Socialbakers is a Czech company showing a meteoric growth in the last few years, from a startup to one of the biggest providers of tools and services for analyzing social media. These days among its 2500 customers can be found such high-profile names as Microsoft, Toyota, Nestle and many more. Nevertheless, Socialbakers still don’t hesitate to meet their current and potential clients “offline”. Since 2012, organizing conferences like Engage has been a significant part of the company’s marketing strategy, and they recently received a EuBea Award for Best Conference in recognition of their flagship Engage Prague social media educational summit. Behind these events is a small team led by Klara Honzikova, Global Event Manager for Socialbakers. In this interview with LIVE Communication, she gives clues about how to organize the perfect business event anywhere in the world.
About the approach
How have you come up with the idea of opening the events department at Socialbakers and the whole events-chain under this brand?
Jan Rezab, one of our co-founders and currently Executive Chairman, had an idea of hosting a social media conference in New York in 2012. He hired me on the spot during the very first interview because I was the only one who accepted his challenge. Everyone else turned him down because it sounded really crazy — being based in Prague and having nothing in place save for the name of the conference. So my task was to organize every detail, from the venue to the theme and the speakers. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun. And I’m happy to say it’s still fun now that we’ve settled on a winning format and built up a reputation — it’s just gotten more organized, since we now have a team of four people and more time to prepare.
What part do Socialbakers events hold in the marketing strategy?
Actually, it purely started as a marketing activity, and over the years it has turned into a brand awareness thing. All the events that we’ve done from September 2012 through April 2015 were 90% used as a marketing tool for the company. And as I’ve said from the very beginning, events are a strong marketing tool when it comes to creating business opportunities. If you think about it, emails — unless they are creative and very unusual — won’t have much of an impact. Every business knows this. They usually end up in the spam folder and people don’t read them. Then obviously there are phone calls, but even if people take the calls, they barely listen to you when it comes to pitching a product. But when you have people in a room at a conference for the whole day, ideally, you can show them not only what you do but also how it positively affects other people, for example your satisfied clients. At Engage conferences we have clients speaking about how we have helped them and how we are trying to educate the market. But only now with Engage Prague has it become something that promotes the brand as well, something that was not happening in previous years.
You simply can't create an event for 500 people if you have just 5 people on the local team, conducting a thorough follow-up would not be possible for them.
What kind of events appear to be the most appropriate — bigger or smaller?
For brand awareness it is the bigger ones, but for business, obviously smaller ones are more effective. In 2013-2014 we staged regional tours in Latin America and Asia-Pacific, taking the team on the road and traveling for several weeks at a time. Every week we had an event in a different country for between 70 and 200 people. They were afternoon conferences and I think that format worked for us very well in terms of generating business opportunities. If you want to use events as a marketing tool and are a global company like us, then smaller events are definitely something for your local teams. For example I traveled to Singapore, met the local team there, helped them invite their contacts, organized the event and then supported them when it came to following up. But they did most of the work after the event. You simply can’t create an event for 500 people if you have just 5 people on the local team, conducting a thorough follow-up would not be possible for them. So you need to think about the realistic capacity of your teams while taking into consideration the scale of the event as well.
Could you describe your views on the marketing strategy
of Socialbakers as an international brand?
Events play a big role in our marketing strategy. We take them very seriously and invest a significant part of our budget into putting on the best events possible — the kind that people have begun to associate with Socialbakers. In addition to our in-house events team, we work very closely with our sales reps in every region that we hold an event. We want to make sure that our entire sales team gets the tools they need to successfully do their job.
About the internal point of view
Do online and offline activities go hand in hand in Socialbakers activity? If so, what is the best way to combine them?
For us it’s a combination of both online and offline. Conferences are far from the only marketing tool for us, though in my view they are one of the strongest. We’re lucky to have the support of a large marketing team here in Prague, so in terms of that it goes hand in hand. If we did not do promotion on social media or by e-mail, we would not have people engaged and interested in our events. These online platforms are primarily where they learn about our events — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and emails.
Do you apply Socialbakers tools and products for measuring the results of your events?
Yes, we actually use our own tools at our events! Our social media manager uses our Socialbakers Builder tool to manage all social media and publishing aspects concerning the events. We also have been using our Social Command Center since 2012 to monitor how our events perform live, wherever they may take place. We can develop very specific screens and use these “social walls” to display what is happening live at the event on Twitter and Instagram and see which topics and speakers are trending and so on. Other events do this as well. Our event attendees like it as they can see who is the most active on Twitter. We display them as “ambassadors”, which means they can see pictures of themselves — here is the Top 5, Top 3 etc. Socialbakers Builder and the Social Command Center are simply must-haves for us at our events.
Is there a creative department in Socialbakers?
We don’t have a creative department in the traditional sense of the term. We do have our own designers but they mostly focus on Socialbakers products, so they help us with things like designing the website or creating banners for online promotion. For Engage Prague we worked with an external agency, JAD Productions. They helped us with the creative side and some of the logistics. Their creative director Yemi AD is one of the best not only in the Czech Republic, but in my opinion globally as well. He did one of Kanye West’s world tours and is internationally recognized, so I really like working with him. It makes a huge difference having him on board for our events. His team went around the world with us last October for our five Engage conferences, and if we compare them to the previous conferences in Mexico, Brazil or Dubai, you would see a huge difference creatively. When it comes to the business part — the speakers and the content — that’s always organized by us.
Do you cooperate with other event agencies and, if so, on which occasions?
I am not a big fan of doing so if you have such a big team internally. Before staging events in Asia or Australia we usually rely on recommendations from our sales team for choosing venues. But then we look for local suppliers ourselves. The main disadvantage is that you can’t meet people in person. For me, hiring an agency to have them oversee and organize the entire event is a waste of time and money. I can do it myself with my team working directly with the suppliers. And by now we’ve already organized events around the world a couple of times, so we know all the locations and have good, reliable local suppliers.
Engage Prague 2015 appeared to be your tour-de-force this year.
Please tell us how this conference was organized.
It was organized like any other conference and the results were amazing. We were honestly quite surprised ourselves. We had been organizing these kinds of events in New York and London for years, so it was natural that as Socialbakers grew into a global company it was time to put our headquarters on the map, event-wise. We did not really expect how much of an impact it would have here in the Czech Republic.
What we focused on primarily was providing a really good selection of speakers and interesting content for the workshops. It was a must for me to have quality workshops. If you look at other events, their workshops usually last an hour or so and attendees don’t really have time to learn anything. My big focus was to work closely with our education team, led by Ed Johnson out of our UK office. They created a really good format for the workshops that lasted three hours. In the first part a speaker would present a case study and speak with the attendees, and in the second part they would collaborate on something in teams. So after three hours you have learned something and you have worked in a team with people from all over the world.
One of the big focuses was also to promote the Czech Republic as much as possible. We wanted attendees to feel that when they came to Engage Prague, it was not only about “Engage” but about Prague itself too! We really tried to have people experience as much as possible. It was organized so that people coming to Prague could spend a weekend here as well. It was worth it to spend the money and stay here for two more days, especially in May. Using different activities we tried to show people Prague, and we plan to do more next year. Obviously, working with Yemi AD and his production company took the conference to another level. People stayed for the entire day, which for the event planner is the biggest reward.
If we meet someone at our event and they become a client, the investment does not come back once but several times.
What results can you see these days and which aims
do you still aspire to?
If you look at the numbers from our events, I think most of them were able to generate revenue worth three times their investment, which also means generating that amount of business opportunities. So if something costs $100,000, then we want to give the sales team what they need to create $300,000 worth of opportunities, which means interesting content at the event, getting the right people in the room together, and so on. And actually there were others that were only able to generate values that were equal to their investment, which still presents a win for us from the brand awareness perspective. But if you think about it in the long term, then it is not merely equal, because our clients usually stay with us for more than one year. If we meet someone at our event and they become a client, the investment does not come back once but several times.
What are your plans for the future and what is the next step
for Socialbakers in the events field?
Apart from taking our events around the world and educating people in the social media marketing field, we definitely want to repeat the success of Engage Prague, which is already slated for May 11-13, 2016. We have set the bar very high this year, so it won’t be easy, but my team and I love a challenge!