Is Social The New Conference Black & Are Attendee Lists The New Allure?

Are social networks having any positive impact on conference and event attendance?

Are registered attendee lists motivating others to attend?

Conference attendee lists luring others to register

Conference attendee lists luring others to register

On the blog Interactive Meeting Technology, Samuel J. Smith discusses 20 Reasons People Attend Conferences. He lists typical reasons why people attend conferences. Several others have added to that list too.

As someone who plans events for a living and as a conference attendee, I’ve noticed a couple of trends affecting attendance:

1) People are deciding to attend and register for the conference at the last minute.

2) More people are making their decision to attend, not based on the conference content or speakers, not based on exhibitors, not based on the venue location, not based on the costs, but based on who else is attending.

I’ve recently read blogs, Facebook updates and tweets of colleagues that have waited until one to two weeks before a major event to register. (Interesting these people are posting their conference registration on their social network profiles.) I’ve even made the decision to attend some local events within the last week before that conference’s official start date.

Why? When I ask colleagues and friends why they wait until the last minute to register, I get a variety of answers and one seems to bubble to the top. “I waited because I wanted to see who else was attending.” When I dig further, I get this answer. “I wanted to see if any people from my online social networks were attending.”

I know that exhibitors, sponsors and suppliers base their decisions to attend on whether their target audience is there. Yet, I’m not used to hearing people say they waited to register to see if people from their online social networks were attending. I know that there are a multiple of reasons why people actually attend an event. Yet if a peer’s attendance is a trigger, I want to capitalize on that.

Some technology conference event planners tell me that WOM from trusted friends is their most effective driver of conference registration. It’s not the speakers, content, email, direct marketing, venue location or registration price. It the fact that the attendees want to see people from their online social networks at a face-to-face event. They want to participate in social, informal and peer learning with their social community. (That’s another discussion too.] And, these technology event planners are tracking who the influencers of attendee event are.

Blogger Jason Keath recently wrote Why I Travel To Conferences Last Minute. He discusses that he attends events to invest in people and relationships, not because of the great speakers or content.

Keath says, “I invest in people. If you know me, you know I love to travel and I don’t go to conferences for the content. I go purely to see the people. Occasionally I wander into a session or keynote when I have to, but it is reluctantly.”

The social aspects of a conference, both registered attendees from his social networks and the ability to participate in social onsite, lure him. Community and individuals already attending draw him like a magnet to that event.

Could it be that social media, social networking and the social web are having a broader impact on events than we realize? Many event organizers fear that social media and virtual events are cannibalizing event attendance. [That’s a different discussion.] Could it be that social media is actually expanding and increasing event attendance? Is social the new conference black? Should event organizers leverage social networks to drive new attendee registration? Are registered attendee lists the new appeal?

Have you made a decision to attend a conference purely based on who else is attending? Do you wait until the last minute to register for an event based on others in your social network are attending?

What do you think?

Comments

  1. says

    Well, I’m a content gal, so I go for the sessions first and foremost. But the second top reason is the people I hope to see, both for a first f2f with those I only know online so far, and to reconnect with old friends.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      @Sue

      I’m a content guy myself yet I’m feeling the lure more and more from my online social commuities to attend events. I like the mix the two, learning and my online social network for peer learning at its best!

  2. says

    Online communities and relationships have a huge impact on whether people attend a conference or not, in my opinion, particularly when it’s a 50/50, “meh” decision (as opposed to extreme pro or con decision making factors like an amazing keynoter (pro) or serious budget issues (con)). While I personally tend to be one of those super organized people who registers to get the early bird discount (if I’m not attending at the speaker rate), I know for a fact that I’ve persuaded several online friends and colleagues who are not in my local area at many different times to come to something because I tell them how much I’d love to hang out with them there. I also know the power of a truly social community like YAP (www.yapstar.org) for the same thing – our dance parties are legendary in the association space (here’s the one we’re hosting for #ASAE09 – http://yapstar.org/calendar/event/2009/8/17/127187) and several people have said they attended a conference because they wanted to come and see their friends at the YAP party. And if they support their association and learn something along the way, all the better! :)

    • Jeff Hurt says

      @Maddie

      Thanks Maddie for the comments. Yes, I’m one of your fans/friends that when I see you attending a conference, I want to be there to hang out with you and your posse too! Sometime soon!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. says

    I think this I really a case of different strokes for different folks at different times. I attend some events primary for the content and some primarily for the community. That community can be tied to social networking, but it also has other sources.

    One other twist on waiting to register until you know who is attending is people’s desires to be in conversations with individuals they truly consider peers with similar demographics, experiences, and issues and not just other people who happen to belong to the same organization.

  4. says

    Jeff, I attend for both reasons, but more for networking. What I do find though is that I make some of my best new connections, by attending education classes. If it is an interactive session, I tend to gain respect for the comments and questions coming from the audience and/or presenters. Growing and maintaining professional relationships is everything to my business.

    While attending TS2 a couple weeks ago, my best new connections were made on 1) a bus ride and 2) in roundtable discussions.

    Bottom line, when quality people are attending, education tends to be better to meet the needs of those participants. You need the audience to help raise the bar.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing Jason Keith’s post. I agree with him. The value in conferences is only as good as the people you meet and the relationships you build. I attend conferences like Web 2.0 (this year in SF) and ETech. It’s one thing if you’ll be attending for business (and someone else is picking up the tab)…it’s entirely another to shell out 500 to 1000 bucks of your own money to attend. It’s always about people and relationships first.

    That said, I almost always wait until a few weeks before because there are almost always monetary incentives that get kicked around for last minute registration (not very last minute, but a few weeks out) as the conference owners try to boost numbers. I’ve bought early and gotten burned too many times. lol. People learn when they pay full price and then the lazy get in for a discount after them. ;-)

    • Jeff Hurt says

      @Steffan

      Great points! I also think you bring some interesting thoughts for all meeting and conference organizers about last minute registration incentives. Meeting & event professionals, he gives some good advice we should heed!

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