Social Conference Strategy Without Human Engagement = Fail

Social Conference Strategy Without Human Engagement = Fail or Why Conference Organizers Need To Think Like Community Managers

Canned speeches and passive audiences are out! Conference attendees have reached keynote fatigue.

Conferences without attendee engagement are a major fail.

Attendees want conferences that implement more social strategies. Not sure what a “Social Conference” is? Read Do You Conference Social? and 6 Steps For The Social Conference.

If you plan a conference:

  • Where the presenters read their presentations, you can expect a major audience revolt.
  • Where the keynote presenter talks non-stop for 60 minutes with no audience engagement, you can expect an audience snooze-fest.
  • Where an attendee can learn as much by studying the handout, you can expect death by PowerPoint.
  • Where speakers are selected based strictly on their proposals without confirming that they have good presentation skills, you can expect attendee boredom and ho-hum reactions.
  • Where attendees are forced into “track boxes” based on their demographics, you can expect a an angry crowd.
  • With eight hours of butts in chairs and talking heads, you’re exacerbating AAD (attendee attention deficit).
  • With the same old speakers, presenting the same old topics from last years’ conference, you’re encouraging attendees to check out and visit the host city’s attractions.
  • Where speakers present outdated research and information with no relevancy to the attendees, you can expect a negative Twitter storm or blog post.
  • That’s like a widget-making-machine expecting each attendee to walk in, receive inputs and leave with same outputs, everyone with the same answers, and no thought to each individual’s uniqueness, expectations and learning preferences, you can expect a train wreck.

It’s time for conference organizers to start thinking about their event strategy like a community manager. They should view their attendees as a community, a living, breathing organism that craves human connections, engagement, belonging and acceptance. Attendees are the conference’s tribe. It’s time to go back to relationship building where customers are known by name and more than a credit card number.

So what is a community manager? In the business world, a community manager represents the company and has the most consistent, deep relationships with the clients. Community managers create an environment that encourage an intended outcome. Chris Brogan says community managers are similar to good party hosts mixed with restaurant hosts. (Parties more personal and restaurants require them to think with a business mind.)

Why Conference Organizers Need To Think Like Community Managers

1. Community managers focus on helping their customers build better relationships with the business.
Conference organizers should focus on helping their attendees build better relationships with each other, the sponsors, the exhibitors, the subject matter experts and the conference organizers.

2. Community managers strive to engineer a new bedrock of the human shaped business, one built on relationships and engagement.
Conference organizers should strive to engineer a social conference built on fostering human connections, relationships and attendee engagement–not passive audiences listening to one-way monologues. (What percentage of your conference schedule do attendees sit in chairs passively listening versus actively engaged in discussions or activity?)

3. Community managers see their role as customer service blended with internal and external communication and sometimes sales.
Conference organizers should see their role as attendee service blended with internal and external communication, education and information sharing, and sometimes a conduit to sales.

4. Community managers enable members to have a voice, share their opinions, discuss their insights, ask their questions, and showcase their expertise.
Conference organizers should enable and encourage attendees to speak, talk, discuss, share, ask and showcase their opinions, insights, questions, voices, expertise.

5. Community managers use online tools that provide a structure and framework for member conversations.
Conference organizers should structure schedules with sessions like peer-to-peer roundtables and open source meetings that allow members to engage in conversations.

Final Thoughts
Conference organizers, it’s your job to see yourselves as more than logistic coordinators, room layout managers, food and beverage planners, coffee cup counters, signage placers, lodging directors, decor designers, foot traffic controllers, and speaker schedulers. See yourselves as relationship builders, connectors, communicators, conduits with your responsibility to immerse the attendees into a world of engagement and interactivity…the real reason attendees choose to come…and choose to return.

If this scares you. If you’re reading this and thinking of all the reasons it won’t work. Stop now. Find an easier battle to engage. Focus on guaranteed wins, the status quo, the safe path, what you’ve always done at your past conferences. It will continue to give you job security as long as your attendees are willing to pay for mediocrity.

But for the rest, why not us? Why not now? Why not here?

What other ways should conference organizers be like community managers? What do you think? Share them with us.

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  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeffhurt: Social Conference Strategy Without Human Engagement = Fail

  2. csread says:

    I heartily agree! Conferences can get in a rut and it’s refreshing to be where the energy is high, engagement takes place throughout the event, and the conversations start even before the event. I think conferences that use things like a Twitter hashtag in their promotion foster communication and planning prior to the event. It’s a way that people meet-up and share information during the event as well. Same for creating a Facebook invitation or fanpage where people are engaging before the conference and well after it.

    I enjoy meeting new people at conferences, but I also appreciate knowing in advance whose coming so I can make plans to see people I don’t see very often in real life. Just like with business meetings, much of the important communication happens outside the conference room. I am getting pickier about conferences than I ever have been before. Who has time and money to waste?

  3. Kin Lane says:

    Event managers are stuck in a cycle where they see marketing of events as external activity you bring a specialist in for.

    They see event social media marketing the same way. I get conference managers asking for ideas on social media before they start planning. I submit a proposal of ideas and thoughts for discussion and then usually it gets lost in the shuffle.

    They still see it as an external, nice to have if the budget allows.

    ALL managers need to start learning, understanding and embracing social media and social networking and making part of their required skillset and thought process.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. I like what you said, “Conferences can get in a rut and it’s refreshing to be where energy is high, engagement takes place throughout the event, and the conversations start before the event.”

      So many conferences have become predictable where attendees know what’s going to happen next and how they should respond. We need to start developing conferences that are like upredictable thrillers that catpure the mind and emotions then engage the attendees in that process.

      Thanks for the great points!

      Thanks for stopping by. I like what you said about event managers stuck in a cycle! Perhaps attendees need to start holding conference interventions. Wouldn’t that be a surprise and a break from the routine.

      I agree that event organizers need to understand the underlying concepts of social media and social networking. They should stop focusing on the tools and instead focus on the goals they want to accomplish. Then let social media stars like yourself help design how to get there for them. I think we will begin to see savvy event professionals who get it and employ it too.

      Thanks again Kin.

  4. davelutz says:

    I’m getting ready to jump on a plane to PCMA in Dallas and am thinking “how are they doing on community management”? Here’s a few thoughts, so far”

    Community site – This year’s Crowdvine solution was a major upgrade. Previous solutions did not have enough adoption or value creation. I am super high on being able to compare my LinkedIn or MS Outlook contacts against the registration list and reaching out to people I know before the conference. Several speakers took advantage of the online communities to start a discussion in advance, but not near enough in my opinion. PCMA needs to require this of their speakers in Vegas.

    First timers and Chapters – PCMA does a really good job of making first timers feel welcome. I love that they schedule Chapter receptions on the first night. By connecting early with people you are closest to, it helps accelerate networking for the days to follow. The power of connecting at a conference is in the 2nd degree. If I introduce you to someone that trusts me (and say nice things) there is a real good chance for a business card exchange and future relationship. There are lots of students in attendance this year. Be sure to make them feel welcome. They’ll be your client before you know it.

    Education Program – As a past presenter at PCMA, I can tell you that they take education more serious than most. In the past, they’ve worked with me to re-write learner objectives and sat in on conference calls with fellow panelists and even provided coaching. All eyes will be watching to see if the presenters are listening and truly engage with the participants. If they don’t, make your own rules and discuss the content with others during one of the 30 – 45 minute coffee breaks. (another best practice…longer breaks for networking)

    How do you think PCMA is scoring? The best practices at PCMA can and should be adapted for your programs. Let us know the good and not so good.

    Dave Lutz – @velchain

  5. Adrian Segar says:

    Jeff – you ask an important question What other ways should conference organizers be like community managers?

    My answer: Think about radically changing the way that conferences are structured. The rapid adoption of social media by conference attendees is a clear sign that traditional conference structure simply doesn’t supply the thirst for connection that attendees want.

    In fact there are wonderful ways to provide face-to-face connection throughout a conference. I’ve been running such conferences for nearly twenty years, and there are thousands of attendees who will attest to how well they work. The tragedy is that conventional pre-planned conference schedules and the lack of support for meaningful interaction during the formal conference program relegate making connections to the breaks between the sessions, i.e. outside the formal conference program.

    Ultimately, when you use the right conference structure, everyone becomes a community manager! The conference becomes the event that its attendees want it to be – ergo they’re happy because they shaped the conference into what they wanted.

    Jeff, I agree that we need to start developing conferences that are like unpredictable thrillers that capture the mind and emotions then engage the attendees in that process. Every peer conference I’ve run has had a host of popular sessions that were never envisaged by the program committee. How were they chosen? They were crowd sourced by the attendees at the start of the conference. (Except we didn’t call it crowd sourcing when we started doing this 18 years ago.) Yes, the attendees do most of the work of creating the conference that they want.

    You can tell I’m passionate about the way I structure conferences. That’s because these kinds of conferences work really well. If you’re interested, my new book Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love goes into much more detail about the why and how.

    Adrian Segar – @ASegar

  6. […] Social Conference Strategy Without Human Engagement = Fail […]

  7. Jeff Hurt says:

    I love what you wrote “Think about radically changing the way that conferences are structured.” If event organizers would really do this, we could have a revolution in how events impact attendees. I know that you have much success in this area with peer conferences already. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. […] Social Conference Strategy Without Human Engagement = Fail […]

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