If there’s one thing that hosting the Getaway Travel Bog Conference taught us, it’s that the digital age – and social media in particular – has turned the world of conference organisation on its head. It has revolutionised the way we communicate before, during and after each event, giving us the scope to do what we couldn’t before, and to do it a very different way – from sourcing speakers and suppliers to content delivery and post-conference feedback.
Remember the days when organising a conference revolved around written invitations and promotional flyers, followed by a hope and a prayer that delegates would come? Now it’s all online, real-time, trending, being social….
Take the website, a dynamic entity that not only allows for reporting on developments as they happen (changes to speaker line-up and topics), it is also the portal at the centre of the communication strategy. It drives delegates to the event, facilitates online bookings and continues the discussion long after the conference has wrapped up, providing that sought-after long tail marketers love so much.
Conferencing is a growing global business because there is a return to people wanting to share knowledge face to face. Ironically, the best way to make that happened is through social media, where users connect online across the world!
Twitter arguably drives the whole social media campaign. Prior to the event it is an invaluable marketing tool, spreading the message and soliciting delegates and possibly speakers. As a vehicle for spreading news and opinion – both good and bad – it serves as a device for real-time review as well as generating hype for next year’s event. And it gives exposure additional to the sponsor, if there is one.
The art to social media is an integrated strategy that allows conference organisers to be dynamic enough to engage with the audience in a personable way, staying top of mind and relevant without being obtrusive. It involves making your voice relevant, interesting, authentic and credible.
Most conferences have Twitter handles on name badges and a live Twitter feed whereby delegates can highlight content insights and ask questions. Making use of Twitter handles is a great networking tool – it isn’t called the social network for nothing! People are funny creatures, they won’t go up to a stranger and say ‘hi’, but put them in a room with Wi-Fi and suddenly they are able to engage freely with a room full of people.
Making use of hashtags to highlight specialised information or topics is one of the most effective ways of allowing an audience to select the topics that are most preferred and relevant to them. So, in terms of fine-tuning conference content and adapting to market needs, there’s never been a more powerful ally.
And the list of digital gains goes on… The use of graphics has given conference organisers the opportunity to get creative. Not only do videos and visuals spice up content delivery, now short clips posted on social media convey a sense of tone and substance to those not in the room, and allow viewers to experience proceedings in a more visceral way. And once the event is all wrapped up, links to recorded presentations increase its longevity.
Post-event evaluation through online surveys also provides the opportunity to get valuable feedback on everything from the suitability of content, quality of service and speakers to getting suggestions on how to improve your offering.
From conception to execution, Getaway’s first blog conference* took three months. It hosted international speakers, attracted 150 delegates and was booked out well ahead of time – something that was inconceivable in the ‘good old days’. If you’re not exploiting every opportunity the digital space offers, if your digital efforts aren’t cohesive enough to make your voice stand out from the crowd, it’s time to rethink that strategy….
*The 2013 Travel Blog Conference takes place on 3 August.
Tracy-Lee Behr is events manager of Getaway.