365-Day Conferences Are Unrealistic

Rhombic Dodecareuleaux Calendar 2013

We’ve been hearing it for years.

Conference organizers have been on a quest to create a 365-day community around their big annual event. As a result, industry education sessions and event technology products have adopted the year-round concept and branding.

But there’s a problem, attendees and exhibitors aren’t falling in line.

They’ll give you their attention for a limited time and then move on with their pressing priorities. They’re not interested in 365. They’re interested in solving their problems and growing their professional network. Period.

Start with Baby Steps

Most conference organizers do a decent job of delivering education and networking value before and during the event. Pre-conference webinars, publishing attendee lists and leveraging mobile apps to facilitate like-minded connections are all great examples.

But what about after the conference?

How do you keep the conversations alive and how long can they be sustained? How can new connections made through the networking experiences be nurtured?

Consider setting the bar at a more realistic level. If you can keep the conversations alive for 30 or even 60 days following your conference, you’ll win the loyalty lottery.

5 Ways to Foster Connexity After Your Conference

Most organizers want to quickly close out the conference and move to the next project. If you want to grow community and loyalty, consider these five connexity strategies:

1. Challenge them.

During the conference, provide attendees helpful tips on how to network effectively. Reinforce a culture of helping others before expecting them to help you. Give them solid advice on how to follow-up and take hallway connections to the next level.

2. Allow for a breather.

Attendees need time to decompress and play catch up following a conference before you can real them back-in. During and immediately after the conference, provide shareable memories of the experience. Give them at least 7 – 10 days before leveraging content and then…

 3. So what, now what?

Many progressive conference organizers have adopted the “know before you go” email with valuable resources and information to help attendees learn, connect and grow. So why not create something like that for after?

Help them capitalize on their participation with links to handouts to share with co-workers and their network. Provide tips on how to follow-up with new and rekindled connections. Don’t try to sell them anything, just help them be a better resource to their professional network.

 4. Social scheduled re-plays.

Leverage your best conference content to keep the conversation going within your community. Schedule re-play sessions captured on video or continue a popular session via webinar. Leverage the power of social learning during these offerings with a focus on helping participants connect. On-demand offerings don’t have that power.

Enable chat and spark the dialogue by asking attendees to type in where they’re tuning in from to break the ice. Design the experience to keep dialogue steady throughout. Schedule these every one to two weeks to improve conference amplification and participant value.

 5. Nurture 1st timers and sophomores.

Loyalty is often sustained after the second renewal is achieved. Content alone will rarely lead to renewal. Feeling part of a tribe will. That means you need to nurture the heck out of conference customers in their first two years. The best way to accomplish this is through genuine care and personal outreach.

Go grassroots by encouraging chapter or regional representatives to make personal calls. Find out if they’ve implemented any new ideas picked up from the conference? Are there any problems or goals they’re struggling with? Who do you know that might be a great resource for them?

Delivering connexity value after your conference will require an investment of time and resources. The payoff, however is huge. Can you afford not to?

What other ideas have you seen or witnessed that fostered continued connection after a conference? How could grassroots help support this important initiative?

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  1. Mark Walker says:

    These are some great tips! It is really hard to foster a 365 community for conferences, but it is a worthwhile goal. To add to your great ideas, I would suggest:

    * Make sure your event has a simple, memorable hashtag and use it relentlessly – including between events – so that there is continuity across at least one social channel after your event has ended
    * As you suggested, content can be a powerful way to keep people coming back, but you can’t recycle content from a single event for over a year. You should aim to have a blog that regularly publishes fresh – exclusive – industry insights, so people get in the habit of returning to you at least on a monthly (and ideally weekly) basis)
    * Why not look at creating regular catch-ups and mini-events (networking gathering, lightening talks, webinars etc.) to keep the momentum up and offer fresh value in between big annual gatherings?
    * Finally, and possibly most importantly, why not build a community and content-first audience (supported by both digital and live channels) which runs a big annual conference versus the other way round. When you slightly adjust the way you approach this, you’ll have a much better chance to creating a sustainable community year-round (it’s now your number one priority) than if it is seen as having secondary importance to the conference.

  2. Lisa Block says:

    I think the push for this has come more from the vendors in this space than from meeting organizers. I have sat in numerous presentations at industry meetings over the last few years where vendors or consultants have touted the notion that if you aren’t creating year round conference or event engagement you are missing the boat. I have yet to hear many success stories from any of these “experts”. Given the competing demands for time and attention I think it is probably a waste of energy and resources to invest significant effort in a 365 plan. That said, it is very useful to have a three month out/three month after strategy and the tips and ideas shared by

  3. Lisa Block says:

    Sorry this got posted mid comment. To complete the thought, the tips shared by Mark and Sarah are very useful and timely.

  4. Sarah Michel says:

    Lisa & Mark, thank you both for your comments.

    Mark, your ideas and suggestions were great! Thanks for sharing and adding such great value!

    Lisa, I do agree the push is coming more from vendors. Focus on those first 30-60-90 days following when attendees are the most vulnerable and evaluating if they got their return on attendance or not.;If you can help them when they need you the most, you’ll create a win-win.

  5. We’ve had a number of conferences who have successfully created year-round communities around their conference (e.g., http://connect.pepconference.com/).

    I’d say the top the factor in their success is providing ongoing relevancy and problem-solving. People come back to the site day after day and use it to reach out to their peers when they need help with something. They met each other at the event, began their relationships there, built their trust there, then the year-round community gave them a platform to continue those relationships and conversations in that long span between the annual, face-to-face meeting.

  6. Mark Walker says:

    Hi all

    It’s great to see a debate starting around this! I wanted to structure and expand on my comments from yesterday, so I’ve written this post: http://blog.eventbrite.co.uk/365-day-conferences/ to think more about your question Sarah.

    I’d love to know your thoughts, or even republish it here on Velvet Chainsaw for the sake of continuity if that’s of interest.


  7. Sarah Michel says:

    Jordan & Mark,
    Thanks to both of you for “keeping the conversation” going here. Great ideas & perspectives shared by both of you. We really appreciate it!

  8. thom singer says:

    Great article. #5 is so important. Often the “First timers reception” is just open bar. No nurturing at all. And 2nd year attendees are overlooked altogether. When conferences make those newer attendees a real priority, they also help cut out the “Cliques” that occur farther down the line.

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