In the age of social media, LinkedIn, remote workplaces, and digital marketing, many companies tend to overlook the benefits of in-person and face to face networking events. From making new connections and building long-lasting relationships to boosting company morale, networking events are an invaluable part of a comprehensive marketing and business development strategy.'Networking events are an invaluable part of a comprehensive marketing and business development strategy.' - Lysa Miller Click To Tweet
The Benefits of Investing in Networking Events for Your Business
Even in the digital age, face to face professional networking events are more important than ever. If social media and digital marketing are about casting a wide net to attract customers and promote your business and services or clients, in-person networking is about cultivating the relationships that will sustain your company and build real momentum and traction with current and prospective customers in the short and long term.
Live networking events are much more than in-person meet and greets. While they do offer a great opportunity to build real connections offline, they can also pack a serious punch when it comes to meeting hard business objectives, including:
- Relationship building and engagement
- Building brand awareness
- Influencer marketing
- Content distribution and promotion
- Developing sales leads
- Community involvement
At 3 Media Web, we host networking events that run the gamut from agency automation partnerships and teambuilding events, to client appreciation and community events, most recently an International Women’s Day celebration in which we collaborated with a few local businesses. One of the many benefits of networking events is the potential for ongoing payoffs down the line long after the event is over.'One of the many benefits of networking events is the potential for ongoing payoffs down the line long after the event is over.' - Lysa Miller Click To Tweet
For example, at last year’s INBOUND conference, we had the opportunity to connect with Accelo, one of our partners whose automation software helps to power operations for agencies and web services providers like ours.
In addition to the day’s presentations and the opportunity to share our story and processes with other attendees, the collaboration continued to pay off months after the conference by way of an agency “User Group” event that came to fruition six months later at the behest of yours truly. Thus Agency Automation 2018 was born, a first of its kind event which happened to align with the 2018 INBOUND conference.
Types of Networking Events
No two networking events are created equal. The tone, venue, content, and size will vary depending on the target audience and the intended goals and desired takeaways for the event. You can’t (and shouldn’t try) to be everything to everyone when it comes to networking events – the more focused and specific the better.
Here is a breakdown of the most common types of networking events and what they can accomplish.
Events designed for the benefit of your existing or potential customers may be more formal and structured depending on your industry, but the main focus is generally on engagement and relationship building. They can be annual events, or dedicated to a specific milestone. Customer-focused events are generally geared towards the following:
- Building and improving relationships
- Creating and rewarding loyalty
- Developing and nurturing personal connections
- Learning more about your customers’ future needs and brainstorming new ideas
As with all events, decide what you want the main goal of your event to be and build the program around your top objectives.
Educational events can be geared towards specific topics and presentations such as Agency Automation 2018, where the goal is to highlight a product or service and how it can benefit the audience. Educational events can also focus on general industry topics and trends, and serve as mutual learning exchange between the hosts and the attendees.
Common goals for educational networking events include:
- Establishing credibility and thought leadership
- Building trust in and engagement with your brand
- Increasing adoption through in-person implementation and demos
- Discovering pain points for current and potential customers
A happy and well-connected team is a productive team. At 3 Media Web, our team building events are a family affair that mix work and play and give us the opportunity to bring the team together from various locations. Whether you dedicate days, weeks, or just a few hours to employee networking events, the benefits for company morale and overall productivity cannot be overstated. Any company’s success ultimately comes down to its employees after all.
The benefits of employee networking events include:
- Better collaboration
- Cross-departmental learning
- Stronger corporate culture and more cohesive brand identity
- Endless opportunities for content creation
- Improved loyalty and employee morale
Take full advantage of that time together. Hire a photographer and make sure you capture every moment, create blog posts about your activities and apply that to your business, take your team photos and headshots, and even film your company video (which is the most important thing we did at our company outing).
We work with a number of partners to deliver the best results for our clients and to improve internal efficiency and productivity. As with your employees, strong and functional relationships with agency partners are critical for the success of all parties. Taking the time to network with and interact with your partners can offer a number of advantages including:
- Strengthening partner relationships
- Reaching a bigger audience
- Learning about new products
- Building trust between partners
- Creating collaborative content
- Improving your brand
- Aligning yourself with trusted brands
Think of community networking events and collaborations as an opportunity to foster goodwill, do some good, and raise your brand’s profile in the process. From brand sponsorships to volunteering goods, services, and employee manpower, community events are actually a great way to check off several boxes – they can multitask as teambuilding, brand building, and networking events all rolled into one.
Here’s why you should consider community events as part of your networking strategy:
- Improves your public image
- Gets you more involved with the community
- Helps build an internal culture with the local community
- Creates content that can be shared by the community at large, from social media mentions to local and national press coverage, depending on the scale and scope of the event
10 Steps for Planning Your Next (or First) Networking Event
So now that we’ve discussed how networking events can add value to your brand and partnerships, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of organizing and planning the best event possible for your company and your attendees. Remember that every event is unique and carries its own set of challenges, goals, and objectives, but that doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel every time.
Here is an actionable list of guidelines that will work for any type of event, whether the goal is to generate buzz and build awareness around a new service or product launch, or to raise money for a community project or worthy cause.
1. Define the Goals of the Event
Even for larger scale industry type events, a good rule of thumb is to narrow the focus and objective of the event to one or two measurable goals in order to get the most out of the investment. Trying to do too much and appealing to too many people will backfire and dilute or sabotage your results altogether.
Unlike digital campaigns that have a wider margin for error, in-person networking events require a significant investment of time and resources for both parties, so you want to make sure that you’re designing an event that your customers or target audience will truly benefit from.
2. Research your Audience
Now that you know what type of event you want to produce and its main objectives, it’s time to do a little recon on your prospective audience. For example, if you’re hosting an event designed to demo and build awareness around a new product, you’ll want to make sure to invite the relevant decision makers and stakeholders from each organization. Would that be the CEO or a project manager? That’s what your research will tell you. In addition to the company’s website, social media is a great vehicle to determine everything from employee bios to current and previous conference and event attendance and existing partnerships.
3. Build your Invitee Database
Once you’ve identified your target audience, it’s time to get organized. Whether you use an excel spreadsheet or technology to organize your events (highly recommended), your invitee database is the backbone of the event and should be organized and updated on a regular basis throughout the lifecycle of the event. For invitations, we like to use Eventbrite, because of the ability to sell tickets (even if they are free) and being able to easily implement that with social media and our email database.
4. Choose Achievable Dates
People are busy and overscheduled as is. Depending on your industry, there are probably a number of conferences and networking events already competing for your prospects’ time and attention. Be mindful of other events, Meetups, and conferences and try to be as strategic as possible with your scheduling. On the flip side, piggybacking off of major industry events can also work in your favor. Again, research and due diligence are your friends here.
5. Make it Easily Accessible
A new event space opened up on a barge in the middle of the harbor in your city, and it would just be the PERFECT venue for your gathering. The only problem? It requires a boat ride and/or diving certification to get there. Be creative but keep it practical. You want to make sure that your event is accessible for all attendees, some of whom may already be traveling in for the event from somewhere else, or who may have special needs or physical restrictions.
6. Work with Partners
The best events are often partnerships between businesses, civic organizations, and sponsors. Partnerships can help you to scale your event, reach a wider audience, and build strategic relationships with your event partners and their networks in the process.
In addition to planning and hosting your own networking event, consider becoming a sponsor or partner. It can be a great way to test the waters, get behind the scenes know how, build and expand your network, and raise your brand’s profile without going all in if you are limited on time or resources to plan a full-scale event of your own.
8. Make it Unique
Whether you’re hosting an event for 50, 500, or 5,000 people, you want your attendees to walk away feeling like they received real value for their time and money (if applicable). Again you don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, but think about how to infuse your event with a unique selling proposition that will make a lasting imprint for your brand. Pick a unique theme or holiday to host your event, such as Octoberfest or International Women’s Day.
9. Get Employee Buy-In
Employees are the ultimate brand ambassadors and evangelists. Your employees are as critical an asset for the success of your events as they are to your organization in general, so use them wisely.
10. Create an Experience They Will Never Forget
This can be as extravagant and ambitious as a themed scavenger hunt across your city, or as understated and impactful as a TED-worthy keynote speech or presentation that will shake the audience to its core. Networking and relationship building are the ultimate goals, but offering your attendees valuable content and experiences that they won’t easily find somewhere else is the way to create meaningful connections. A couple of years ago, we hosted a customer and partner event on a vintage yacht, our customers still talk about it and ask when our next boat party is going to be. Logistically, it was ambitious getting our clients and partners to park downtown and find the boat dock, but it was successful because we made sure that all of the details and directions were clearly communicated. One client even flew in from Florida to make the event.
Measuring ROI and the Success of Your Networking Events
While the benefits and value add of in-person networking events are not always quantifiable with traditional metrics like hard sales, there are a few metrics you can use to determine an event’s ROI and overall success. According to Eventbrite:
“ROI is meant to measure revenue compared to cost. But for events that generate sales leads for a business or raise awareness for a cause, ROI can be adjusted to measure the net value of your efforts. What is the ultimate goal of your event? To generate qualified leads? Attract new employees? To build awareness or launch a new product? For example, if you’re organizing a fundraising event for a charity, your primary goal might be to raise funds, but a secondary goal could be increasing awareness for your cause.”
Social media engagement and buzz following an event can be great indicators of attendee reactions, from sharing content and posting about the event to taking a specific action (pro tip: in event networking as in digital marketing and life, the best way to get someone to do something is to ask). Event-specific hashtags and social media content are creative and budget-friendly ways to measure event engagement without making a hard sell or being pushy.
Remember that while your networking events should be designed around clear and specific business goals and objectives, you still want your attendees to feel comfortable and at ease and to have a little fun. Everyone is there to network, not work, after all.