Building communities at B2B events: learning from Web Summit 2017

Events are a growing part of B2B media portfolios, building brands and increasing revenues. A successful event, however, is about more than the speakers, sponsors and content: delegates are keen to use live events to expand their network and make new connections. So building a community in advance of the event is increasingly important. I’ve looked in depth at one event, Web Summit, which has always focussed on networking, and drawn out some ideas which could be applied to other B2B events.

Web Summit is a tech event that has grown astoundingly fast in the last few years. With a remit across multiple industries, from auto to finance, edtech to medtech, it attracted 60,000 visitors to Lisbon for four days in November 2017.

A large part of the proposition of the event is networking, but how on earth do you facilitate that in such a large scale event? I attended Web Summit as an ordinary delegate, and I did make more connections than at many expo style events.

This article explores how Web Summit encourages communities to form around the event, and what lessons can be learned by other b2b event organisers.

Segmenting the event audience

Web Summit serves several different tech ecosystems:

• Startups (split into Alpha and Beta) who want to meet investors (and vice versa)
• Developers who want to learn about new techniques and software
• Companies who want to hire tech staff, and techies who are looking for new roles
• Country tech hubs who want to attract startups
• Policy makers who want to explore issues with CEOs and tech leaders
• People working in tech roles in all kinds of organisations who want to learn about new trends in their sector


Sub events for distinct communities

The summit has specific areas and sub-events to serve these different communities and help them achieve their goals.

• The Alpha programme provides startups with a small stand, access to mentor hours, Investor Office hours, Startup workshop sessions and entry to the Pitch competition
• Investors get a dedicated lounge area, and a one day pre-conference, Venture
• Runway to web summit: 6 x City based meetups a couple of weeks before the summit
• Forum – an invite-only gathering of 500 top global decision makers alongside the main summit – private sector tickets at €24k
• 25 separate sector conferences
• Women in Tech lounge sponsored by


Pre-event marketing

Web Summit are proactive email marketers, with lots of speaker announcements throughout the year, and weekly emails in the last couple of weeks. They like to create hype about price promotions and run plenty of flash sales. The Women in Tech tickets initiative was launched in March, with tickets at 10% of face value. Web Summit claim that 14,000 Women in Tech tickets were sold (out of 59,000 total tickets).


Summit app with good functionality

A large factor in enabling networking was the web summit app. This was launched a couple of weeks in advance of the summit, and the incentive to complete a profile was a draw to get tickets for the opening night (only 15k seats and 60k delegates). As well as full schedules for all the conferences, there is a chat function to allow messaging to all other delegates.

Delegates had to be using the app in order to register for the event. Once at the event, anyone could use the app to scan another delegates badge and capture their details for later download. The app would also make personalised recommendations for contacts based on uploading individuals’ twitter, Facebook, Angel List and Github contacts. In spite of being used by 60,000 people simultaneously, the app performed well, and messaging was as fast as text or WhatsApp.


Extensive social programme

At the end of the conference day, a drinks party event, Sunset Summit, was staged in an adjacent building, with Portuguese music, food and a pay bar. Each evening, Night Summit took over a different part of the city for informal drinking and networking.

Several sponsors and commercial partners organised side events and parties, which were promoted via daily emails.


Side events self organised on social platforms

Delegates were invited to specialised Facebook groups a couple of weeks before the event, which were moderated by a web summit staffer. I was on a promotional Women in Tech ticket, and there were 6000 people on the Women in Tech Facebook group, so plenty of activity. People started to post about specific areas of interest, and organised their own meet ups, drinks and meals. Others set up interest groups on Facebook, slack and whatsapp for more spontaneous gatherings. It was sometimes a bit hectic keeping tabs on all these platforms during the day, but it did mean there were plenty of opportunities to find delegates with shared interests.


Post event communications

The Facebook groups and web summit app were still open a couple of weeks after the event, allowing people time to follow up contacts and convert them to Linked In and email. The Women in Tech facbook group is still very active, with several posts a day.

In the follow up marketing emails they offered a chance to sign up for a 2 for 1 voucher code for a flash sale a couple of weeks after the event. They claim that 1000 2 for 1 tickets sold in 10 minutes – this all helps fuel the hype that this is the event to attend.

Web Summit didn’t get it right all the time, but they were clearly doing their best to facilitate relevant networking. Their main email campaigns was generic, not segmented, but the Facebook groups encouraged self-organised networking.


Lessons for other B2B event organisers

• Be clear about the different sub-groups attending your event and who they are looking to meet, and create dedicated events and physical areas to facilitate this
• Have a great event app and make it compulsory to use
• Add on pre-event meetups for separate groups
• Encourage sponsors to organise side events and promote during the event
• Invite delegates in advance to specialised, moderated, online groups to help them self organise meetups
• Keep the groups open post event for follow-up

If you’d like to share your own experiences of building B2B communities at events, or want to explore how some of these ideas could apply to your business, feel free to get in touch for a chat over the phone or over a coffee.

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About the author:

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.

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