How to have a successful community event (like Lunch 2.0)

What you need to know to have a successful Lunch 2.0
I’m getting asked by many to set their company up with a Lunch 2.0., they know the benefits to bringing the community close to them are great. Community Marketing is The Lunch 2.0 phenomenon is taking off, it’s spread to Seattle, and will spread to other areas in the United States, and then maybe global. It was even on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.

[The modern Community Event is like a tupperware party. A genuine host caters and has real conversations in a laid back style, while the brand is gently present during the event]

Here’s what you need to know to have a successful community event (like Lunch 2.0):

Understand a Community Event

Community events aren’t anything new, but when corporations host them, something different happens. You don’t pitch, push, shove products or marketing, you gently invite the community in to meet them, build real relationships, and to educate them. Just like on the web, and with on-demand media, users can ‘turn off’ marketing and advertising much easier than ever before, the same thing applies to community events. Serve the community that you belong to, and they will embrace.

What a community event is not:
A sales product pitch, business suit event, un-fun.

What a community event is:
Casual, a bbq, a picnic, guests at a party at your house, fun.

Promotion happens organically
When you’re dealing with the “Web 2.0” crowd in your area, these folks talk among themselves using blogs, social networks, twitter, email and old fashioned word-of-mouth. The promotion will happen organically and naturally. You don’t need a PR budget for this event.

Venue Size
If you’ve a small company, you can limit the number of people that can sign up, ask us how, and we’ll help you coordinate that.

Who comes to these events? Folks who like the web, community and lunch. In Silicon Valley, I most frequently see people from start-ups, and a few large corporate web companies. More and more recruiters for this industry also come, so if you’re seeking a job, this is a great event, as in the spirit of community, recruiters are expected to build real relationships. The ages tend to be college graduates to mid career, multiple races. Roles are frequently web professional, from engineer, developer, designer, or social media. Yes, CEOs and VCs show up too, and the occasional member of the press. There is almost always 10 people taking pictures, and the bublicious crew is often doing video, or live streaming. Plug: my company, PodTech was hired by Netgear to create this video of a recent Lunch 2.0.

The costs are very low, they likely include

  • Food costs or caterer for event
  • Giveways
  • Any other activities
  • Time from employees to participate
  • Get a theme: give aways and events
    While optional, giveaways have become the pride and joy, and somewhat a fun way of showing a creative and fun takeaway! The most clever gifts are not expensive, but have a clever or insightful meaning that ties with the theme of the event.
    I’ve seen some very fun and remarkable themes companies have done, and some rather dull ones. It’s not about spending a lot of money but creating a clever theme, here’s a few examples

  • LinkedIn gave away a four square ball with the company logo away to everyone
  • NetGear gave away aprons at their bbq cookoff, it was tied to their ‘digital lifestyle house’ which had a simulated house in it
  • SimplyHired had branded squirt guns, a workstation to make tie-dye shirts (see the one I made), and a four square area
  • Hitachi Data Systems, a Data Storage company used Watermelons as the theme across the event, and the t-shirts had the watermelon with a tag line “Eat as much as you can store”

  • Letting down the corporate Wall

    -Don’t be unfriendly or impersonal. At one event, employees of the hosting company didn’t put their real name on the nametag, they just put the company name. They also strongly encouraged guests to take pictures of the products, it was unnatural and guests complained (live on their blogs too). Be real, be personal, and be human.

    How to Demo, or get your message across
    Leave the pitch for another time, please, just be human and talk to the guests. The strongest ways to get people interested in your product is to let them discover it naturally. Companies that try to ‘force’ a demo upon users may have an adverse effect. I’ve found that most company hosts have given a welcome speech, and then let folks know there is an optional tour, or demo, but it’s not a sales pitch, those work the best. Be sure to let folks take pictures of this content so they can blog it.

    Calculating ROI
    Seems inappropriate given the type of event that I’ve been describing, right? Well for most corporate marketing departments, justification for resources for events is required. Fortunatly the ROI for these types of events are very high, as you can have access to meet quite a few people for little money, and a little time. Also factor in any blogs, pictures, or increase in discussion that occur around the company. LinkedIn was fortunate, as the San Francisco Chronnicle, Guy Kawasaki, Justin TV, and tons of other bloggers showed up, you never know what will happen.

    Case Study
    In 2006, I hosted the largest (so far) Lunch 2.0 at Hitachi, there were approximately 250 people present, all in the context of community. Not being a web company, we got creative and let 10 companies present their products during the lunch hour. While most conferences can charge 15-50k to present to an interested audience, data hungry companies jumped on the opportunity to present. There was sandwiches provided, cleverly themed tshirts- and the executives (who blog) were present to greet and learn about these companies –they were engaged. By giving, we were able to get more.

    Special Thanks
    Thanks to the founders of Lunch 2.0, Mark Jen, Joseph Smarr, Terry Chay, and David Kellogg. Special thanks to Holly Liu for providing insight to this post, and as well as being a huge supporter and member of the events.

    Recommended Checklist
    Since I’ve hosted a Lunch 2.0, and have attended many, here’s some suggested next steps for you to get started. Steps may vary.

    1) Read about Lunch 2.0 and find out what other companies have done
    2) Get internal approval (this post you’re reading is a good start to share)
    a. Be sure to educate to the right folks that this is a community or networking event.
    3) Budget: Get appropriate headcount and resources needed
    4) Get a date (keep in mind holidays)
    5) Find a caterer
    6) Figure out some clever giveaways
    7) Tell the Lunch 2.0 organizers, who will promote
    8) Keep an eye on sign ups, inform caterers
    9) Many folks will sign up at the last minute

    Above Video: Netgear (a PodTech client) hired us to capture the essence of the Lunch 2.0 event they hosted in summer 2007, you can hear the story of how Lunch 2.0 got started.