Published: Thursday 2nd of October 2014

Krista Gambrel photo cmx seriesOn Tuesday, community builders from all over the Bay Area gathered at Galvanize in downtown San Francisco to learn about how to build offline community from the best in the business.

Offline community building can be challenging and, frankly, kind of frightening. When you host live events, something will inevitably go wrong. Then there’s the worry that no one will show up. And what if you run out of beer?

But the payoff with in-person events is huge in terms of community health and acquiring new members.

Our three speakers – Erik Torenberg of Product Hunt, Sara Altier of Eventbrite, and Abby Schwarz of Yelp – have all been there.  They walked us through the step-by-step process for hosting events for your community. They also shared with us their can’t-fail tactics for producing great offline community meetups.

Here are the key takeaways. You can also listen to the full talks podcast-style and watch their presentations on Slideshare below.

Before Launching Community Events:

  • It’s okay to start small. The first Product Hunt meetup only had 20 people in attendance. Now, they’re filling up venues.
  • You will invite 100+ people in order to get just a few attendees. Don’t shy away from inviting lots of members or prospective members.
  • When you’re getting started, you should have full control over the events. The very first event you host will set the tone for all other events to follow, so don’t let go of control until you’ve got all the details worked out. Hold your organizers’ hand until there is a formula for them to follow (with a little wiggle room for creativity).
  • Be a resource to your event hosts. Offer to help however you can at first and get on Google Hangouts with them to give them support. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need them to take control of all of this later down the line — that’s the only way to scale.
  • Use a platform like Splash or Eventbrite to create your event invitations.
  • Overcommunicate with guests. People start to remember things after 3-5 repetitions. That includes things like directions, parking options, how to buy tickets, when to arrive, and what to expect.
  • Use mobile to your advantage. People want to know about things on the go, so make sure that you’re optimizing the mobile event experience and invitations. Make it easy to find the address and tickets on-the-go.
  • “Event ROI builds up over time,” Erik says. Don’t expect to make a profit off of your first event or even have that be the goal of your events  at all. If you keep hosting events and they keep getting bigger, you’re building something of value for your business.

The 4 P’s of Pre-Event Conversion from Sara’s Talk

  1. Prove your value. What are you offering that differentiates you form the crowd? Is it your speaker, venue, angle? People want to: Learn, Earn, Brag. Give them what they need to do this.
  2. People are lazy. They  need to hear and see things 3-5 times for it to affect their behavior. Keep repeating yourself about event details and ticket sales.
  3. Pimp out your page. Add as much info as you can. Overcommunication with guests pre-event is key.
  4. Pricing. If your event is free, your drop-off rate will be 40-60%. Even if you charge $5, the show rate will increase drastically. Also, put tickets on sale as early as possible, 4-6 weeks is typical for a small event.

During Your Event:

  • Weird stuff will happen. “Hosting offline events is a bit of a gamble,” says Abby Schwarz. Accept that and go with the flow.
  • Yes, you’ll meet some strange people and have weird conversations. That’s part of the fun.
  • Find yourself a support group for your events. Hopefully your entire company has your back, but others in the industry can be a great force of positivity as well, keeping you going strong.
  • You need to be working the room and meeting as many people as possible.
  • “Find the loners and introduce them to other people,” says Abby.

Erik’s 4 Keys to Providing an Excellent Value Proposition for Your Community Event

  1. Make it easy for hosts. The Product Hunt team was present for each of the first 5 community events. After that, they’d coach hosts via Google Hangouts and do regular check-ins.
  2. Give hosts and attendees incentives. Offer up stickers, shirts, and promotional materials.
  3. Publicly congratulate organizers. You should thank the hosts on your platform before, during, and after the event.
  4. Follow up. Make sure you follow up with your hosts after each event.

After Your Event

  • Ask for feedback. It may be hard to hear, but it’s unlikely you’ll lose your job over it. You need to know how you can do better. Yelp has its attendees review every single event, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • If you’re leveraging your community members to host events, have the event host write up a blog post or other takeaway for your audience. Product Hunt gives their organizers a template and has them write up a summary of the event.
  • After the event, reward your organizers. They’ve done a lot of work for you, especially if they’re community members. Give them incentives and ongoing recognition. Make them feel like rockstars.

All The Talks

Erik Torenberg: “How to Launch, Grow, and Scale Your Event Strategy”

Sara Altier: “Building Offline Community and Events”

Abby Schwarz: “Event Magic at Yelp”

Or Listen to the Talks Podcast-Style Thanks to CMX Community Member Woody Hooten

Erik Torenberg: “How to Launch, Grow, and Scale Your Event Strategy”

Sara Altier: “Building Offline Community and Events”

Abby Schwarz: “Making Event Magic at Yelp”

Image Courtesy of Community Member Krista Gambrel, Culture Manager at Mindie

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Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.