Guest post: Creating Campfire Communities

Do you want to know how to use social media to grow your meeting attendance? It’s simple.

Stop using it to advertise your meeting or conference. Instead, leverage the power of social conversations to grow affinity for your brand, conference or meeting.

Create little campfires via Twitter Chats, private video-chats, Facebook or LinkedIn Groups and any other social platform where you can bring likeminded individuals together. Position your meeting or conference as the campfire around which everyone wants to gather to meet new folks, make new friends, learn new knowledge and improve their life.

campfire

Fanning the flame at a Montana campfire.

Then leverage social channels during and after your meeting to fan the flame for next year.

Let me explain what I’m talking about…

Stimulating Relevant Online Discussion
A few years ago, my company, Converse Digital, partnered with noted diabetes blogger Scott Johnson to begin a multi-year effort to stimulate online discussions about severe diabetic complications. We needed to get folks talking about complications so that diabetics start paying more attention to these things and to create opportunities for my client to engage in conversations.

As we built those conversations a funny thing happened: a community developed. While true, there was already an established diabetic community online, there really wasn’t one focused on scary long-term complications. But just the act of engaging in conversations via social media channels ignited previously unforeseen embers of opportunity.

The Social Media Strategy
Fan the flame. That was it. Our entire social media strategy could be summed up in one sentence: fan the flame.

We kept talking to the community. And they talked back. As the volume of those conversations grew, an opportunity emerged. An opportunity to gather all of those voices into a single place, at a single time, to share in a single conversation in the form of a virtual conference dedicated to creating hope amongst diabetics.

And it was all made possible by a brand. Think about that for a moment…your brand or meeting as a campfire.

Leveraging The Conversation
By focusing on creating hope, not selling a product, we would turn a campfire into a bonfire. With the power of social media (nothing can spread a message faster or farther) we started spreading the word about this great new conference. Then we crossed our fingers and prayed that someone would show up.

Luckily for all of us, over 250 people showed up. After three hours and three panels made up of panelists spread across the USA, we had succeeded in turning that campfire conversation into a bonfire that would continue to burn for the next year.

With little more than a SurveyMonkey survey and a bit more effort via email and social media, we were able to gain enormous post-event insights. We then used these insights to keep the fire burning while we planned version two of the conference.

Continuing The Conversation
Throughout 2013 and into 2014 we continued to engage with our audience in various campfire conversations. We invested in video technology that allowed us to have 20 – 25 concurrent video feeds and we used those to create small, invite only, private video chats where we could engage our audience more deeply than via Facebook or Twitter.

We continued to learn. More importantly, we continued to earn the trust, respect—and in some cases, adoration—of our community.

And then another really funny thing happened. Our campers started talking on our behalf. They started talking about the conference. They would tell anyone that would listen how it was needed and why folks should attend it. Major, established diabetic communities supported us by exposing their community to our message. In effect, all of these campers became unpaid ambassadors for the conference. They were inviting their friends to our campfires so they could see for themselves why they should attend next year’s conference.

Each person’s blog post, Facebook or Twitter update served to cast the embers of our campfire farther. Starting more little campfires. And in year two, our bonfire (conference) drew just over 500 of those embers who once again came together to spend a half-day stoking the flame of hope.

Using social media to grow attendance to your next event is easy. Stop promoting your event and start engaging your community.

Tom Martin
About the author: Tom is a no nonsense, straight-talking 20-year veteran of the advertising and marketing business who favors stiff drinks, good debates and helping companies grow their businesses.

As an internationally recognized digital marketing keynote speaker, blogger, founder of Converse Digital and author of The Invisible Sale, Tom marries his two passions, marketing & technology, to teach companies how to leverage digital marketing channels to achieve and sustain sales growth, enhance brand perception and painlessly prospect for new customers.

His first book, The Invisible Sale, is now available for sale at TheInvisibleSale.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMartin or contact him at Converse Digital.

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