Party Planning has been around for a many years. Familiar companies such as Avon and Amway have grown business empires using the not so humble Party Plan. More recently in the UK, Virgin Vie, Nutrimetics and even Anne Summers have used the Party Plan as a sales channel. But the industry is undergoing a transformation with the introduction of online Party Planning based on Social Media techniques. And specifically through Social Networks like Facebook.
The strength of the Party Planning as a sales channel, is to some extent, also its weakness. The strength is clearly being able to create sales in a friendly and fun environment within and between a group of friends and neighbours, hosted by a trusted person.
Sales are made during the event and the products are delivered by post direct from the company by post – meaning the Host does not necessarily need to carry stock. (Although some Hosts do). AsAvonhas demonstrated, this can be highly effective, but it does rely on finding those motivated Hosts with a circle of friends willing to travel. This feature usually limits the sales area to less than 30 minutes travelling time. The Host will often have to lay on drinks and food – essentially holding a party (well the clue is in the name) – perhaps mid week during school term time. So this is not for everyone. The weakness of traditional Party Planning is therefore scalability. To make Party Planning work, first a company has to recruit a high number of Hosts willing turn their family home into a sales environment.
But the advent of Social Media means that just about any company with interesting (demonstratable) products could consider online Party Planning to make sales. Online Party Planning is really where e-Commerce and Social Media based trusted community based selling comes together.
Let have a look at how Party Planning works online. First a company has to find willing online Hosts. For those companies that already have successful Facebook Page, it can be as simple has putting up a Post asking for Hosts. Usually, a company will have a number of more active Social Media contacts that are considered advocates. If you have any kind of successful Social Media strategy, you will already have a good rapport with these individuals as part of your general relationship building activity. The incentive to become a Host is the chance of receiving free product or commission. But even if you do not, then it is possible to Post on other relevant popular sites and make a low key pitch to find willing Hosts.
The best (most popular) online Hosts will already have a wide circle of their own Friends. All you need to do is ask the Host to create an Event on their personal Facebook page stating the time, duration and the purpose and then have the Host send this to all their Friends as an invite. (Creating an Event on Facebook is a simple and a standard feature on a Facebook Page). It can help if you, as the selling company, will have prepared a nice electronic invitation that your Host can send out to their Friends.
Once on line, the Host will begin a dialogue with attendees by posting directly to the Event page, perhaps by starting with an easy word game to break the ice. Just like a real party! At some point the Host will introduce your company and your e-Commerce site to their friends (usually in a separate computer Window). Because your Host is already an advocate of your company, the chances are that they will know enough to highlight the features and benefits of your product range (or service) and be able to answer any question that attendees may have by way of Facebook Posts to the Event page. Incidentally, since all of this is recorded on Facebook, it makes for very useful product research and feedback too!
There are a number of tricks* at this point that get attendees in to the buying habit, but essentially the Host has to make a smooth transition from simply talking about your products to inviting attendees to buy. It can help to have some professional video clips available on YouTube. There is no doubt that some Hosts will be more natural and adept at this than others – and selling by demonstration, even online, is a rare skill. But the chances of finding the perfect Host are multiplied online and the real bonus for the online Host (and therefore you as the commercial company behind the party) is that Friends from all around the world can attend.
Party Planning is selling products by trust and demonstration and online Party Planning is very like demonstrating products on your very own shopping channel. There is no doubt that online Party Planning is enhanced by the use of online video tools like Skype, but it is by no means essential. And if you think Online Party Planning is just for costume jewellery and cosmetics – look at the huge range of items that are successfully sold through TV shopping channels and other demonstration methods.
* Like having your “plant” in the audience to make the first purchase. This often leads to “pack buying” behaviour!