channel brings added value to your exhibitors and sponsors, as well as to your attendees. And the extra revenue that you can collect for selling space on your online community can cover the cost of the site and even generate additional revenue for your organization.
There are three ways we have seen customers leverage online communities in their exhibitor packaging:
- Increased revenue and closing success by adding online communities to all exhibitors
- Increased revenue by increasing the price and differentiation of the top tier sponsor level
- Incremental revenue by creating an exclusive offer for “Preferred Exhibitor(s)”
These packages are easy to create and implement with no additional overhead, hassle or expense. It’s up to you to choose the positioning based on your needs and exhibitors.
If you plan on starting an online community for your event, you might want to take a look at 5 Ways To Make Your Members Feel At Home In An Online Community. You should also visit our own online community, Engage365.org, to learn more about social media for events and see a community powered by Conference 2.0™ in action.