Friday, 11 November 2011

How can you make your events successful?

How can you get people to attend your events, and to stay involved as part of an all year round community?

That's what I tackled this week in a presentation I gave at Internet Week Europe:

I’m here today to talk about how you can turn engaging events into longer term communities based on experiences that you have told me that you want to hear about.

So what I’m not going to tell you to do today is to create a great event - I’m working on the assumption that you’re going to try and do that anyway. You told me that you were trying to do that anyway.

And when I wondered around asking people before this session what they wanted, you told me that you weren’t sure how to turn an event into a community.

So I’m going to try and show how behavioural economics and digital intersect - and what this means for creating a successful event. And the key insight of behavioural economics is that simple small changes can sometimes make huge changes to outcomes.

So here are five areas for discussion about how you can make your event into a community.

Firstly make it incredibly easy to participate. People are getting used to online interfaces which require almost no effort to use. Think of Amazon’s Buy-now-with1click service. Rory Sutherland points out that reducing the number of clicks required to buy a product from 4 to 3 can add 40% to your sales. And Amazon reckon that every 100ms of additional load time for a page reduces their sales by 1%.

Yet most online event services make it unnecessarily difficult to actually register. And often we make it easy to turn up for an event, but don’t capture people’s data and recruit them into our community.

A common mistake is to not take mobile seriously enough. People with smartphones, which is most people who will come to your events, read email heavily on them. And they love crossing things off their to do list - so if you can make it very easy to register on mobile, then many more of them will, and they will sign up to stay involved in the community afterwards.

Secondly use peer pressure. There is vast evidence of the power of peer pressure. And in Facebook, Twitter and other social networks we have built in peer pressure. If you visit an event page and see that a friend is attending, then you are much more likely to attend.

Equally post event the participation of your friends and peers will keep you participating in the community.

At a minimum you should never organise an event without a Like button on the event page.

The easiest way to build peer pressure is to contact a bunch of peers - and try to build momentum among them. So don’t just email your list and update your Facebook page. Also create a feedback loop by actively encouraging your attendees to invite their friends.

Equally during and after the event if you profile a wide series of attendees, even with simple mechanics like vox pops, then you’ll strengthen the peer effect.

Thirdly get people to commit. Ticketing agencies are great at getting people to book with early bird discounts - knowing that they will pay up front, even though many won’t turn up.

You can do this without getting people to pay. So give people exclusive access to something if they book early.

People hate missing out - the idea of all of your friends or peers having a good time without you is horrible.

So set a very low bar for tickets, tell people when the Gold tier is about to sell out. And then when it’s sold out, create the same shortage with a silver tier, bronze tier and so on until you reach the event.

You can use this to build a longer term community, for instance by getting early registrations to input on event content, as well as starting to build your community from earlier. Since time is one of the crucial ingredients to build a community then extending community building to before an event is a good way to strengthen your community.

Fourthly create your own media gathering operation for your event.

My friend and colleague Ryan Davis ran the social media for the X Factor auditions in the USA recently, which was phenomenally successful at creating buzz round the event.

The key to this was having a content gathering team - a couple of young guys who went around photographing and filming wacky contestants, and bringing them back to Ryan, who edited the highlights, tweeted them and interacted with the contestants.

Not rocket science - but there’s an underlying truth here about events. Which is that if you are at event, then you always have a nagging fear that something exciting is happening just round the corner. But if you’re normal height then you can’t see beyond the closest few people to you. And if there’s somebody incredibly high profile, like Mark Zuckerberg speaking, then you’re probably watching them.

But most of the time there are lots of potentially interesting people there - but you don’t know who they are, where they are or what they’re saying. So social media has a huge ability to act as your radar.

Now it’s often assumed that this will happen spontaneously. Actually only a small proportion of people will be creating content at any one time, it’s not necessarily covering the full range of stuff going on or promoting your agenda. So you can easily boost this at low cost. Get some journalism students to work for you for the day for instance.

Again what creates a great event also strengthens the longer term community, by making it a better event, by creating content that people will return to and my making a wider range of event heroes.

Finally understand why people come to events.

And this is an interesting question to ask in Internet Week.

Why, in fact, are Internet Week events face to face?

Well it turns out that we quite like meeting other people. In fact the main point of these events is to meet other people - presentations like mine are really just an excuse to mingle over coffee.

So the most valuable things you can do are to make it easy for people to find each other and to create and maintain links to each other.

The simplest, and one of the best, examples of this I know is the E-Campaigning Forum conference that happens annually in Oxford. A couple of hundred NGO campaigners come together and then stay together over the year through an email list.

So my challenge to everyone here is to create something for their conference that replicates our two most successful professional social networking apps.

LinkedIn has overcome our British aversion to becoming friends with people we don’t know.

And Grindr has been phenomenally successful at adding location and real time to internet dating.

If you combine the two, which is reasonably easy to do, then you have a locational app which allows you to find people at an event, connect with them after the event and share content while at the event. There are already numerous apps that do this, like Gruppio.

Or if you want to do something simpler, simply create lots of content during the event and email it to people afterwards.

So my final question for everyone here is who has already done this and how has it worked?