This is the sixth post in my series on running a tech conference. In today’s post, I’ll detail the strategies for promoting your event and getting people to register.
- Getting Started: Goals and Vision
- Choosing a Venue
- Budget and Sponsors
- Finding Speakers
- Event Logistics & Timeline
- Promotion of your Event
- The Day Of!
- Post Event
Before you announce your conference, you should build a series of messages for each communication channel (email, twitter, blog, etc.) that convey the value of your event. You not only want to get people excited about the content, you need to provide a compelling reason to register.
Demonstrate value through great content
It’s not easy to justify taking a day (or many days) away from the office to attend a conference. Attendees need to be able to show their boss that going to the conference is a valuable use of time and money. You can make that justification easier by demonstrating educational content. O’Reilly takes this to the next level by assembling a business case for each conference to help attendees justify to their bosses the value of attending events such as OSCON.
Ultimately, people attend conferences because they expect a great experience with lots of valuable content. The earlier that you can lock in quality speakers and publish an agenda — even a draft — the better. You want to have interesting content to point prospective attendees to in your messaging.
Make it clear at registration what the cost of the conference ticket includes: admission to sessions, meals, after-parties, networking sessions, swag, and more. Most conference attendees have never run a conference and probably don’t understand the economics. You need to demonstrate to them that it’s worth their money.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, it’s important to create compelling events to encourage registration. In my experience with MongoDB Days, everyone waits until the last minute to sign up. We are able to get earlier registration by promoting our heavily discounted early bird pricing (which ends 30-45 days before the conference) and our come-as-a-group special (which ends 1-2 weeks before the conference). You can also reward early registrants with a special conference t-shirt or other goodies to encourage sign ups.
At every opportunity, make registration viral. Encourage people to invite friends, make it easy to share the details on social media, and offer group discounts. Most people find out about events from their friends, so facilitate sharing.
Get the word out
With the principles above in mind, it’s time to start to spread the word about your event. There are many channels to promote your conference, and it’s important to hit as many as possible to ensure maximum reach.
If you have a mailing list, you’ll want to prepare a series of mailings to those on the list leading up to the event. If you don’t have a mailing list, consider setting one up so that people can subscribe for updates on your event. You may not benefit from the mailing list in the first year, but as the event grows, you’ll benefit from having a database of contacts that you can reach out to.
You can supplement your own mailing list by working with other companies. You can ask your sponsors to include a message in their newsletter, or purchase ad space on a list from a similar conference.
Like your mailing list, it will take time to accumulate fans and followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and XING. However, you will benefit from having these additional channels to reach your audience so it’s worth investing in them early. Early on, establish and publicize an official hashtag for the event, and seed the conversation with tweets from the organizers, speakers, and attendees. As you are doing email campaigns and community outreach, always include the social media links to help build a following. Tweet consistently using relevant hashtags and mentions to encourage re-tweets and gain new followers.
In addition to setting up dedicated accounts for the event, ask each of the conference speakers, sponsors, and any high-profile technologists in the area to announce their involvement on social media, and re-broadcast (RT, like, etc.) on your conference’s official channels.
You should make sure that your event is listed in all of the relevant event mailing lists and calendars. The following are good places to start:
Announce to Relevant User Groups
Prior to an event, I usually spend several hours researching where the local technologists congregate. In most US cities, there are active groups on Meetup.com for every major programming language. I typically join the mailing lists for those groups, and lurk for a few weeks to get a feel for the culture of the meet up. If it’s a high-volume list with lots of announcements and activity, I usually simply send an announcement about the event to the group. If the group is less active, I instead reach out to the organizers to see if making an announcement about the event would be appropriate. In addition, it’s a good idea to offer a few free passes or swag that the organizers can raffle off during the next meetup. This requires some advance planning, but helps build goodwill with the groups.
Other Creative Ideas
- Design a badge that says “I’m attending/speaking at/sponsoring” the conference that people can post on their websites (see DrupalCon, for example)
- Sometimes publications are willing to help promote your event in exchange for being listed as a “media sponsor” and being offered press passes
- Organize Twitter contests with free tickets as prizes using the official event hashtag
Have you seen other creative ideas for spreading the word about a tech conference? Please share them in the comments section!