Over the past few years, the pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty in the events industry. As we’ve had to lean on each other more than ever, community has become a crucial part of navigating that uncertainty and finding ways to evolve how we launch successful events. 

Our Content Marketing Leader, Nolan Ether, recently sat down with EventMB’s deputy editor, Angela Tupper, to discuss the future of community in the events industry during The Future of the Event Industry Summit 2022.  

The summit brings together event industry leaders, including the organizers behind major exhibitions, key association executives, agency planners, and venue management companies, to share their insights and predictions for the year ahead.  

Watch the video or read the transcript below to hear what Nolan had to say about the important role community plays in virtual, in-person, and hybrid events.  

The future of event communities is now

Angela: Hi, everyone. I’d like to welcome Nolan Ether, Content Marketing Leader at Webex Events. Nolan is especially passionate about emerging technologies and how they can be used to create a more open, inclusive, and imaginative future. And he’s here today to tell us that we’re now primed to start using event platforms for year-round online communities. In fact, he thinks the future of event communities is now.  

Thank you for joining us today, Nolan.

Nolan: Thanks, Angela. Thanks so much for having me.  

Angela: No problem. But before I launch into my questions for you, I want to pose a question to the audience. We have a poll for the audience. Have you tried to keep your attendees engaged year-round with an event community? And the answers range all the way from “Yes, I built one already and it’s thriving!” to ‘Nope, I’ve never tried and I have no plans to.” So, start answering that poll now, and I’ll launch into my questions for you, Nolan.  

So, online communities have been around for a while, but the idea of managing them through an event platform is relatively new. Is there anything that Webex Events is doing to prepare for this shift? Have you noticed an influx of new requests for this type of service from your clients? Why do you think the future of event communities is now?  

Nolan: So, I just spoke to our customer success managers and sales team this past week. I’m the content marketing leader over at Webex Events. So, we create a lot of content like eBooks and videos. I was asking them what types of our existing platform products and features they want to see videos for and what they’re being asked about by customers. And communities was right there at the top of the list. So, I don’t talk every day to our customers, but the folks that do think that it’s definitely a hot topic, and Webex Events is preparing for that shift. I think that we have a community platform now. 

It’s a little bit of a half step, right? Because we’re still in an event platform, and we’re still kind of trying to realize where that future of community is going. But we do have a great feature around community that allows ongoing learning and networking throughout the year. 

We have virtual events, round tables, topic-based discussions, games. You can even customize content by membership levels. You can book meetings. Post on social walls. These are lot of the same features and functionality that you have in a short-term event, but all year round for community. And I think that we’re starting to see in all facets.  

I mean, in your intro, you talked about my interest in emerging technologies, web 3.0 and NFTs, and all the things we’re hearing about. Those are spontaneous communities that are popping up every day. And a lot of times they’re using things like Discord, which look like nineties AOL chat rooms or Yahoo chat rooms. I just think that event platforms are really poised in a better position to be the ones that are helping community managers and event planners manage these communities. 

Marketing efforts to help get your communities off the ground

Angela: So, it sounds like you’re seeing a trend among your own clients. Based on your own client base. Can you give me a little bit of input into what kinds of marketing efforts can help to get this kind of community going?  

Is it mostly about hosting a series of in-person events or webinars and then generating buzz around them? Or should organizers be trying to build an online community before they even move to event tech solutions for this kind of year-round engagement?  

Nolan: Yeah. You know, my background is in content, so I may be a little bit biased, but I tend to think that we should have been building communities all along. 

We should be adding value upfront and creating those communities by either entertaining or educating or inspiring and bringing people together with similar interests. I do think that it’s something that you should do. You certainly shouldn’t wait to have a platform in place to begin building your community. But where you build it and how you build it, I think, is important.  

We have a customer that we just put out a case study for – MAD//Fest – and they are one of the biggest marketing agencies in the UK. They hold the largest marketing festival in the UK each year, and in 2018 and 2019, that was in-person. In 2020, they pivoted to a five-day virtual event with 23,000 attendees and 700 speakers. 

That virtual event was in June, and by that point, I think we were are all starting to feel a little bit of fatigue, even though it was still early in the pandemic. And yet they had built enough trust with their audience and set the expectations for what kind of experience they were going to get was there that they could have that many people show up to a virtual event. 

They pivoted back to hybrid in 2021. And that was equally successful, using all the tools and things on our Webex Events platform to keep their audience engaged. So, I think they’re a perfect example of if they have that community and they know that they’ve gained the trust of that community, then it doesn’t matter how they engage with them, whether the event is in person or hybrid or virtual, or whether it’s year-round. They’ve already got that trust and relationship built, and their audience and community is going to follow them wherever they go.

Interested in learning more about how MAD/Fest pivoted from in-person to virtual to hybrid events? Download the case study.  

Angela: Yeah. I mean, I guess that’s one big advantage of having an online community. You don’t have to keep reaching out to your audience again and again. They’re already there. They’re already engaged. I mean, what better example to follow than an organization that specializes in marketing?  

“…that’s one big advantage of having an online community. You don’t have to keep reaching out to your audience again and again. They’re already there.”

Angela Tupper, Deputy Editor, EventMB

Building communities to help bridge the gap between events

Angela: So, it sounds like you’re on the right track. You know, this is something that’s happening. People are starting to do it. It seems that one of the key elements here comes down to bridging the gap between events. Are there any specific strategies or approaches that work, especially well at keeping engagement going, like contest games, discussion boards, informal networking activities? Can you give some specifics there? 

Nolan: Yeah, I think those are all great examples. I have a blog about how you apply the marketing funnel to your event marketing strategy and some specific tactics and things that you can look at there that can help you. But I think the bigger macro trend to look at here is that it’s about the gaps in between the events. For our customers and attendees, that’s called their life, all the gaps.

That’s the entire customer journey. And so, what we’re really talking about here, is about building a community so that we’re always touching base. We’re always connected. Because of platforms like Webex Events being able to measure both quantitatively and qualitatively what’s happening in the platform and what people want, we are able to connect and bridge the gaps and to have events be just a piece of that larger customer journey. And to be able to measure it in the future the same way that you would paid media spend or any other kind of marketing spend.  

So really, I think it’s less rethinking or reinventing the wheel about what do we do in between all these events and more about merging and connecting with your broader marketing team, your customer success team, and your sales team—and recognizing that events are really milestones along the journey and that you have the opportunity to add even more value by putting that content or smaller events or engagement opportunities in front of that audience year-round and keep them engaged.

Angela: Right. I mean, you get to know your audience so much better. You get to be a part of their lives. You get to know what’s going on in their lives in between. And I guess it sounds like to some extent you’re saying that can kind of determine what you decide to focus on.  

Nolan: Yeah. It’s funny too. G2 just came out with a new report where Webex Events was ranked in the top 20 marketing software.  

We were the highest-ranked event platform in the category. We were up there with HubSpot and MailChimp and those in the Top 20 Marketing Software category. And so, thinking about events as just a piece of that larger journey, I think is something that’s happening more and more. 

Curious what our customers are saying about us? Check out our blog post: Webex Events Earns Spot on G2’s 2022 Best Marketing Software List. 

And to go back to your question about ways to do it. In addition to that blog, we also do have an on-demand, virtual event that we did a couple of months back. It’s called Attract, Engage, Convert. That is exactly about this. It’s about kind of extending that journey, talking about what you can do prior to the event, what you can do after the day of the event, and then all the time in between to keep your audience engaged. So, I definitely recommend taking a look at that or having the audience take a look at that. 

Angela: I mean, yeah, that stat that you mentioned, I mean, in what you’re saying now, it just goes to show that events are such an integral part of an organization’s overall marketing strategy. Those things are emerging more and more. 

Interested in learning how to extend your attendees’ event journey and keep them engaged even after your event is done? Check out our on-demand webinar, Attract, Engage, Convert.  

The advantage of building communities within an event platform instead of relying on social media networks

Angela: So, I wanted to pose a little bit of a difficult question to you now. I’m pushing you a little bit here. What is the advantage of bridging these communities through an event platform instead of relying on social media networks? And you sort of already touched on this right from the get-go when I asked you, like, why now? Why is the future of event communities now?  

But I want to kind of ask you that question a little more pointedly now. Why an event platform and not LinkedIn or Facebook or whatever? 

Nolan: Sure. So, I lead the content discipline at Webex Events. That includes social media. And I think that’s something we’ve been seeing for close to 10 years. I think 2014 is when… there’s a company, locally in my area that, that put out a study, I think back in 2014, talking about the drop in organic reach even to your own audiences in places like Facebook and Twitter.  

So, that’s a trend that’s going to continue. That’s a trend that’s even starting to go into things like search engines and Google. They’re making it harder and harder for you to reach your own audience. Back in the early days of Facebook, people were buying their followers. Everything was follower counts and how big your audience is because everything you put out on your feed was going to go to that audience. 

Now it’s 2% of the things that you put out go to even the people who have said, “please show me the stuff from this.” You don’t want your audience and your community to be built on a borrowed platform or a platform that you don’t own and have control over. That, I feel like, is the biggest reason. 

But in addition to that, I do still think that there’s a lot of validity to it… you still have to use social media. That’s still a tool in the tool belt. And in addition to that, going out and finding where these communities already exist. Right? You’re not going to be the first person probably who brings some of these folks together. 

They’re connected on LinkedIn and LinkedIn groups. They’re connected in Quora. They’re connected in subreddits. They might be connected on Discord and things like that. So, a big part of it is building your own community and staying engaged with your community. And building that trust is putting yourself out there and going out into other communities and pulling them in and building your community more organically that way. 

“… a big part of it is building your own community and staying engaged with your community.” 

Nolan Ether, Content Marketing Leader, Webex Events

Audience questions

“Engaging an audience year-round may work for one large event, but what about for smaller events? How long would you engage the audience, and in what ways?” 

Nolan: For smaller events, what I would probably do is just have them more often. I still think I would go back to the idea of having it be a part of the larger journey. If it’s not an event, you’re touching your audience through emails, through content, through social media… through all of these different opportunities. 

But I would say having smaller events more often that require less budget, less planning… things like that. You know, we’re even talking about that now. We have a huge hybrid event that we’re going to be doing sometime in May, I believe. That’s going to follow a couple of big announcements, and we’re going to have a lot of fun there. 

But in the meantime, we also have some virtual events planned. We’re looking at some fireside chats. We’re doing things like this with different groups and staying in front of our audience in that way. So, I would say again, think of your events, however big or small you are, your company, think of whatever your biggest event is as kind of that milestone and then think through prior to the event what are all the things I need to do to prepare somebody to hear that thing?

Because when you’re at an actual event, that’s the time to further the relationship, further the trust, and deepen the connections, right. And then in between is where you continue to entertain, to educate, to build that trust so that you can get them to that next event. And then you take big steps forward in the relationship at events.  

That’s the way I am  thinking about events are currently. 

Angela: Absolutely makes sense. Makes absolute sense. You got to think about how to keep that community always on in one way or another. 

“Does the shift from face-to-face events to virtual events shift the marketing approach for those events as well? 

Nolan: I think it works the same. I mean, more or less. I think whenever they’re not in person with you, they’re somewhere online. I think there are probably benefits and differences that you can certainly do to reach the audiences in different ways. And I would say, at the events… you can’t do as many brand activations and exciting experiential stuff in person. 

And I think we’re going to see, because of the pivot to virtual and hybrid events, we’re going to see the expectations for in-person events go up. And so, I would think of it from that standpoint, but as far as promotion and things like that, there are differences.

Angela: Yeah, I mean, you’re right. It’s about the time in-between. That’s life. And people are online for them for all sorts of parts of their lives…

Thank you so much, Nolan. I really love picking your brain here about event communities. Lots of great thoughts that you had to share.  

Nolan: Thank you, Angela. It’s been a pleasure. 

Build deeper connections with Webex Events’ online event community platform

Engagement shouldn’t end the second your event is over. By building a community within your event, you can keep members engaged all year round by providing a source of support, content, and networking.  

Webex Events’ online event community platform allows marketers and event organizers to build communities for continuous attendee engagement. With Webex Events, you can: 

  • Keep your community active with networking, roundtables, games, and more. 
  • Personalize the attendee experience with customized content and messaging. 
  • Customize the look and feel of your community to your brand.  
  • Post on social walls and participate in ongoing conversations.  
  • Share and manage exclusive content.  

Interested in building an event community that fosters deep, lasting connections among your attendees? Request a personalized demo to see how Webex Events can help you elevate the attendee experience.