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13 expert quotes: How to build community around virtual events

Eric Ly, founder of Hub and co-founder of LinkedIn, was joined by event experts from FT Live, Freeman Company, MDG and MeetingPlay for VEI’s recent virtual summit on building and monetizing online communities.

One of 2021’s biggest and most profitable growth areas for event organizers is building – and monetizing – community around virtual events.

To explore why online communities are vital for the future of events and how to build and monetize them, VEI hosted a virtual summit this month featuring an exclusive keynote from Eric Ly, founder of Hub and co-founder of LinkedIn.

The panel session also featured Orson Francescone, managing director of FT Live; Sherry Huss, innovator-in-residence of Freeman Company; Jacquelyn Wells, vice-president and strategist of MDG; and Joe Schwinger, CEO of MeetingPlay, who also sponsored the event as a platform provider.

Here are 13 of the best quotes and tips:

"Communities have the opportunity to fill in the gaps between events – they impact and support events. We must make events and communities worth it to carry on. Last year, the advent of virtual events led to more people coming online and understanding this digital medium of where we can interact. This provides a better chance for people to interact on something like an online community platform where they can have meaningful engagement, which will lead to more monetization opportunities.”

Eric Ly, LinkedIn co-founder and founder of Hub

“Pre-covid, FT had 25,000 delegates registered across all its events in the world. This year we have 250,000. When we return to some sort of physical event, that digital component will become a massive marketing funnel for the in-person event – and that's a very powerful proposition.”

Orson Francescone, managing director, FT Live

“After 2020, digital will now be at the core of all that we do around design building and delivering events. Events will no longer be a moment in time and space, but it will be a year-long conversation. Content will become even more important than the overall mix. As we experiment with new forms of monetization for sponsors, the community itself needs to be embraced and supported like never before.”

Sherry Huss, innovator-in-residence, Freeman Company

“Pre-Covid, the industry relied heavily, or even entirely, on events to engage our communities – it was essentially our only channel for a lot of us. With digital, we have this opportunity to seek people within our orbit year-round, whether it's through virtual events, community forums, or content strategies. User generated content is important for community building, too.”

Jacquelyn Wells, vice-president and strategist, MDG

“Capture your audience with a big bang at a virtual event and then give them a reason to come together again before your next meeting by building in micro events. This will not only build your community through word-of-mouth, but also keep them satisfied until the next big gathering. We're encouraging our clients to think about FOMO. As we move into hybrid, we will make decisions on what content is going to be on-site and what content will be virtual. You can create an appetite for your virtual audience so they feel the need to have some of that content from the on-property component.”

Joe Schwinger, co-founder and CEO, MeetingPlay

“Would I recommend creating your own community associated with an event or leveraging existing communities, such as LinkedIn, to expand impact? There is value to doing both. An event, especially a recurring one, has a community around it already, it’s just hidden. Communities on LinkedIn can provide a funnel to gain more users and to reach a broader audience who may not already be a part of your community.”

Eric Ly

“Event attendance isn’t necessarily about quantity anymore – it's going to be about the quality of attendees that we're delivering and that's the major opportunity for all of us.”

Sherry Huss, innovator-in-residence, Freeman Company

“The days of charging a delegate £2000 to attend a physical event are gone. I love digital events and I think there are more positives than negatives, but one of the negatives is that pricing power on the delegates side has just evaporated. So, how can we leverage some pricing power? Strong content. And by that, I mean, not just the speakers, but are there any additional reports you can provide your delegates? Are there any actionable pieces of data you can provide them? People will pay for that, but they will find it hard to pay for three speakers at a conference. Online networking is in its infancy but as soon as we can optimize that valuable connection piece, we can start leveraging the delegate piece as well.”

Orson Francescone

“Community building is a different animal to running events. Communities are ongoing endeavors that require a very different focus. What constitutes a strong community? It starts with events and it comes down to a question of intention. There is a lot of intention when people go to events – they're there to learn, network or exhibit. With communities it's less clear what they are supposed to do. The aim is to capture that intention and engagement at events and transform it into communities.”

Eric Ly

“Inventory items to monetize? Because you are creating a content hub to bring communities together, you can monetize through ads, ad-supported email or newsletters, or repackaging content. You can have a paywall, as well a subscription model. And then, for virtual events, there are sponsored and paid-for versions.”

Jacquelyn Wells

“Don’t make virtual delegates feel like second-class citizens. Make them feel part of the on property experience and you can do this by creating ambassadors for on-site to facilitate content to the online environment. Identify ambassadors to grow your community, while also satisfying the needs of the pre-existing community. This will be really important for hybrid events.”

Joe Schwinger

“Creating a framework for building community, having a manifesto, clear goals and a shared purpose helps to build your own community. Look to other communities like LinkedIn or partner communities to help you start yours.”

Sherry Huss

“In the next few years, there will be an evolution towards more meaningful communities and we're all going to be exploring how we can start to link these various communities together to make monetization opportunities even richer. It can be daunting to jump into community building but the important thing is to start.”

Eric Ly

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