- Events serve a vital function in the coworking ecosystem and can offer many positive outcomes for workspace operators
- Industry veterans Jerome Chang, James Williams and Josh Rencher share tips and best practices
- From setting expectations to leveraging your location and capturing the right data, these 15 tips will help you build a coworking event strategy
This is a continuation from yesterday’s article that focused on what coworking spaces could expect from events, and why it pays to play the long game.
Events serve a vital function in the coworking ecosystem. Whether hosting, producing or a combination, experts agree that events can provide many positive outcomes if approached in a strategic manner.
“One of the reasons WeWork bought MeetUp.com was to capture all events. They decided those were valuable,” said Coalition Space’s James Williams. “But not valued on profits, obviously. So, they’re valued on mindshare and network. I think they saw it as a way to increase the network and their value.”
As we learned yesterday, events don’t necessarily generate a huge membership boost. But there is a potentially large payoff down the road.
- Set expectations based on objectives. Are you trying to build awareness of your brand? Market your meeting and event space? Build community relations? Structure your event around the type of audience you want to attract and the results you desire.
- Approach it as a long-game. Don’t expect an immediate payoff from events, advises Jerome Chang of BLANKSPACES. He says: “Think of it like social media and don’t expect it to convert to membership.” However, online event promotion can be leveraged to create some payoffs in the near term such as improved SEO and content for social media posts, blog posts, websites and newsletters.
- Leverage your location. Located in the heart of Silicon Alley, Coalition Space can easily attract an audience of startups to a panel of venture capitalists. In the case of Ironfire in Long Beach, CA., proximity to a local community college and business school provides numerous opportunities to partner and present programming of interest to those communities.
- Promote your unique advantages. In the case of Ironfire, a suburban location means they can offer free parking and a short drive home, in contrast to the downtown business center and nearby campuses that charge $5 to $9 to park and are 25 minutes or more away from residential areas. “Plus, it gets them out of the stale classroom environment,” notes founder Josh Rencher.
- Kick off a partnership. In addition to sharing expenses and responsibilities, events provide a low-risk opportunity to test run a partnership to see if audiences align, before entering into a long-term engagement.
One caveat: some entities, such as government agencies, universities, and/or economic or small business development agencies, may be reluctant to align with a particular business to avoid showing favoritism. Operators should be careful about guaranteeing an audience, experts warn. Most people overestimate their marketing ability to attract a crowd, says Jerome Chang of BLANKSPACES: “Everybody has a huge email list. That doesn’t mean they’re qualified prospects.”
- Present events that build your brand. Whether presenting your own programming or deciding whether to accept an event requested by an outside organization, consider whether its mission aligns with your brand messaging. Josh Rencher is working to position Ironfire as a partner and booster to all areas of innovation, from the academic to the startup community. “We try to promote local economic development and entrepreneurship in general,” explained Rencher, who runs multiple events each week targeted at small and emerging businesses. “We want to be a catalyst to grow the startup ecosystem in Long Beach. The city is trying to attract startups and new businesses here, so Ironfire is trying to position itself as part of that solution.”
“We’re providing a consistent place for people to grow their business, whether it be through the space or going to an event and learning about marketing with social media or legal and technical aspects of running a business.”
Similarly, Coalition leverages its location in New York City’s Silicon Alley, to frequently present events targeted at startups, opting out of hosting private weekend events.
- Follow up with your attendees. Besides producing a great experience for your audience, you want to be able to reach them later, advises Williams. Capturing contact emails from RSVPs, whether they came in via email or a ticket site such as EventBrite, is a simple method.
- Broadcast live on social media feeds. Even if a center is donating its space, it can still benefit from social media mentions. James Williams frequently does live broadcasting at Coalition events with feeds on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. “That also provides a lot of ‘SEO pin action’ and mindshare,” he notes, as well as the occasional new customers for virtual offices.
- Encourage guests to share on their social media. Having an Insta-worthy photo op is standard for event environments today. Be sure the appropriate hashtags are visible. If appropriate, build in an incentive to post, such as a gift bag for guests who post. Social media provides opportunities for network effects that reach an audience both on and offsite.
“Take a picture of guests, tag them and post on Instagram,” suggests Williams. “Follow up with geotags, posting so all leads go to your website.” Partially due to building security requirements, Williams usually asks for attendee lists ahead of time. He might reach out to guests ahead of time and Link In with them. “Most people don’t do that, and they usually fall off the list. That could increase engagement.”
- Reach broadly to cross-promote. One of the primary advantages of collaborating with a partner is to take advantage of each other’s email list and social media audience. Tweet, email, and share physical posters with the presenting partner. Internal touch points might include publication in a newsletter and calendar, as well as posters placed in bulletin board areas, kitchens and other frequently travelled spaces. Include relevant media and bloggers on event invitation lists.
- Scrutinize all requests. Once a coworking space is established, chances are they will start being solicited by all sorts of small-business consultants. “You have to do due diligence on them,” advises Chang, who regularly gets solicitation from lawyers, accountants, business coaches who want to reach his membership.
- Spread the word you’re open for event business. “Get on Meetup, let them know you’re open to hosting,” advises Chang. Even if events aren’t open to the public, posting them on public sites can help build awareness among current and future prospects, while also giving a boost to SEO.
Among the platforms employed:
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- Meet Up
- Peer Space
- On the back end, linking events to place can build credibility. “As a feature of Google My Business (formerly Google Places) it helps your Google ranking and establishing yourself as an expert in business,” says Williams. Even free events get “SEO pin action” building credibility that’s linked to your location, he adds.
Conserve resources and share the workload. Rather than further strain an already overworked community manager, work it out so your primary contribution is the space, and the partner is responsible for the lion’s share of the planning and execution, veteran operators suggest. Expenses such as food and beverages are determined on a case-by-case basis.
- Take advantage of the platform to share your message. Don’t discount the power of delivering your space sales spiel at the event. “If it’s the relevant audience, there’s a reason to stand up and say what you are. You may sell some more virtual offices, or future events for the business community,” suggests Williams.
- Try new things. Iterate. Repeat. Do a post-mortem on each event to find out what worked, what didn’t and what should happen next time. Adjust the format, programming and audience make up as needed. One of the most successful traffic draws at Ironfire was Beach Sweets, a popup tasting event with food stuff from local purveyors. What was envisioned as a tasting event ended up taking shape as a popup due to simpler logistics. It’s being repeated with a slight adjustment in timeframe and admission fees.