What is an event without a community? No, this isn’t a bad Christmas cracker joke, it’s a vital question you need to think about for 2016. This is a guide to building your event communication plan, and this is why you need one:
Can you sustain a growing event without a strong community? Maybe, but you’ll find life much easier if you have a large, engaged and growing community to support you.
It’s an important topic, and a simple Google search for ‘How to build an event community’ reveals almost 500,000,000 results.
Yet the only way to build an event community is through consistent, useful and timely communication.
And there is clearly a knowledge gap, given the much smaller number of results around planning for event communications.
Given communication is at the heart of a successful community and successful long-term events, in this post we’re going to provide you with a 52-week event communication plan and template to help you really nail it in 2016.
A strong community and growing event will be sure to follow.
Post-event (weeks 1-6)
Many an event communication plan starts a few months – maybe even just a few weeks – out from the event. And they’re essentially marketing and sales plans. While this is better than nothing, it’s not quite a communications plan; and it won’t necessarily help you build a strong community all year round.
So in this plan, we’re going to start at week 1. Yep, that’s a full 51 weeks before your event takes place – and most likely the week after your last one just ended.
The post-event period could last up to 6 weeks, and so we’ve got 6 key messages to match, which are:
- Thanks for attending + Post-event survey
- Social media summary
- Pre-register for next year
- Post-event report
- Key findings from survey
The thanks for attending and post-event survey are hugely important. They should go out ideally within 24 hours of your event ending, so everyone’s memory is fresh and you get the most accurate feedback possible.
The following week is a good time to recap the key moments from your event as captured on social media – whether that’s a series of tweets, photos on Instagram or Facebook posts. You could always use an app like Storify to pull everything together into a nicely presented narrative.
Hot on the heels of this reminder about how good your event was, there should be your first major call to action. See how many people you can get to pre-register for next year’s event. Ideally this would include a deposit, but if not just a simple pledge of their intention will help you get a feel for how sticky your audience is, or how many new faces you’ll need to attract.
If your event was educational in any way, for example a conference, then the 4th week is a great time to release a post-event report detailing the key trends and findings from the event. If you captured data at the event using apps like Sli.do or DoubleDutch, this is a great place to include those too.
If you also recorded any of the event – speaker sessions at a conference, acts at a music festival – then you can again use these to draw your community back to the event (and show those who didn’t make it what they missed out on). Due to the editing process, it will often be hard to get your videos out much sooner than this without paying a premium.
Lastly in the post-event communications period, you should tell people what you’ve learned from the post-event survey. What did people like? What will be improved next year? Now they know their comments have been taken on board. This adds a lot of credibility to your event and helps to build loyalty.
Community building (weeks 7-21)
Now comes the tricky part for an organiser wanting to stay in touch with their community all year around. The post-event flow has faded and you’re probably a while away from having some big announcements about your next event.
So what do you talk about?
Here are 4 ideas for your event communication plan that you can run on a cycle, alternating them each week for a 15-16 week period.
Thought leadership blog posts: Whether you’re running a conference, a charity fundraiser or a workshop, you’ve probably got some opinions and insight into the things your audience cares about. So write about them!
Take the time one a month to write a blog post that you think will be of interest to your audience, based on your particular experience, expertise or view point.
Interviews: Interviewing people of interest to your community is a great way to produce valuable content without too much leg work. For example you could do it all via email, sending a half dozen questions to your interviewee to answer.
The interview could easily be with a speaker, sponsor, artists or anyone else of interest to your community.
Content curation: This means rounding up content related to a theme, and then ideally adding your spin on it. So once a month you could find the 10 best tweets in your industry; share the 5 best posts you’ve read; or list the best album releases of month. Valuable content without backbreaking work = smart communication!
Exclusive sponsor offers: Everyone loves a bargain, and many valuable businesses have been built off this simple idea. So why not leverage the same principle for your event? Work with any of your sponsors, exhibitors, supporters or media partners to provide an exclusive special offer or discount to their service.
Assuming it’s relevant to your audience, you’re providing value to everyone. It’s a win-win-win and you might find people start following you or subscribing to your newsletter just to get wind of the latest offer first.
Event planning (weeks 22-33)
With roughly 6 months to go, now’s the time to start mixing key announcements about your event into the event communication plan, while maintaining a drum-beat of community building content too.
Some big announcements you might want to include are:
- Save the date (once you’ve confirmed it)
- Keynote speaker / headline act confirmed (or any other major component to your programme)
Pre-live teaser (weeks 34-37)
The next stage in your event communication plan moves you into promotion and marketing territory, as you start to gear up for ticket sales, but the event page isn’t quite live yet.
This is a good time to:
Talk about your event’s unique value proposition or mission statement, so everyone understands why it is a must-attend event, different from last year, and stands out from your competition.
Announce a super early bird rate to get pre-event bookings in, even if nothing else is confirmed other than the date, venue and maybe your headline act / keynote speaker.
Explain the key themes your event will explore, so people can start getting excited about the content and what the experience will be like.
Let everyone know when the super early bird ends, when the event page is live and the detailed programme is announced.
Event live (weeks 38-39)
With the official launch of your event, and the event page being live, now’s a great time to tell the world (and particularly your audience) about the detailed programme, key features and any other key selling points you’ve had under wraps until now.
This could be followed up with a key stakeholder interview (your headline sponsor, chairman, MC etc.), because you shouldn’t ignore the value-led content in favour of exclusively sales-led content.
Main marketing push (weeks 40-49)
The next stage in your event communication plan is the main marketing push, which, combined with the ‘Last call’ phase, is typically about 12 weeks long. For much more detail on your event marketing strategy, we’ve got a separate post and template for this phase.
However looking briefly at some of the messages you can communicate over the next few weeks, you might want to talk about:
- The sponsors, exhibitors and other event supporters
- Announce the end of the ‘normal’ early bird
- Tell people where to stay; and what to do while in town if you’re expecting a lot of out-of-town visitors
- Reveal the final programme (assuming it’s changed since the first announcement) and also release an interview with your keynote speaker or headline act.
- Write a blog post and newsletter outlining the 10 benefits of attending
- Proactively answer your communities FAQs about the event: Dress code, catering, how to get there, key timings, apps to download etc.
And don’t forget to keep up a steady drum-beat of non-sales communications too!
Last call (weeks 50-51)
2 weeks before your event, you’re into the ‘last call’ phase. Now is the time to play one of your strongest cards in your event communication plan if it’s a business event where networking will inevitably important: Who you’ll meet
The ‘who you’ll meet’ email and blog post should highlight all the biggest brands names (if not the exact delegates name and job title, just the company name should do), which helps sew the seeds of social proof and will no doubt tip any waverers over the edge.
If it’s a consumer event, you can tell people who is coming from their friendship group.
The week before your event, and possibly as close as the day before, will see you send out a ‘Final call to register’ and galvanise any last-minute bookers to buy now!
Day of event (week 52)
Wow, are we at the event already? Boy do 52 weeks fly by when you’re having fun and communicating a lot!
While there’s a million and one things you can add to your onsite event communication plan, I would focus on 3 in particular:
Key timings so everyone knows what’s going on and where they need to be. This is particularly important if you’re running multiple tracks or have more than one stage.
Attendee conversation amplification is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse and share the best communications happening amongst your attendees.
Event highlights are your curated parts of the event that you want to make sure everyone sees, whether they’re at the event or not, so your attendees don’t miss out and non-attendees start to get a real sense of FOMO.
Once your event has finished, you can scroll back to the top of this post and start again!
Yep, the life of a successful event organiser isn’t easy…but it can be hugely rewarding and being a leading figure in your community thanks to your strong communication will pay off big time over the long term.
Now you’ve read the post, why not grab the template to help you manage your year-round event communications plan?
(Get the full unblurred template by downloading)