How to Create Community by Thinking Like a Small Event

Small events where people can really meet are best, I am a big fan of serendipity and always running around trying introduce people, so small is good for me.

Small events

When the Going Gets Tough

I have got connecting people down to an art now, I say something like ‘This is Jack and I really want you to meet Joan.’

I add that I think it this is a good idea (usually the only reason I can find) sometimes I can throw in something like: Jack has a Billy Ocean record and Joan I know you were a big fan of the movie Jewel in the Nile to add a glimmer of context to the introduction and then I run away.

I have been angrily accused of ‘leaving people hanging’ – so now I announce that I am going to leave the newly introduced people ‘hanging’ and one of them better think of a question to avoid an awkward silence when I am gone.

When you have 100,000 people at Dreamforce in San Francisco and everyone is on chatter or twitter I am sure your brain must melt – if not the wifi connection. Even with all that software Marc Benioff would be hard pressed to make 50’000 introductions while the event is on.

Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix

When you have just a hundred people in a room there is better opportunity to connect people in a meaningful way.

For years I have been looking at the before, during and after the event and I have always found more reward with smaller events than HUGE conferences. In fact if I have to go to a conference I’ll either lock myself in a bathroom and hide or I’ll hunt online before and get the interesting people to meet at the same sofa, bar, table and start a ‘micro event’ – even if just one person shows up I consider it a success.

What is the Best Feedback?

The most valuable feedback I have got from attendees is never “Wow they had Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix playing” or “all the drinks were free” or even “I was over the moon with my gift bag of flyers and a stress-ball of a software company I have never heard of.”

People always thank me for who they met. Looking back I always remember who I met where and who introduced me.

Gary Vaynerchuck and the Hustle

Stay with me.

I have been following “Gary V” ever since I heard his name mentioned in Seth Godin’s Tribes book in 2008. Gary sounded like the “Will It Blend” of the wine industry – he was and a whole lot more.

One constant theme from Gary is ‘you have to work hard, love what you do and hustle.’ When challenged about how he answers every tweet and email, he replied with – “I have built it into my day, I check twitter when I am in the bathroom, I don’t watch TV, I have learnt to use my phone fast.”

Is that it? No magic formula? You mean I need to roll my sleeves up?

Can’t Buy Me Love

I knew what he meant, I wonder how many people running events do?

Here is the takeaway:

Last year I was invited to tech events under the guise that I am “an influencer” (I wanted to be a “blogger” but hey.)

I always jump on the event hashtag – naively assuming it is a great way to connect with people.

Three things might happen:

– Nothing.
– A guest, usually the person with the crappiest most corporate looking headshot tweets constantly tweets sales links about their “sales success” ebook.
– The PR company hired to support the event tweet things like “tell us your favourite app for chocolate” or “tweet if you want to go faster”.

I have frequently been held back by friends at events because I want to punch the organisers for wasting so much time and money.

Do the Hustle

I am working on an event in Paris and here is the very inconvenient, very long way round, very ‘no way are we going home early’, ‘can’t buy me love’ way we will are doing it.

Aim: get attendees connected before the event so they really discover the best from each other. (Or in Social Media guru speak ‘get the conversation going early….’)

Method:

1. Get people signed up early and start to build a tribe, community or whatever you want to call it.

2. Collect people’s social information. Some tools collect extra data from people on registration. (But don’t ask too many questions as this delays the signup process)

3. Load it all that social information into a tool like Nimble (affiliate link), Hootsuite or Salesforce and start to find out what is important to people. (But that must take AGES? I hear you cry)

4. This takes ages, but in return you get to build a better understanding and relationship with attendees. Somewhere you are going to have to use energy, I’d say use it here.

5. Ask people questions and get them involved early on and this builds community.

6. Do it as a person – not the brand – of course a brand will be there but I’d rather get tweeted by a human. Example @vodafoneUK have a face to their company tweets.

7. Often on social networks you can find out how you are connected to people – if appropriate call them up and ask them to podcast, guest blog or Google Hangout.

8. This way you’ll be able to get people to drive the conversation in a direction that is interesting for them, and the event is about the audience right?

9. Tools like Social Bro will help you find the most influential people on your attendee list, if you ask Richard Branson or Miley Cyrus to guest post it will mean something very very different to having JP Rangaswami or Luis Suarez guest post. In my experience smart people hang around smart people and then connect; autograph hunters hang around big names and then run away.

How Did I Find this Out?

A lot trial and a lot of error.

I found sending an email ‘telling people’ to do things was never as successful as asking people to be contributors in a way that worked for them.

Only a few will dive in at first and quite often the people that respond will be those with the crap ebook and corporate headshot – that is why you have to put in the work and find the really interesting people in the industry and on-line.

Two projects I have worked on were similar in makeup, in one we hit up all the industry people with the most followers on Twitter, it worked but did not have a long lasting life of its own.

The second we took a long time to connect with people who were so busy “making it happen” they did not have time to Tweet every 10 seconds. This second project generated natural participation and inspiration – more people took part and even created their own content shared online.

In Conclusion: Key takeaways

1. Build your community before you need it.
2. Love the hustle! (I do!)
3. Listen before, during and after the event. (This is very different from a “guest satisfaction survey”
4. Make your own ‘connected economy’

Bernie mitchellBernie has been working in hospitality and events for over fifteen years. He blogs, podcasts and speaks about events, Sharing Economy and community in London and Europe.
The best place to connect with him is on twitter @berniejmitchell he is most likely to rave at you about this event project Ouishare Fest in Paris May 2014.

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