In the current economic situation, a marketing idea that has gotten a lot of discussion is how business can use FREE to engage with customers. Not that everything should be free, but that the idea can be used to give people a good understanding of a product or service before having to commit money. Conferences and events have been under intense pressure with the economic conditions, especially those that require travel — which is one of the tightest controlled budget lines. I have attended a few conferences this year and most of them have been embracing social media to enhance the experience.
In order to reach larger audiences, companies have been providing remote participation options. Cisco’s Cisco Live and VMware’s VMworld both have very robust remote experiences (I attended Cisco’s in person and VMware’s remotely). You can watch webcasts of the keynotes for free; Cisco also offers the technical content online for a lower fee than attending. The one piece of the conference experience that is toughest to replace is the one-on-one interaction. This is where I see social media playing the biggest part; not that blogs and Twitter replace this experience, but they give a flavor of the energy and engagement of the event. People can remotely be pulled into the discussions remotely and will be more likely to want to attend in-person the next time.
Social media tools also provide an opportunity to get people engaged ahead of time. The World Business Forum, at which I will be blogging in October, has been doing a nice job of this. They have posted videos, webinars and blogs of the speakers available. Not only does this promote attendance and build buzz, but it should also improves the quality of the attendees and their experience, since they will be more familiar with the topics and will, therefore, have better questions. As a little help for the upcoming conference, I created a FriendFeed room which aggregates some of the related blogs and any Twitter posts tagged #WBF09.
For recurring events, there is the further opportunity to build a year round community. I recently got to learn more about the RSA Conference community (RSA is an EMC company). The event is vendor independent, which allows the community to cover the entire security industry. While traffic tends to be highest around the conferences, people share information and connect through the site year-round. The community site has become a valuable resource to the industry, but it has also created connections between people that make the conference a “must attend” event where collaborators can meet face to face.
If you have an exciting and engaging conference, don’t kill it or go all virtual. Consider how you can engage the community before and during the conference so that the free experience that they get outside will pull them in.
Comments are questions are always welcome and please consider subscribing to this blog. If you will be at the World Business Forum, I’m always interested in discussing innovation and social media.