Planning Live Events for Your Startup Community
As online communities grow they tend to move towards running live events – people still want to meet face-to-face and have real life experiences together.
Luckily, we have the technology today that allows community managers from any location to put together a live event for their community.
As the community manager for a VC in California, I managed over a dozen live monthly events all over the United States. While a dozen might not seem like a lot, and there are definitely companies doing a lot more (like Duolingo who does over 200 a month), I think this will help anyone who is starting to plan live events from a remote location.
Organizing Live Community Events
To start with, you’ll want to be very organized. We had checklists for every event and a calendar with tasks for each day/week.
For example, on a given Monday I would contact the hosts for the next week’s events and ask that they verify with their guests that the event is just over a week away. The guests were then asked to send in any presentation files they would be using for the event, and our hosts were asked to add the presentation template slides to the beginning and end of the documents.
This is just an example of how intricate the planning was and needs to be for your events. We will discuss the checklist further below.
Other aspects we kept in mind included:
• Volunteer hosts – We had people from the area volunteer to be our host, for a year at a time. I found these people by placing a call to action in our monthly email newsletters, posting on social media, and carefully explaining the benefits of working with our VC.
Namely, the VC would make introductions for them that would support the host’s own business initiatives. The host represented the VC company and would continuously meet people in C-level positions by representing us.
It’s important to note that the hosts were held to high standards, and it was made clear the position did involve a certain level of work – hosting the events and finding guests for the events. All hosts had access to our host playbook which explained our expectations and guided them through what each event should look like and how to go about finding guests.
• Event space – we had to find companies in each area that had space to hold our events. This meant building relationships with large companies in each city that had the space and interest in hosting events.
For many of these companies, the benefit to hosting came in the way of recruiting. HR teams were often at the events (with free tickets) and were networking with attendees to discuss potentially working together in the future.
Some of the companies offered a snack/refreshments during the event and even had tables set up for their recruiting discussions. Since many of the attendees were product/software developers they were constantly in demand at the host companies.
Please keep in mind that not all companies will easily see the benefit in working with you, you might have to pay for the space, so it’s a good idea to use your negotiating skills and share all of the ways they can benefit from hosting your events.
• Tickets – We used Eventbrite to sell tickets for around $25 and had people RSVP, this helped with small costs we had such as snacks and a videographer and also helped with attendance because people were more likely to come if they paid for a ticket.
We did use email marketing to get the word out about each event, specifically to people in the area, and to people who had gone to previous events. We offered early bird prices, and gave free tickets to partners, host companies, and guests who were speaking.
• Videographer – We had to find contract videographers who could come and get decent sound and video for each event, our budget was around $300. This isn’t a lot of money, but we often found students who were willing to do it and we could offer regular work. We required them to get the video/audio to us digitally within 24 hours so we could upload it to our Vimeo channel, we had one channel for each city.
• Email Marketing – We used a lot of email marketing to the members who were subscribed, we asked them to bring guests, gave them opportunities to be guests to be on a monthly panel, offered discounts for early bird tickets, and sent NPS surveys immediately after each event.
The NPS surveys were sent a half hour before the end of each event, we used Survey Monkey for this and had to manually schedule the emails to go out through Eventbrite. There is probably a better process for this, but sending the email so immediately increased the amount of responses we received.
• Panel Guests – The host usually found people who would agree to be guests, but when they couldn’t we would help them find someone. The format of the event often varied from networking dinners, to panels, to a presentation about product creation.
• Schedule – We adhered to a very strict schedule for when hosts needed to have someone selected for the event and that person needed to have their presentation ready if they were going to present one. Our schedule included a checklist of things to do leading up to each event such as checking with the host company to assure they could host that month, we had a snack, the guest was locked in, the guest had their welcome email and knew when they had to be there, etc.
• Meetings & Support – We regularly (monthly) met with hosts, the host company, and anyone else contributing to the events, virtually. We would host several people at once and help them with questions they had, ideas for getting more people to attend, dealing with guest presenters, and sticking to the checklist. It was important to be very involved with the hosts and we started an online message board to further support them.
Community Live Events Checklist
For every event and task we had a checklist. Here’s a deeper look at the checklist:
Host Event Checklist
- July 1-31st Find guest for September event
- Email introduction to Community Manager and Guest once guest has agreed to event. Include ‘Guest Activities’ list in email so that the guest knows what is expected of them. Email should be sent no later than August 1st.
- August 8th – Send remind email to guest one month before event.
- August 12th – Ask guest to verify topic for their presentation by August 20th.
- August 20th – Ask guest to send topic to Community Manager.
- August 27th – Ask guest to send presentation by the 1st of September.
- September 1st – Get presentation to Community Manager, add the template slides at the beginning and end of the presentation. Community Manager will forward presentation to the host site contact.
Event Marketing Checklist
Event – September 8th
- End of month newsletter in June – include August/September events list for all cities at the end of the newsletter.
- 1st Wednesday in August – Email announcing new event/guest to area attendees. Include early bird sale for 24 hours. Ticket sales to end the evening of the event.
- 3rd Wednesday in August – Email topic to area attendees. Share that the tickets are limited based on how many tickets have already sold.
- 1 week before event – Email those registered and remind them about event.
- 3 days before event – Email area attendees (email list) and remind them about upcoming event, increase tickets by $5.
Please keep in mind these checklists only represent the actual lists used and are meant to show how intricate planning for community events can be.
There is now software you can use to help you manage several live community events, it looks very promising, it’s called Planning Pod.
I hope this post helps you consider how you’ll plan events. With the growth of online communities, you will undoubtedly run into the opportunity to host live events soon and you’ll want to make sure everything is covered. If I can help at all, please contact me here.