The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Conferences
I have been fortunate to attend several blogging/social media related conferences this year; at times as a speaker and at times as an attendee. All in all, I am a Blogging/Social Media Conference newbie, but it was immediately clear when I walked into the opening keynote at SheCon, that something was off.
I touched upon the industry lessons in my first post, and it provides a segway into the lessons for all conferences. This post is not going to focus on details like whether water was available or whether or not lunch was offered, but overall concepts that shape the space.
Many kuddos to the organizers for running such an event. Yet, there are lessons to be learned for all social media conferences, the social media industry and the people engaged within it. The ideas presented are based on my past experiences as a project manager, event planner and seminar organizer, as well as my observations at SheCon and other social media conferences. They are only my thoughts and every conference attendee has different experiences for which to relate. However, you know that you hit the nail on the head when the thoughts seem to reflect the majority.
1. Conference Cost. Conferences should cost something, and the SheCon conference was free. While I love free, there was no incentive for people to actually attend. Having even a small fee would provide a level of investment. It would have perhaps provided water, lunch or even Internet access, which would engage the participant, enable them to be invested, and eliminate minor concerns that can negatively impact the experience.
2. Constant Communication. Conferences are a juggling act, but the key is to not show the juggle. Clear and constant communication with the attendees provides a sense of community, even when things inevitably go awry. Simple tweets communicating schedule changes or room re-assignments do wonders for positive flow. Making verbal announcements or handwritten signs in a pinch is better than conference attendees wandering aimlessly or realizing after a panel has started that they are in the wrong room. Dissatisfaction spreads quickly, which leads to the next point.
3. Rapid Response. It should be expected that things will go wrong, but is it how the conference organizers handle the snafus that makes all the difference. I saw several tweets (some of them mine) asking for assistance during the SheCon conference. Rarely did I see the official conference organizers respond to the questions or concerns. While the community often stepped in with answers or support, it would have been better to see the conference brand itself engage at a great level with the conferees. It adds a level of connection, brand exposure and positive reinforcement of leadership.
4. Organized Response. Each conference should have a designated person to constantly be scanning the conference #hashtag. Not the person or persons who are running the conference, (who are often running around putting out the preverbial fires), but someone who is connected to the conference, familiar with the goals of the conference for consistent voice. This person should be able to devote time to handle problems, and to be consistently present in the space. Again, to show engagement, leadership and brand exposure.
5. Speaker Expertise. Speakers are the face of a conference, and often it is not what they say but how they say it and where they engage. In addition to rockin’ speaker proposals, speakers should be interviewed by phone. While they may be subject matter experts, do they effectively communicate that expertise? How do they present themselves? This factor is just as important as the panel topic as it reflects on the conference brand. Perhaps speaker references or video introductions would provide additional assurance that the speaker is the best fit for the particular conference and its goals.
6. Speaker Engagement. All speakers should be required to volunteer or assist in other areas of the conference. Again, they reflect the conference itself. Speakers that are approachable are often thought of more positively and positive thoughts transition to the conference as a whole.
7. Attendee Support. I was shocked when I found out that I had to pay $12.95 a day for Internet service at SheCon, and at Mom 2.0, Internet was sporadic and spotty. Appropriate tools are essential. At a social media conference, Internet is essential. At a pharmaceutical conference, it may be pens and paper. All in all, attendees need the tools and support to have a successful conference experience, and it should be checked and rechecked to ensure consistency. If the conference is unable to provide such support, it should state it clearly in the materials. A notice, for example, that Internet would not be provided at SheCon, would have minimized the shock and frustration. At Mom 2.0, the hotel did have internet technical support on hand, which assisted in ‘frustration management’.
8. Functional Space. When looking for conference space, consider the vibe of the space based on layout. Having all breakout rooms, exhibitors, and lounges in close proximity enables better engagement. It fosters a positive environment as the number one reason most people attend conferences is for the networking opportunity. At SheCon, the rooms were far apart. At Mom 2.0, it was in an L shaped layout, which split the crowds.
So it is not about lunch, water or if the coffee was any good, but the functionable space, the response of the conference organizers and the engagement of the speakers.
While each conference location can effect the conference as a whole, and the experience of the staff at the conference hotel is often outside the control of the conference organizers, each of the points above are within the scope of possibility to ensure an amazing conference and a positive buzz; even after the closing keynote speaker has gone home.