Why Virtual Conferences Make Me Giddy and How You Can Host One
While consumers have a louder voice than ever before through social media and online platforms, marketers are scrambling to maintain control over their brand's voice and image across those same mediums. There's an insistence from consumers that the brands they support have a strong social presence and that's lead to many brands implementing a mindless approach to social and influencer marketing, which can sometimes cause them to come across as insincere and disingenuous.
We've seen many brands abandon the fact that part of influencer marketing is about a human-to-human connection, not just a witty tweet, and thus, there's a delicate balance to be maintained: Social media presences are demanded while consumers still ache for a human connection with the brands they support. A quality influencer marketing strategy embraces the fact that brands need to have a strong online presence and understands that an online presence needs to be upfront, conversational and personal, so the void of human interaction doesn't get bigger.
From my experience, virtual conferences have always been a marketing tactic that provides a perfect hybrid of convenient digital technology and real human interaction. This is why my team at GroupHigh started The Outreach Marketing Virtual Summit, an online conference that occurs every 6 months.
Just picture a webinar on steroids...
Networking and social value
I haven't been to a physical marketing conference in two years but I've been to a dozen virtual conferences. Honestly, I think I get the same networking and education opportunities that I would get at most of the conferences I've been to in-person.
Not only are virtual conferences a series of webinar presentations but they also have resource libraries, virtual networking lounges and a ton of interaction that takes place real-time usually via Twitter with a hashtag set for the event.
As a conference host, to ensure that attendees mingle, I let all attendees know that conversation will take place on Twitter with #outreachmarketing. Through emails the day before and day of the conference I'm able to start the conversation and camaraderie early on Twitter. During the conference I'll remind attendees to ask questions, weigh in and socialize on Twitter to get maximum value out of my conference days. The hashtag is a must have because marketers will see #outreachmarketing all over Twitter during the summit and they'll come and join the conference on the spur of the moment - spontaneity rarely fits in with a conference that you need to fly to.
My conference platform also provides a virtual lounge and resource library full of downloadable assets that I can prompt attendees to visit in between presentations to create the full conference experience.
Whether you're hosting or attending, the cost of an online conference is phenomenally lower than an in-person event. To attend virtual marketing conferences I've seen some companies charge a few hundred dollars but most of them are free.
To market and promote The Outreach Marketing Virtual Summit, I've dialed into a pretty consistent plan by now - here's an outline of what that looks like:
- Via email, announce the upcoming conference to people who have attended in the past and my database of contacts that I regularly communicate with. Announcing the conference through email a day or week before I start promoting it to everyone else helps give it just a hint of exclusivity.
- Schedule out Tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn posts. I like to brainstorm the messaging for these posts all at once and schedule them when I'm "in the creative zone."
- Sponsor social posts. I usually just do Tweets, but I watch to see which tweets do the best and keep adding to the budget to my Twitter campaigns based on performance.
- Buy email blasts. Yeah, not my favorite marketing tactic but it works.
- Influencer outreach. I touch base with marketers whose audience would dig this event and ask them to share it.
- Activate presenters. This is fun and easy because they're already part of the event. I pre-write a few tweets for them and make sure they have a high-res file of our conference logo handy.
- Link to it. In my posts for GroupHigh and my guest posts for other publications I mention the conference as a resource for more influencer marketing education.
- Update my email signature. The majority of my day is spent emailing and I'm sure yours is too. Updating my email signature lets contacts know I'm hosting a conference.
When putting on a virtual conference, not only do you get to organize thought leaders in your industry, you'll also be positioning your brand to be looked at as a thought leader for having the brains and ability to organize a virtual conference.
When it comes to choosing a topic and finding presenters, it's the same process as you'd follow for other influencer marketing tactics and the topics should resound with the niches you talk about on your blog. If the "who" and the "topic" of your conference become an issue you may need to revisit your buyer and influencer personas before proceeding.
Once you have your topic lined up, the outreach to get presenters is very similar to influencer outreach you've done to promote content, new products, webinars, etc. Hopefully you've been following GroupHigh and my content long enough that you already have the influencer relationships in place to invite to present at a conference.
Remember how these conferences take place online and you can attend from anywhere? That means you can wear whatever you want (or don't want) - however, this is a very fun fact to play on. During the day I love to ask attendees to take selfies of where they are tuning into the conference from to showcase the accessibility of virtual events.
Evergreen video content
I vetted 4 online conference platforms before choosing vconference so I can't speak for all platforms, but each one that I demoed had the option of making all presentations available on demand after the conference. So if attendees had a schedule conflict, they could still register for an event because they were emailed the recordings the next day, leading to more registrations.
Obviously there's so much you can do with these videos and link to them where applicable. You can even keep the videos gated so attendees have to register to see them - I tried this approach at first but then wanted to make sure everyone had access to such awesome content, so I published the videos on demand without a web registration form. I save that tactic for people who love the past videos and want to sign up for our next conference.
From idea to implementation, virtual conferences have been the backbone of my career and GroupHigh's presence in influencer marketing and I highly encourage you to try it out for your own brand.
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