Monday, April 05, 2010

7 ways to reach outside your conference

Being present at a conference is still the best way to get the whole experience. But there are good reasons to consider opening up your conference to those who couldn't (or wouldn't) attend.  It's a great way to grow a base of future attendees and whet their appetites for your offerings; generate more revenue even when the hall is full; raise the convener's visibility and reputation; gain vital market data on those who do and do not attend; field-test the wider popularity of key sessions and workshops; and provide a cost-effective alternative in tight budgetary times.

There's one more essential reason:  Audiences now have the keys to unlock what's going on in conference sessions and share it with the world.  You'll do best if you follow their lead and use these tactics to expand your conference's reach:
  1. Make it easy for attendees to tweet and share:  This is still the easiest way to expand conference reach. Make it clear that tweeting and otherwise sharing conferences is encouraged, and offer hashtags at the start of every session.Look for ways to provide extra outlets, free wireless Internet, and charging stations for laptops.  If I were a sponsor or advertiser, I'd stop handing out branded pens and start focusing on giveaways like mini-surge-protectors and charging stations, and offer to sponsor the wi-fi for a day or the whole better way to be popular. 
  2. Add nearby satellite locations with live-streamed proceedings: The ever-sold-out TED conferences limit attendance and feature very high registration fees. But TEDActive, a simultaneous event, offers attendees a similar setting, high-definition simulcasts from TED, plus live talks and music and mingling. TED 2011's already sold out, but TEDActive for 2011 is still taking applicants as of this writing.
  3. Add regional satellite locations with live-streamed proceedings: The 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTEN for short) starts in a few days in Atlanta, but is offering low-cost live viewings in Austin, New York and Washington, DC, plus additional livestreams and webinars. And that alone is creating buzz in advance of the meeting. As with the first option, this preserves the networking aspects as well as the conference content.
  4. Share video on Facebook, UStream and YouTube:  This might mean video extras, like interviews with keynote speakers or hallway chats with important attendees, but get some video online during and after the conference, and make sure your streamed sessions are archived and easy to find.
  5. Make RSS mandatory for all online conference content:  Use TED as your model here, too--its RSS page includes feeds for high-def, video and audio from its conferences and subsequent online postings of TED talks, all of which are made available for free after the conference.  (While you're at it, share your closed proceedings later online.)
  6. Get speakers to share:  Ask speakers to post their bios, handouts and background material online in advance of the session, and their slides, texts or transcripts after the session (it'd make sense to have RSS feeds here, too).  And if speakers will tweet or take questions on Twitter or other social sites, so much the better. While this takes advance work, make your commitment to a rich online offering clear early--and show speakers what's in it for them.
  7. Ask non-attendees to send in questions:  In advance of your sessions, ask attendees to submit questions via Twitter, email or other social sites (and give them a deadline so you have time to sort the questions and share them with speakers).  Go here to see one example of how the White House is handling submitted citizen questions.  Make sure speakers know about and address at least some of the submitted questions, and consider using a Twitter moderator on each panel to keep an eye on--and share--questions as they come in during the session.
One counter-trend that I don't recommend:  Cracking down on audience posts during conference sessions, or limiting what reporters can cover, as a number of medical societies did recently when they banned reporters from using video or audio recording, even to take notes.  Try looking at the live-and-in-person experience as what's unique, and the rest of the sharing a great marketing tool -- the latter can never really trump the former.

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