Neil Maclean, owner and founder of SNF Expo, on how to build an engaged community during the 363 days that your show isn’t on.
If you stop speaking to your partner for a few months, they won’t be your partner any more. If you stop speaking to your friends, you’ll end up not being invited to group events.
Likewise, if the conversation dies with those who attended your previous shows, it will be an uphill struggle to get them back in the couple of months running up to the show.
If you have a seasonal business (I guess we can call annual shows that?) it’s very hard to justify in your mind what hours and hours of content creation and effort to engage with our audiences really means outside of the super-rush in the run up to our shows. We call this ‘non billable work’ as there is no expected transaction at that moment in time.
What you become is a business annually selling to your target market rather than to your community. One is much harder than the other.
Communities are built on sharing the same qualities and ideas as others within them. They are built on consistency of conversation, and they are built on giving more value than you expect in return.
We have a strange show, in that we have the niche of ‘fitness’ but we have so many micro-niches within that umbrella, so we create communities within communities.
We create Facebook groups (like #SFNSisterhood pictured above) aimed at female fitness with 2,000 members; we create content aimed at specific groups and advertise it to them specifically.
Our aim is to offer massive amounts of value by talking about the stuff that we love to talk about, and it builds a like-minded, strong community.
We rarely make a big deal about tickets, but yet there is a steady flow of sales beginning as soon as we go on sale (usually 10 months out).
At the time of writing, our tickets are up 545 per cent higher than they were this time last year. The reason for this is because when we launched the show, we had never even been to an exhibition before, so year one and year two, without any staff, had a seven-day a week, 15 hour a day commitment to every job within an exhibition and also learning what the hell a muslin ceiling was.
Now in year three, we have logistics tied down and it gives more time to do what we love, which is get on social media and actually speak to people.
We find our past visitors on social media platforms by uploading email databases, then find their gym-going friends and we follow them too.
If you’re anything like 99 per cent of any businesses using social media, I know that you’ll be thinking ‘but if they already follow me, then it’s a ‘wasted follow’. I don’t want to follow them as my follower/following ratio won’t look impressive’.
This is probably the best advice I can give for building a community: Stop focusing on followers and start focusing on engagement.
If you follow your target market on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll probably see, like us, about three in 10 people follow you back. But if you then make the effort to go in to your newsfeeds and interact and actually give a damn about them, then watch your followers quickly rise but more importantly how much interaction you get back in your next few posts. You have started to build an engaged community; not a perceived sense of popularity.
Relationships are a two-way street. If one’s not in it, then neither will the other one be, and when you don’t show you care, it’s often hard to get the relationship back. For ‘seasonal’ businesses like ours, we need to be careful not to fall in to this trap and to keep the conversation going with our customers in the 363 days of the year that our shows are not on.