Online Communities & Groups

The best ROI of any digital marketing channel for B2B event

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a community. When event organisers talk about how they market an event, they often refer to event attendees as their community and, as a marketing guy, I can see why: Sponsors and exhibitors would much rather support an event that brings together a community of like-minded people than a hodgepodge of random visitors.

However, the cynic in me knows that a community is more than a group of people that gathers for a few days every year – even if they do share similar and deep professional interests.

Maybe I’m being a bit unfair. After all, I’m not the community police and I can’t find a time limit on community in the Oxford dictionary.

One thing’s for sure though – as event marketers we know the value of community, as do our sponsors, exhibitors and visitors. The best way to create a true community around your event that lasts more than a few days is by taking it online.

Before the thought of taking your ‘community’ online gives you the shakes, remember that an online community is simply an extension of your live event (except that it’s available 52 weeks a year). This means that the riskiest part of starting online community, getting proof of concept, has already been achieved. You’re already halfway to knowing what your audience wants and how best to keep them engaged.”

LinkedIn Groups: A home for your community

While there are literally hundreds of community platforms (we’ve tried about a gazillion of them), the number one starting platform to build any online community on is LinkedIn Groups.

Really – LinkedIn Groups? You must be joking!

I know LinkedIn Groups don’t have the best reputation and the ones you belong to are probably filled with self promotion, broadcasting and very little conversation, so your skepticism is completely justified.

However, you don’t belong to a LinkedIn Group run by one of our talented Community Managers (just saying). A gifted community manager will manage a group with caring hands – hands that don’t tolerate off-topic, self-promoting and spammy content. Hands that nurture engagement.

To make running a community even more exciting, LinkedIn has finally realised that Groups have value and has decided to make them somewhere people love to be.

And finally, what puts Linkedin Groups way ahead of other community/group platforms (sadly this includes facebook groups) is the fact that you have a LOT of professional information on each member (information sitting behind a GDPR-walled garden) and multiple GDPR compliant methods to communicate with them.

Did you know that as a Linkedin Group owner/manager you can communicate with your members using one-on-one messaging as many times you like? This comes with a ‘health warning’ — do not under any circumstance abuse this privilege.

I may be preaching to the choir here, but based on how few event marketers actually own highly engaged, healthy online communities to support their events, I’m going to go ahead and preach!

Event marketing benefits of owning a community 

1.  Easy access to potential visitors/attendees

Community members are your event’s returning and potential visitors, so your community becomes one of your most important marketing channels. Community members are already familiar with your brand and industry, so are very likely to jump when registrations open for your next event.

Recent event – 590 registrations from a LinkedIn Group

2.  A marketing haven protected from GDPR

With the arrival of GDPR (sorry for uttering that dreadful acronym), email open and click through rates are plummeting. Just take a look at this email/community comparison chart:

Bounce rates of 9.60%*



Cost to acquire GDPR email opt-in

£30 to £50 per contact

VS Cost to recruit a member into a community £6.50 (no messaging/email restrictions once they join)
Email Opt-in rates 2.5% to 5% VS Invite to join rate 10% growing to 30%
Email open rates 18.16%* VS Community messaging/email open rates 20% to 50%
CTR’s of 7.77%* VS CTR’s of 10% to 35%

* Constant Contact

3.  A social selling platform to generate sponsor and exhibitor leads

Once the community is actively engaging, invite existing and potential sponsors and exhibitors to join. If they’re willing to spend thousands sponsoring or exhibiting at your event, they won’t hesitate to join a community with their target prospects in it.
It’s vital that your Community Manager doesn’t let them to start hitting up your community members with their sales & marketing material, but they should certainly be encouraged to join conversations.

I recommend that one or two of your most social event sales people join the community. Here are three strategies to get them talking to their prospects.

  • 1) A classic social selling strategy is to get one of your sales people to post an easy-to-answer question within the community, then get the Community Manager to ask your potential sponsors/exhibitors to comment and offer their insight on that post.There are two possible outcomes:The potential sponsor/exhibitor comments on your salesperson’s post, the salesperson thanks the prospect for commenting and connects with them to become 1st level connections (they have now moved top of funnel).
    The potential sponsor/exhibitor doesn’t comment, but is now aware of the salesperson (helping the next step in the sales process).

    2) A mid-to-long term social selling strategy is getting your event salespeople to successfully connect (become 1st level connections) with these sponsors/exhibitors prospects and then start the relationship-building process. Because both of them are members of the same community, and because the community manager has already created awareness, you should be able to successfully connect with 50-75% of your prospects.

    3) Time is of the essence – we use the functionality that allows group managers (your sales manager) to message group members, in this case potential sponsors/exhibitors.

    An overt sales pitch is NOT recommended! We’ve had great success using what we call ‘referral messages’ sent to group members who are potential sponsors/exhibitors:

4.  Event awareness – 52 weeks a year

You’re never going to stop using the other event marketing tactics in your arsenal to promote your next event, but your online community – your past and potential attendees, visitors, sponsors and exhibitors – are all, at an absolute minimum, already at the event ‘awareness’ phase. They’re members of your community, are getting monthly updates about the community (and event), and have probably received one-on-one communications from your Community Manager.

When it’s time to hit up community members about your event, they’re well aware of it and have positive feelings about the event due to their investment in the community.

An engaged and healthy community is subtly promoting your event – the event organiser, event content, even other members – 365 days a year.

Two-three months before the event is when you move from subtle to overt – and your members don’t mind, they love this community!

The future of event marketing

As Marco Gilberti and Jay Weintraub say in their fantastic book ‘The Face of Digital: How Digital Technologies Are Changing The $565 Billion Dollar Events Industry’:

There’s a growing trend, for example, for events to exist in digital form long before the in-person element commences, and to continue to run digitally well beyond the conclusion of the face-to-face experience.

That’s right – to have that highly engaged, sustaining and 365-day community you need to do it online, and on social.

Hopefully after reading this blog you’re fully onboard the online community bandwagon (if not, then it’s your own fault if you don’t get high value visitors at your next event).

Read our follow-up blog to discover exactly how to manage a LinkedIn Group for the best results.

Share this article



Eric Louw


Some people are just destined to market B2B events. Eric is one of those people. It’s not because he’s passionate about B2B events (that’s a given), it’s because he’s passionate about helping B2B event organisers maximise their marketing budget with digital marketing tactics.


Eric Louw


Some people are just destined to market B2B events. Eric is one of those people. It’s not because he’s passionate about B2B events (that’s a given), it’s because he’s passionate about helping B2B event organisers maximise their marketing budget with digital marketing tactics.