At the risk of seeming like a Rick Calvert Groupie (I’ve already written about BlogWorld twice at TSNN.com: The “Networked Beat” Approach to Curating Event Communities and The Day That Banners Died: BlogWorld and the QR Code Trip), I’m going to take yet another shot at it. Earlier this month, I was able to attend the MTO Summit in Washington, DC where Rick Calvert, co-founder of BlogWorld and New Media Expo, gave a presentation on affiliate marketing for trade shows and conferences. He has used the techniques he described at his own event with impressive results. For all of those event organizers still unsure about the value of cultivating a strong community, this post should make you sit up straight in your chair.
Affiliate marketing is a system for rewarding individuals who recommend your event by asking their friends, followers, and colleagues to click on a link, banner, or widget on their blog or Web site. The link takes said friends to event registration or some other desired destination on your Web site. You reward the individuals (your affiliates) with cash. The new registrant receives a discount on registration or some other benefit. When done well, i.e. the program is transparent, the affiliates are ethical, and the discount is worthwhile, affiliate marketing works.
So, “What can event organizers sell with affiliate marketing?” Calvert asked the audience members:
- Lead generation
- Exhibit space
- Virtual events
Your affiliates could be past attendees, exhibitors, speakers, trade associations, media, and of course bloggers. Affiliate marketing can also be carried out with email (and newsletters) eliminating the barriers for affiliates who don’t have their own Web sites. All of the “accounting” is done behind the scenes with embedded code and the assistance of third party Affiliate Networks such as ShareASale, LinkShare, Commission Junction, and AffinityClick who take a percentage of the transaction (10% or so according to Calvert).
Affiliate marketing isn’t an overnight success story. Calvert began in 2007 with revenue under $10,000. In 2010, his affiliate marketing efforts put nearly $120,000 (less the 10% commission) in his pocket. Besides the obvious benefit of revenue, affiliate programs help organizers market and socialize their events. If one blogger puts a link on his blog, and twenty people retweet the blog post, the event is marketed to at least twenty new people and so on. Discounted registration, hotel rooms, sponsorships, etc. would be hot commodities not to mention being able to fill hotel room blocks. Anyone heard of Groupon?
Like any marketing program, someone in your organization has to monitor the affiliate behavior (as much as possible), work with the Affiliate Network, and do the math. Obviously, if it costs more to offer discounts and pay commission and staff to execute the program, it may not be for you. However, BlogWorld with 3,000 attendees (mostly bloggers) was able to earn $100,000+ in a few years, what could larger events do?
The Takeaway: Today’s affiliate marketing isn’t like the MCI Friends and Family Offer of yesteryear where customers were “encouraged” to turn over the contact info of their family and friends to the telephone company. It is much more widely accepted and practiced than network marketing (multilevel marketing). It is another way to leverage the Internet and take advantage of social networks and yes, it is another way that a well-developed and loyal community built around an event CAN deliver tangible results.