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7 Ways to Turn One-Time Event Guests Into Annual Attendees

What keeps an event attendee coming back year after year? We asked some experts to share their secrets to year-round engagement.

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Photo: Tatomm/iStock

In the event world, the real challenge isn't just drawing a crowd—it's keeping them coming back for more. What magic formula keeps attendees marking their calendars year after year? We asked some seasoned event professionals to share their secrets for transforming fleeting visitors into loyal fans.

1. Leverage social media.

Social media is, of course, one of the most powerful tools in a marketer's belt—and a great way to keep attendees engaged between annual events. “We leverage the heck out of the past event's content,” says Matt Keowen, vice president of marketing for Nth Degree Events. “We share it via newsletters, social media, email marketing campaigns, and other channels. This creates a huge amount of FOMO, and drives repeat attendance and brings in newbies as well.”

Another trick? Encourage attendees to post too. “Create a dedicated hashtag for your event and encourage guests to share their experiences, photos, and videos on their own social channels," suggests Daniel Meursing, CEO and founder of event staffing agency Premier Staff. "This not only helps to keep the conversation going, but also provides valuable user-generated content that you can repurpose throughout the year."

Social media can also be a great way to build community surrounding the event. “One marketing effort that has been a game changer for me is creating a private Facebook group for attendees, speakers, and sponsors,” explains Gabrielle Marie Yap, senior editor of the culinary platform Carnivore Style. “This space allows us to share updates, behind-the-scenes content, and exclusive offers, keeping the conversation going 365 days a year. We also use this group to crowdsource feedback and ideas for future events, making our community feel invested in the growth and development of Carnivore Style.”

2. Offer exclusive content year-round.

Another way to keep your attendees engaged is by offering exclusive content they can't get anywhere else. “This could be anything from behind-the-scenes footage of your event to expert interviews and thought leadership pieces,” says Meursing, who also leaned into the private Facebook group idea for a series of fashion events his team staffed for YSL. In the group, "we shared exclusive photos, videos, and interviews with the designers and models. This not only gave our guests a deeper understanding of the brand, but also made them feel like they were part of an exclusive community.”

Another idea? Generating new content like a podcast, which Thom Singer, a professional keynote speaker and CEO of the Austin Technology Council, finds is a great way to keep the momentum going. “By interviewing speakers from the previous event for ‘booster shot’ content, we keep the audience engaged," he points out. "Use the podcast before the event to introduce speakers and set the stage for what attendees will learn. More importantly, have the speakers return to the podcast between events to maintain engagement.”

3. Host smaller events throughout the year.

“While your annual event may be the main attraction, hosting smaller, more intimate events throughout the year can help to keep your attendees engaged and connected,” says Meursing, who notes these can range from networking mixers to educational workshops to panel discussions.

"When we staffed a product launch event for Bentley, we followed up with a series of smaller, invitation-only events throughout the year," he remembers. "These events gave attendees the opportunity to test-drive the latest Bentley models, meet with the designers and engineers, and connect with other enthusiasts in a more intimate setting. By creating these exclusive experiences, we were able to keep the excitement and engagement levels high year-round.”

4. Offer discounts or loyalty programs.

“We offer early bird discounts and exclusive promotions to loyal attendees who register for the next year's event before a certain deadline,” says Yap. “By doing so, we create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) and encourage people to mark their calendars for the next year's gathering.”

Jeff Snyder, founder and chief inspiration officer of Inspira Marketing, has found particular success incorporating exclusive discounts or loyalty programs into events. “For example, our most recent 'I Scream for Yasso' campaign offered coupons for a complimentary box of Yasso [frozen Greek yogurt] bars as a participation giveaway, which completely sold out products from some of the closest retail stores!" he says. "Opportunities like this significantly extend client engagement, as it allows the consumer to redeem their giveaway within minutes, hours, days, or weeks from now at their leisure—and when further coupled with data capture opportunities and loyalty programs, users can stay even more in touch with the brand for product drop announcements, exclusive sales, sneak peek info, and more.”

5. Build anticipation as early as possible.

Promote the following year's event dates early and often. “When applicable, it’s always crucial to promote next year’s event dates at the current activation to get on calendars ahead of time—but post-event, there are many ways to continue the energy for next year’s event when you tap into captured content,” says Snyder. “Save-the-date campaigns, early bird announcements, theme reveals, and activation highlight teasers all contribute toward building anticipation, and when amplified with the most engaging and exciting content from the previous year’s activation, it entices thrill and emotions to connect with the consumer for the upcoming event iteration.”

Keowen likes to use an event's website to keep people informed. “We’ll publish a 'notifications' subscription option on the website so people can sign up to receive updates on when registration opens,” he says. “Those who sign up early get exclusive perks, which incentivizes prompt action.”

6. Ask for feedback.

Another smart strategy? Make your attendees feel involved in future planning. “Incorporate post-event survey feedback and crowdsource ideas from your closest consumers to give them a hand in the planning process, enticing curiosity to attend next year’s event to see the impact their opinions may have made," suggests Snyder.

“By conducting surveys of past attendees and subscribers, we gain insights on what topics will be draws for future events,” agrees Keowen. “By promoting 'you spoke, we listened,' the audiences feel valued and heard. This also drives repeat and new attendees, because they know they’re getting what they want.”

7. Keep in touch in organic ways.

“In any relationship, we want to be valued for ourselves rather than for our resources,” points out the Music Institute of Chicago’s vice president and chief development officer, Jennifer Bienemann. Particularly when it comes to event donors or anyone investing money, she notes, people don't want to be seen as just a payday. The MIC team makes sure to follow up post-event with personal phone calls, thank-you notes, links to event photos, etc.—but also keeps the engagement all year.

"We invite [donors] to see the impact of their support at concerts, master classes, and workshops. We invite them to meet the artists one-on-one at Nichols Concert Hall as well as in their homes if desired. We do our best to ensure MIC is present at gatherings convened by organizations that are important to them," she explains. "And when we see something that makes us think of them, we don’t hesitate to reach out and let them know with a quick email or phone call. In addition to making our donors feel connected to the MIC mission, these strong relationships keep our staff motivated, connected to the impact we are making as a collective, and inspired.”

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