First things first. I run a company call Social Fresh. Our product is one of the best social media conferences out there. So when you ask me which social media conference to go to, I will of course recommend our events first.
Instead of taking my word for it though, check out Sarah Evan’s great post on the topic here: 7 of the Best Social Media Conferences.
The conferences on her list represent pretty much every type of social media conference you could attend.
From the affordable (Social Media Week) to the most expensive (Content Marketing World and SMX).
Every event is different and has its strengths. SXSWi is crazy and exciting (I call it southby-circus) but it is also some of the best networking out there. Social Media Week is great for NYC folks and agency people. SMMW is a great event for consultants or niche tactic focused folks (Pinterest, podcasting, etc.)
And our Social Fresh conferences are focused for brands who need to stay on the bleeding edge of best practices and actionable examples of social marketing.
I recommend every conference on the list for different reasons, times of year, geography, etc.
So if you are starting a social media conference, which event should you try top emulate?
How to start a social media conference
It is a tricky question. In general, most social media conferences are 1-3 days. They host anywhere from 10-50 speakers, and usually across a few tracks (or topic focus areas).
Step one to any social media conference is to focus on the content. This does not mean you need to find all your speakers and session topics before anything else. But insofar as time spent on planning, strategy, etc – content should take up most of your time when getting started. Content first is how I built Social Fresh and still to this day, content is where most of our time goes.
Any event without great content will die, or at least struggle to make money and survive. If the content sucks, you will pay for it first in marketing costs and in lack of return attendees. Where there are no attendees, there are no sponsors.
Bad content kills events.
If you have a large budget or are building your event on behalf of a company, then you can pick and choose the best tech, venue, food, etc. However, if you are working with limited resources, your logistics balance are very important to get right. These will mainly include 1) Venue 2) Food and beverage 3) Audio visual (projection/mics/speakers) 4. Event flow (registration, breaks, exhibitors, etc).
Here are a few tips:
- Look for partners if you are cash strapped (hotels, meeting spaces, AV companies, restaurants, etc)
- Keep it simple. Single speakers require less AV setup than panels. Small attendance might mean you need zero AV. Don’t build in technical stuff you don’t need if cost is an issue.
- Streamline everything. Make sure speakers know where to go and when. Have one laptop on stage with all the presentations. Make check-in easy and set aside more time for it than you think you need.
- Focus on the stage. If budget is no option then get black draping, big signage, multiple projection screens, nice furniture for interviews, branding on your lectern, quality stage lighting, etc. If budget is an issue, keep things simple, but add some color and some branding (lighting if you can get it on trade) for the stage area. Black draping helps a great deal. Conferences typically have attendees looking at the stage for 90% of the event. Make sure they like what they see.
- Remember the vegans (and vegetarians, pescatarians, gluten free, etc). When providing food, remember 10% to 30% of your attendees (if not more) will not be able to eat certain mainstay ingredients like bread, meat, dairy, etc. Most food providers have these options today. Provide for them and they will love you a little bit more for it.
Close with Marketing
Have a marketing plan from the first day.
‘Build it and they will come’ may work for Kevin Costner, but it rarely works for events.
- Use your resources. If you have an email list use it. Website, social networks, clubs/orgs you work with, local schools, sponsors, everyone. Ask everyone how they can help you get the word out.
- Partners are key (yes again). Find organizations and businesses you can give value to in exchange for promotion. We call these media partners.
- Scale with advertising. Once you have some momentum, augment what you can with advertising. Facebook ads, banner ads on Mashable, sponsor blog posts on industry blogs, advertise in industry email lists. Get creative, test first, and then scale where you get the best response.
- SEO is your friend. Make sure you have key search terms you think potential attendees are using. Write about those terms. Set up your onsite SEO for those terms. Beg your friends to help you get links for those terms. Partner with an SEO agency. Do what you can.
- Social media is your word of mouth. Make sure your conference social is focused on finding and engaging your target attendees. Either through community experiences, a strong response strategy, interesting content, or helpful training.
This is a big topic
We’ve hosted 15 conferences (as over 2013). I’ve learned a lot and could easily teach a class on the topic. But the insights above should guide you well if you are trying to create and host your own social media conference. Or any conference.
Let me know what tips you have in the comments.