Don’t Be a Zombie: 4 Ways to Leverage Community Events

By Frank Quattrocchi

The Spanish word for advertisements is propaganda. Pro-pa-gahn-dah.

If a nonprofit runs an ad attempting to educate citizens about healthier lifestyle choices, it is propaganda. If a petroleum company makes a commercial that tries to make people laugh and get them to buy their brand of gas, it is propaganda. The objective doesn’t matter – as long as the message has an intent to influence – it is propaganda.

While I never subscribed to the notion that all forms of marketing fit into the English understanding of the term ‘propaganda’, all advertisements are propagandous in the sense that they are pieces of information trying to persuade people to do something – they have the intent to influence.

Similarly, every email blast you send to your subscribers, any tweet to your followers, or post to your fans could be considered propaganda. In this case the people are asking for it, but it still has the intent to influence, and could be considered propaganda.

Getting Customers to Index Your Message

Advertising is all around us. Looking at this screen as I type, I see logos next to the title of each tab I have open. Looking out the window, there are advertisements flying by on the sides of buses, overhead on billboards, on bus stop benches, and blaring over radios.

With so much going on around us, our vision “crawls” all the information we see and hear each day, but very little is getting “indexed” by our minds. (My apologies to non-SEO types)

Marketing Clutter
Image: Kurtis Garbutt

The question we must ask ourselves as marketers is – how do we differentiate our message from the rest of the propaganda so that people will “index” our business’ message? (As opposed to crawling & then bouncing from the message.)

Party Like It’s 1993

The internet has taken humans out of the buying process. Before ecommerce, there was no way a person could “browse” a store’s aisles, get detailed information on each and every product, add the products to a cart, check out and pay, and get the products delivered to their doorstep without another human involved.

Furthermore, there has been a disconnect between businesses and their consumers. So much to the point that if I am at my home in the United States and I have a question to ask a business – I need to call the business, they will have me press 1 to talk to an English-speaking robot, the robot will ask me to push some buttons, will put me on hold, then connect my call to someone 14,000 miles away.

Image: Jon Phillips

Imagine instead, if I had a question and I knew the business owner would be speaking at an event tonight, right down the street. Or maybe he/she is hosting a webinar discussing FAQ’s about his/her products and services later this week. Or perhaps the business is sponsoring the 5K this weekend and it might be a good chance to pick the owner’s brain for a few minutes.

Imagine how much more likely I would be to engage with that business and buy their products and services?

Getting Back In Touch

There is only so much a business owner can do from behind the desk. Emails, conference calls, internal meetings, and actual work are all essential aspects of any organization, but getting one’s name out in the community is more important than ever. It is the only way to differentiate your business’ message from all the other noise.

call center
Image: Domenico

Here are four ways to leverage the community around you to get in touch with your customers:

1. Host an Event has all sorts of weekly and monthly events for people of all interests. Whether you want to grab drinks with people in your industry or go on a hike with like-minded people in your community, is a great way to get started. Thunder’s founder, Max Thomas, will be speaking at the SEM San Diego Meetup later this month.

If you’d like a more formal setting to engage your audience, host an industry conference. Invite industry thought leaders to speak, ask industry peers to partake in the discussion, and reach out to your current customers and potential customers to learn about your industry, products, and services.

The goal of any live event should be to meet people, build relationships, educate them on your business, and gently push your services. People will appreciate a sincere attempt to engage them without any pushy, “hard sale” techniques.

Shawn Massie at SearchLove
Image: Distilled

For example, a law firm – Steptoe & Johnson LLP, invited leaders and executives of energy, oil, and mineral drilling companies to their 2013 Energy Leadership Summit. The event looked at industry trends and developments, as well as common legal issues in the industry. It was held over the course of two days, and was an unrivaled opportunity to engage with influential people in that industry.

The event took busy decision makers away from their desks and allowed them to contribute to, and be a part of the industry community – meeting people, sharing ideas, and discussing the industry’s future. The hosts were able to provide hospitality to current and potential clients, demonstrate their knowledge on a variety of subjects concerning the industry, and gently promote their brand.

2. Sponsor an Event

Determine where your target customers are hanging out, and strategize how you can get the attendees to leave with a positive opinion of your business. If there is an upcoming conference or meetup, sponsor it with some food or drinks. Everyone likes pizza, there is no way it could hurt to buy pizza for everyone at an event.

At networking events, a little social lubricant is greatly appreciated when going out and meeting a bunch of strangers with the intent of generating new business. Sponsor the bar at your community’s next networking event, and you will be the most popular business owner in town!

What a better way to make new friends in your industry than to sponsor the bar at an event you are travelling to! SearchLove was an amazing conference held in San Diego last month, and Wistia (a Boston company) sponsored the open bar on the last evening of the conference. Needless to say, everyone who attended the conference will be keeping Wistia in mind when they need video hosting solutions for their business or clients.

If you feel like giving more directly to a select group of potential customers, sponsor a local sports team or the next 5k or marathon in your neck of the woods. If you are a chiropractor, sponsor a men’s softball league. If you own a restaurant that has arcade games, sponsor a kids’ sports team. Scratch your target customers’ back, they’ll scratch yours.

3. Attend Events

You don’t have to host or sponsor an event to be part of the show. Whether there is a meetup, conference, or charitable event, go and get involved. Meet people, ask questions, learn, educate people on your business, and gently push your products and services. If you have something interesting or helpful you’d like to share, pitch to speak at an event.

Make a name for yourself by asking good questions, being sociable and friendly, and by making the community the focus of what you have to talk about, as opposed to your business.

While in-person events are nice, online events can be just as valuable in generating new leads and engaging potential customers. Google Hangouts is a great way to get up to 10 people together to discuss any topic you’d like. Any small business owners or SEO-types out there should check out Max Minzer’s weekly hangout on digital marketing.

Another way to get your voice heard in the community is to attend webinars and ask questions, or to speak during webinars. If you have the experience and resources, host webinars. Go to online forums relevant to your business and ask questions, respond with answers to people’s problems, and leave a link to your site.

Max Impact Hangouts

Monique and Shawn have both hosted incredible webinars (mozinars) through on Community Building, and Instagram. Find out where webinars are happening in your industry and get involved.

4. Spread the Word & Get Others Involved

Any big event usually isn’t the work of one person. Be the voice of your community or industry event. Write a blog post in anticipation of the event with links to other local businesses, create a buzz around the event on social media sites, and search for other people getting involved.

Kevin Knecht, from Detroit-based Pblasio & People, wrote this informative piece in anticipation of SearchLove San Diego, and had already made a ton of contacts and friends before his plane had even landed in town for the conference.

Another way to get engaged is to be the unofficial event photographer – snapping photos of attendees will be an easy ice-breaker, people will be much more open to talking to you, and attendees will definitely visit your site afterwards to see if they were in any photos.

Invite local bloggers, newspapers, journalists, and photographers to garner more publicity for the event. Live tweet from the event using relevant hashtags to promote the event, and to get visibility from other people using the same hashtags.

Flagship Cruises & Events recently sent out a press release for everyone in town to come check out their newest jet boat and invited local photographers and journalists to attend. Inviting the community to get involved will create a lot more word-of-mouth advertising than if the company had simply started offering tours on their new boat.

After you attend an event, write a recap blog post with actionable takeaways, share photos through social media, and be sure to namedrop the event in the photos’ description so attendees can easily find them. Use the recap to celebrate the community and other people you meet.

There doesn’t have to be a special event to get involved. Browse other business’ social media sites and engage with them. As long as they aren’t a direct competitor, comment on some of their posts, and help spread their message.

Robert Scoble
Image: Thomas Hawk

No matter what your strategy is to engage potential customers, words and images could be considered propagandous. But there is no way that a knowledgeable conference host, a generous event sponsor who bought you pizza or drinks, an inquiring mind, or an engaged citizen can be mistaken for propaganda.

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Frank Quattrocchi

By Frank Quattrocchi

Frank Quattrocchi is a Search Marketing Specialist at ThunderActive. He likes making music, listening to music, hiking, cooking, reading, and exploring the city.

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