It used to be you spent five minutes registering for an event, and then showed up on the big day, went to a few workshops, drank two free Coronas, and went home.
Social media changes all of that, enabling events and their planners to have long-term, nuanced, shifting interactions with attendees.
I gave a speech last week in suburban Cincinnati to the Mid-American chapter of Meeting Planners International, titled "7 Ways to Use Social Media to Create Buzz-Worthy Events".
There's a total of 39 specific suggestions in the slides, but here are the highlights.
Get your potential attendees interacting with you early on by enabling some measure of feedback or crowd sourcing on the conference programming. South by Southwest has always led in this area, with its "panel picker" process that turns over 30% of the programming selection to potential attendees.
An easier way to do this would be to utilize something like Crowd Campaign, which gives participants a way to suggest content, and for others to vote on it. Or, you could go even simpler, and use Tweetpoll or PollDaddy (As I did when I asked you for feedback on potential new designs for this blog).
Almost all events have an official Web site. But very few (except for the geek events) take full advantage of all the free event listing and event management opportunities. At a minimum, you should create event pages on:
Sure, its a bit of a hassle to oversee all of these event pages, but your attendees swim in different ponds. Plus, every conference has the same MVP attendee: some guy named Google. Why would you pass up a chance to double, triple, quadruple your search engine listings?
As the event draws closer, you have to pull potential attendees off of the fence with content hors d'ouerves
Start a Twitter contest. Online Marketing Summit does this well, awarding free registration to the conference for people that can correctly answer marketing trivia via their Twitter feed.
Get your speakers to produce teaser content. A simple video would be ideal. However, some speakers (either full of attitude or devoid of tech savvy) can't handle the video creation process. In that case, set up a blog on Tumblr (for free, in about 10 minutes) and have your speakers call the toll-free number and leave a voicemail. It will be automatically transcribed, and posted to the official event blog.
Speaking of blogs, consider setting up a Netvibes.com page for the event, and creating a centralized repository for all blog posts by speakers. Netvibes.com is free, and all you need to do is pick a layout, and then subscribe to the RSS feeds of each speaker's blog.
Use Pitchengine to create multi-media enabled press releases, and send the URL for the release to any and all "maybes" on your list.
Gather social information from all registrants. Create a Twitter list of all attendees, and update it each time a new person registers.
Now we're talking about the on-site experience, which is where social media can really add impact and get people talking.
Pick a hash tag for your event, so attendees and remote watchers can monitor on Twitter. Shorter the better, please. Then, start your conference with an unofficial Tweet-up. It gets your likely content creators motivated and excited.
I'm not a big fan of the geek conference staple of having a live, streaming Twitter wall behind speakers while they speak. Too distracting. But, I love having a big Twitter wall in a central conference location. This requires very little effort now, using something like Tweetwally.
Create an event within the event by running contests on Twitter during the conference. My friend Dawn DeVirgilio at ExactTarget is great at this, with multiple small prizes per day.
In this one, she hid gift cards around the conference, and took pictures of the locations. Whomever found it first, won.
Here, she drove people to the Expo Hall, and awarding an unexpected, memorable prize - an upgrade to a hotel suite.
I'm a big fan of voting via text message, and I'd like to see more events more toward session evaluations through that same interface. Do we really need to be killing trees for written speaker evaluation forms, not to mention the environmental impact of hundreds of golf pencils.
I also believe QR codes have huge potential at events, and SXSW put them on every name tag this year. Alas, until standards are adopted and the software is built in to smartphones, we won't see widespread adoption. But, it will happen by 2012 for certain.
Create your own media during the event.
Via Ustream (and its amazing iphone app) you can stream live video of your event for free. Why wouldn't you?
Set up an official Flickr gallery for the event, and encourage attendees to take photos and upload them. Give prizes for Photo of the Day.
Make a daily post-show podcast, interviewing speakers, sponsors, and attendees. Or, atomize that audio even more, and create tweets with sound using Twaud.io
Take the conference content and spread it as widely as possible. Your goal is to get the doubters that didn't come this year to view that content and decide to go the next year.
Take every conference presentation, and instead of just putting them on your Web site or emailing links to attendees, release them on SlideShare (one per day for maximum impact)
Provide Twitter transcripts to attendees, and also post it to your various event pages. Backupify has a super cool new, free service called Session Tweets where you can automatically make a PDF of all tweets using your event hashtag.
Reward good content. MarketingProfs' Ann Handley staged a contest last year for their B2B Forum where attendees that created blog posts, video posts, photo galleries, etc and submitted them to the MarketingProfs blog were entered to win a prize - a free registration to next year's event.
Why couldn't you do that? Why can't you do all of this?