After Everyone’s Gone, the Conference Goes On

Quality, conference-centric web content can provide an ideal confluence of on-site and online. Smart organizers create all kinds of different content that helps people to make the decision, prior to the event, to buy a ticket (or not). The content also serves as search engine fodder, driving traffic to the show site prior to the event. As I wrote in last month’s column, successes such as the Singapore Tattoo Show, which used a Facebook Group called Tattoo Artistry to help drive 15,000 people to the show’s debut in January 2009, are the models to emulate.

 I’ve also seen some prime examples of conference organizers using the web during the event itself. Yet as I travel the world speaking at events, I realize that most organizers do next to nothing on the web. Companies such as EMC Corp. are the exception, with organized Flickr tags for people’s photos, a YouTube channel, and a Twitter feed (and with an agreed tagging mechanism for anyone on Twitter to add to the feed). By corralling those who are taking photos, writing blogs, or posting to Twitter anyway, EMC channels content in ways that people can find it.

 One of the most interesting experiences I had with social media at a conference was at the Inbound Marketing Summit, held in October in Boston, of which I am one of the organizers. We recognized that many people who couldn’t be with us at the physical event still wanted to participate. As well, people at the event wanted to be able to effectively share information. We created a hash tag (#NMS08) for people to use that we announced at the beginning of the event. Whenever anyone posted something on Twitter or wrote a blog post, they used the tag. That way, people could use specialized search engines such as Twitter search to see what others were saying in near real time.

 What was most fascinating was the number of “side channel discussions” going on. Someone would blog about a speaker or a panel and others would comment. Good presentations got instant rave reviews on Twitter while others were panned just as fast. There were thousands of Tweets during the event, and the tag made the top 10 on Twitter for some time.

However, the best part was that people who were not in the room could participate. During one of the panel discussions that I led, I took questions both from the audience and from people all over the world via Twitter. People in the audience were Tweeting what panelists were saying and others, snug in their offices or at home, asked questions. I personally received a question from New Zealand via Twitter that I asked live at the Summit. How better to presell tickets to next year’s than to someone who wishes they could be there in person? Online information generated by participants serves to sell to new attendees in future years. It’s a marketing dream come true for event organizers.

The virtual record of the event serves to keep people engaged long after the show is over. Anyone can go back and see what happened, in impressive detail. Who was that speaker again, and what did she say? And what did others say about it?

In fact, the lingering content from previous years is often the best marketing tool for subsequent events. When someone wants to see if a show is right for them, he or she can get an inside view through photos, videos, Twitter stream, and blog feeds of what went on.

Sadly, however, many conferences use the same URL year in and year out and wipe away the valuable information from last year’s event as staffers begin gearing up for the new year. That’s a big mistake.

 In fact, there are a lot of skeptics out there. Many people say something like, “What you describe may be true at new media conferences, but not at mine.” Well, that’s just not true. I often speak at events that are neither about social media nor about marketing, and there are still many attendees blogging and Tweeting live. I keynoted the Giant Screen Cinema Association’s annual conference last fall, and there were people blogging live at the event. These are definitely not marketers or “social media experts.” These people run IMAX theaters.

Every event today is an opportunity to create a living conversation, one that creates a real-time vibrancy and a lasting archive of community content. At a minimum, let it happen. Better still, enable and interact with attendees to bring your conference marketing message to life.