How to Create Buzz Around a User Conference Show
Prepping for a Big Event
User conferences are a great way for technology companies to engage with their customers, partners and the broader IT ecosystem, as it provides a forum for exchanging ideas, sharing best practices and having fun together. They are also great venues for engaging with analysts, bloggers and journalists following a market. But all the activity means nothing without inciting the right kind of interest and maximizing its impact.
This spring we experienced this first hand as we worked with Confluent on the inaugural Kafka Summit and with Twilio on the fifth annual SIGNAL conference. Below are some of our key lessons learned and best practices around creating buzz before, during and after an event.
Before the Big Day
Planning and prepping for user conferences like Kafka Summit and SIGNAL should always begin with strategic thinking and an end goal in mind. Our approach typically begins by thinking about what we can do to track back to the business goals of our clients. For example, are we trying to help drive enterprise sales or downloads, strengthen and cultivate partnership relationships or raise awareness to help recruit top talent? Having a clear understanding of the team’s goals means that we can map out specific ways to support those desired outcomes.
In helping reach those goals, the following elements are crucial to the game plan:
1. Engagement: A conference brings together a unique community and it’s important that you communicate with all audiences. Here are a few ideas:
- Capture Presentations, Insights and Interviews on Camera: Live streaming keynote presentations and other talks is a great way to broaden the reach for both your event and the experts on stage. If you can’t execute on that, at least capturing all the presentations on camera provides shareable content to use after the event. Further, we recommend hiring a separate video team (or two) in order to also record show floor interviews with customers, partners and other experts onsite. It’s an economical way to secure a large volume of interviews and also provides an interesting backdrop for B-roll footage you will need down the line. Don’t forget to bring video release waivers to get signed on the spot to help expedite approval for posting videos online.
- Create an Event App: Offering participants an app to help them navigate your event and provide real-time feedback will keep them engaged. Solicit input on speakers, sessions, the food, the venue, registration process, and associated events like a hackathon or after party. Best of all you will receive immediate input on what resonated with your community and areas to improve on next time. The app also makes it simple to recap the event and share insights each day or at the close of the event.
- Host a Party: Bringing everyone together after a day of sessions offers participants the opportunity to network in a casual environment. At Twilio’s SIGNAL, the two-day conference ended with a carnival-style bash where attendees could partake in coding challenges
turned into games. Winners collected points that could be turned in for a variety of prizes. Additionally, participants were playing for the opportunity to join an elite group of Twilio developers that would get the first opportunity at hacking the technology behind Magic Leap.
2. Social Media: Social media is one of the best ways to keep the buzz going during the event. Having dedicated staff scheduled to attend specific sessions and to live tweet during the presentations is a great way to share key insights with your broader community. To do so effectively, define a strategy for what you want to achieve through social media and establish rules of engagement to help orchestrate a nice conversation flow. Also assign other team members to retweet, respond to questions and engage in the conversation. This approach worked well during Kafka Summit and the show became a sustained trending topic on Twitter —impressive for an inaugural event!
3. Press and Analysts: Last but certainly not least, is the important role journalists play in making a conference a success. A conference is an opportunity to highlight the excitement around your company, from new partners to new products, and journalists play a crucial role in amplifying these messages. With press, the key is to start by building relationships months in advance to build familiarity. Once you get closer to the date, inviting press to attend the event, asking them to moderate sessions and sharing the news under embargo will help to drive awareness and give you the opportunity to highlight specific information. Another important element is to make sure your press collateral is in order—do you have spokespeople ready for impromptu conversations, have you connected with partners and customers about their interest in connecting with press and do you have images and stats ready to be shared? Finally, don’t forget about the visual stories and feel good stories you can tell both during and after. At Twilio SIGNAL, the children of employees using code to sell Lemonade was a huge attraction.
In all, by following our recommendations (and working with an awesome PR firm) you’ll be set up for success. To learn more about the success that comes through careful planning, you can read this InformationWeek article by Jessica Davis highlighting Kafka Summit’s success.
Share your story. What have you seen that’s worked well?
*This blog was written with help from Andrea Torres, senior account executive in Highwire’s San Francisco office.