Building your social media presence might be on the top of your marketing to-do list right now. But Tim Raybould wants to help you build a live-and-in-person community of customers. While social media marketers emphasize the importance of engaging your online followers, Raybould’s company touts the value of translating virtual communities into physical ones.
Raybould is CEO of TicketLeap, a Philadelphia company that started in 2007 with a mission to help event hosts sell tickets online. The 26-person company processed $71 million in ticket sales last year, and generates its revenues by charging $1 per ticket plus 2 percent of each sale. Business is good, but Raybould wanted to figure out how to expand. “If we are successful at what we do, then the world will have more events,” he says.
So, while technology for taking credit cards online and processing tickets is still at the core of what TicketLeap does, Raybould says the company shifted its focus to helping small business owners create live gatherings that build customer communities and boost their brands for a fraction of the cost and time it once took to host an event.
He says the company overhauled its events page to be, “more than a glorified cash register—it’s the online soul of the event, and it looks fantastic on a mobile device.”
And it re-thought the paper ticket. "When you’re having an event, it doesn’t feel right to have this robotic transaction at the door scanning a barcode,” Raybould says. “We asked ourselves, ‘What is checking people into an event going to look like 5 years from now?’” He says TicketLeap Director of Customer Success Christine Dragon wondered, “What if it’s an ID that’s a selfie that works like early check-in at the airport?”
The company recently introduced (and patented) the Selfie Ticket, which works with an app that asks ticket buyers to activate their tickets before the event by using its mobile ticket app to take a picture of themselves. “At the event door, as long as the person pictured on your phone looks like you, you’re in,” Raybould says. “Instead of feeling robotic, it’s a fun interaction.”
Yahoo! Small Business spoke with Raybould about TicketLeap's approach to helping small businesses host events.
YSB: Hosting a party or event is a lot of work. Why should a small business take on that extra burden?
Raybould: Since the dawn of small businesses, building relationships with customers has been the goal. Sharing an experience is the best way to build a relationship with someone. Experiences are greater than things. We’re helping our customers sell an experience—an event—that you share with a friend. It’s a marketing method that is not leveraged as much as it can be to build community and win advocates of your business.
What kinds of events should small businesses consider hosting?
The goal should be to provide a good experience. It should not be a marketing-pitch meeting. You’re not trying to sell timeshares; it’s marketing if your brand is shining through.
There’s a distinction between a meetup and an event. A meetup is a gathering of peers around a topic we’re all interested in. No one person is on the hook—it’s an experience about getting together to talk about what we like. Those are good. But you can put together an event centered around a singer, a speaker, or something like unlimited wings and beer.
Is a business with a strong social media network a better candidate for hosting an event?
Social media helps get the word out about the event. It’s an easy way DIY events are marketed these days. It also helps on the back end to measure the success of the event. Once people who came to your event leave, now that everyone has a megaphone, they talk in ways that can be measured.
Some businesses wouldn't think of charging admission for an event intended to promote the brand. What advice do you offer on selling tickets?
The key piece of advice we give is that you ought to make your event sustainable. You want to build up over time this habit of having events for your community. It’s fine to invest some of your marketing budget and make it free, but there’s nothing wrong with charging. If it’s just a meet-and-greet, it should be free. But if you bring in a speaker or spend money on some other entertainment to get customers, you should charge what you think it’s worth. There’s an interesting stat: If it’s free, only half of ticket-holders will show up. If you charge $5, your attendance rate goes up to 80 percent.
What are some examples of events your customers have hosted?
Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia uses TicketLeap. They host events very specifically to grow their brand and their community. If you’ve been to one of their events, and you’ve met the brewer, the next time there’s Yards on tap in a bar, you’re more likely to order it. And if you’re with someone, you become an advocate of the brand. It’s hard to replicate that on Twitter.
Pressure to be creative is one reason businesses resist hosting events. They say, “We don’t want it to be lame because we’re not lame.” So we’re helping business owners figure out what kind of events to host.
One customer was a large-scale laundry and cleaning business. They asked us to recommend a venue for a happy hour to promote their brand. We said, “Instead of a happy hour, what about an event where people get really dirty? Like a fun run?” You could see this customer’s paradigm shift to realizing an event should be a fun experience, not just a happy hour.
Does TicketLeap host its own events?
We now throw one event every month. Our first event was a “flower potluck.” We planned to host it on a grassy bank of the Schuylkill River, and we asked each guest to bring a bunch of one type of flower so that people could swap stems and leave with a bouquet of flowers. The day of event it rained so hard that the train tracks next to our office were flooded. It was like a monsoon. We had to move it indoors. Nine people showed up. But those 9 people shared on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter 18 times, and got 93 “likes” and “retweets.” Our event page itself got 79 likes. All in, we had 133 actual real engagements. We’d be thrilled to get 100 engagements on a blog post.
For ideas on hosting your own event, check out TicketLeap’s “Events University,” a series of free advice videos on topics such as how to set a ticket price, how to find a venue, and how to promote the event with photos and a hashtag.