With traditional media and analyst organizations declining in numbers and influence, conference organizers are turning to social media for coverage and attention. If identifying and attracting bloggers is difficult, keeping them happy at an event is doubly so. After three years running the Tech Field Day and a decade attending conferences, trade shows, and other events, I’ve learned a thing or two about that. Here are my suggestions.
Make Blogger Passes Available
Trade shows and conferences have long offered free admission to members of the press, and many events cater to industry analysts as well. But do bloggers get invites too? Many independent influencers don’t write for a living, and even professional organizations operate with limited budgets.
Every event should offer a number of free passes for bloggers and other social media types. These blogger passes should be all-access and should include special meetings with executives, presenters, and attendees. It can be a challenge to identify, invite, and vet potential attendees, but that is another topic for another day!
Offer Travel Support
Non-professional writers often don’t have the luxury of an expense account to draw on to attend events; many even have to take vacation days or unpaid leave. Merely offering a ticket will not be enough for these desirable attendees: Event organizers should offer to pay airfare, ground transportation, and hotel costs too. Once again, vetting prospects is key, since this can easily get out of hand. But paying for travel is a great way to entice attendees!
Give It Some Structure
Many bloggers are industry event neophytes and need guidance to help navigate the schedule, while others are just too busy to do much pre-event planning. Offer to create a custom schedule, including key presentations and event highlights, one-on-one interviews, and time off for writing. But make sure they can opt out of certain events if they choose – not all are willing to go with the flow! Offer a custom schedule in printed and electronic form, too.
On-site guidance and shepherding is a tricky task. It can be helpful to remind bloggers where and when they should be in a scheduled event. But be careful that you don’t appear too strict: There is a fine line between influencing and imposing! Your best ally is an organized insider who can help guide their peers through the event.
Social media is exceptionally real-time focused, so make sure bloggers know who is talking at all times. Handouts with names, titles, bios, and photos are a big help, as are table cards and large, easy-to-read nametags. Never assume that the audience knows your PR staff or CEO at a glance.
Mix and Mingle
Make your staff and guests available to the audience, and resist the urge to clump together. Events can be great fun for the PR team to bond, but insider conversations can exclude the very people you are trying to reach out to. Avoid talking shop and focus your friendliness on the invited attendees.
Provide Wi-Fi and Power
What good are bloggers if they can’t blog? Make sure there is plenty of power and open Internet access everywhere they will go. Go crazy with the outlets, providing two or three at every seat, and set up special powered spots at keynotes and mixers. Make sure the Wi-Fi network is mobile-device-friendly, without excessive splash screens and passwords that interfere with iPad and smartphone users. Typical paid hotel Wi-Fi is a non-starter; set up your own.
What’s the Hashtag?
Twitter hashtags can be created on the fly, and your attendees will create a few if you don’t standardize ahead of time. Every event should have a simple, short hashtag associated with it, and the best are consistent over time. “#CorpWorld” beats “#CorporateWorld2011” hands-down and still gets the message across.
Connect to Existing Social Networks
Set up a event-related groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Flickr rather than creating your own forum for event-related discussion. Walled-garden social networks tend to fail, and empty discussion boards are just embarrassing. Go where the bloggers are rather than asking them to come to you.
Keep On Top Of Things
Once you standardize the twitter hashtag and identify the online groups, actively follow the discussion and immediately address any concerns that come up. Real-time chat can rapidly turn nasty, but it can also save your bacon. If a presenter is boring the bloggers, he’s probably also turning off the rest of the attendees. Pull the plug or redirect the session rather than allowing the heckling to start.
Promote Them Back
The most valuable commodity in the blogging world is a link. Actively promote the bloggers who attend your event with lists and links to their sites, and share and tweet their coverage. Balanced coverage is much more credible than straight praise, so don’t be afraid to promote less-than-flattering content. You’ll gain respect from the bloggers and their audience if you acknowledge and engage rather than aggressively refuting their commentary.
Social media is a two-way street. Rather than going it alone, event organizers should team up with bloggers, user groups, and organizations to maximize communication and cooperation. That’s one reason we created Gestalt IT, and why today I spend 100% of my time at Foskett Services organizing and coordinating events like this. It’s nice to see so many companies reaching out and getting involved!