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How to... generate revenue from community building

Sophie Ahmed, CEO and co-founder of the Virtual Events Institute spoke to Michael Gietzen, managing director of Identity Group, about community building for revenue generation around events.

Michael Gietzen: Many event professionals have pivoted to digital and are now wondering how to create a community and monetize it. I'll start with a simple question – what is community building?

Sophie Ahmed: Very simply, it is about the ecosystem your event serves – whether its sponsors, exhibitors, delegates, speakers, stakeholders, associations. Once identified, you will need to bring them all under the umbrella of your event brand.

MG: Why is it so important when planning an event to think about those stakeholders?

SA: All of this was very relevant, even pre-Covid, but it has obviously been accelerated. Ultimately, the more customer touch points you have with your community and, the more you nurture those relationships, the more value they’re going to get from their involvement with your event brand. And so, they'll be more likely to renew their spend – or increase it – and amplify the message to their contacts so that you leverage the network effect.

Community building is event building and it drives revenue growth. The community feeds the event and the event feeds the community, and they can really play off of each other.

Rather than a one-off explosion of activity around the annual event, there is a steady year-round presence. Obviously, it peaks at the event, but you can deliver mini-events for your micro-communities within your community 365 days a year through content or networking, for example.

There are many opportunities for revenue growth from community building. As we just touched upon, by increasing value for your customers, they’re going to come back and they’re going to come back with more spend and hopefully tell their mates about it.

Also, subscriptions and a gated community behind a paywall can provide a recurring revenue stream.

MG: Which is what publishers have done so well historically. It's kind of the Holy Grail. It's about taking a single event and creating a year-round community around that event.

SA: Exactly. Publishing used the original subscription-based model for community building, and the key to that was data. If you have the data, you can start off by launching quite softly and having some sort of softer value ads before you go into a full-on, gated behind the paywall community.

The core thing is understanding your community. Within the ecosystem are cohorts or micro-communities. Each of those will have different pain points that can be addressed through tailored content or networking events.

Anything that’s going to give them more value will drive revenue growth, but it will also put your event brand at the heart of the community and beat off the competition.

If your event brand is the one that’s giving value to your industry year-round, and at the event itself, your brand can become the number one leader. You will also get content from your community to use at your event and vice versa. There will be lots of lovely on-demand content you can post out throughout the year.

Equally, by listening to what’s going on in your community and understanding behavior and emotions, how they’re interacting with each other, how they’re interacting with your brand, you can create content that will go on to be used at the event as well.

MG: As live events begin to return, how do you think events will evolve?

SA: What we’re experiencing now is the industry being disrupted – the digitization of events. It's not necessarily saying it’s a virtual event or a hybrid event, or a physical event. It’s just an event that’s been digitized.

Communities can be found on site – at the bar, or through conference streams that are created for different segments of an industry. Who is in Theatre 1, 2 and 3? These will be your micro-communities.

MG: What do you think are the key revenue-generating activities that can be done?

SA: When you think about a physical event, you usually have a conference producer doing the research calls and it's very process-driven. Digital is more fluid – it’s more a case of temperature checking. A community manager can now to listen to your audience every day, identify key trends, and launch new products – anything that drives your community back to listen to you, such as whitepapers or one-to-one sessions, or meet the speaker slots - all of which can be monetized.

Hopefully, all these activities lead people to the physical event where they’ll spend even more money with you. The visitor list can be used for digital marketing and retargeting.

MG: In your opinion, what do you think are the key marks of success?

SA: If your inventory’s full, you’ve got a winner. On a softer level, look at engagement. The average rule is that 10% of your community will be engaged, 1% will be really active and 9% semi-active. You can then look to grow this to 15-20%. This is definitely a good sign.

The other way is to identify who your ambassadors will be, particularly within each micro-community. You will want senior people for the kudos and junior people for the volume and largest following. This leads to amplification, the network effect, and organic growth.

MG: That's lots of food for thought, thank you. There is so much to be done with your community, not just for the event, but for 365 days a year. Sophie, thank you so much for joining me.

SA: Thank you very much for having me.

This blog was originally published at


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