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Out in the wild…

 
Blog posts and articles can act as effective tools to build up to and wind down from major conferences, making them useful components of amplification and event marketing strategies alike. Their longer, reflective nature makes makes them perfect for providing a context to an upcoming event and a summary of a recently completed event, whilst also being close enough to traditional media in form that less digitally-orientated organisers can understand the benefits and manage the process confidently.

I do believe conference blogging has a valuable place at the amplification table, but recently I found myself considering: “Where is the best place for that blogging to take place?”

Most of the work I do tends to be in Higher Education, where events are run as dissemination and collaboration forums, forming only a part of the overall activity of the organising group. These groups are often research centres, with ongoing activities which make their websites a trusted and respected hub for information about their specialist subject. People naturally go to them to look for reliable resources, and therefore blog content relating to their conference fits perfectly into the context of their existing websites.

But what happens if the event organiser is a commercial conference producer, with no specialist knowledge or background in the conference topic? Should they have a topical blog related to the event hosted on their website?

Regardless of the obvious SEO arguments, I am leaning towards “no”, from an amplification perspective.

Audiences naturally go to a commercial conference producer’s website for logistical information about events, but not necessarily for regular, trustworthy commentary about related issues. Organisers may want to build a topical community around their site as part of their ongoing marketing for a conference series, but they will be competing with lots of independent sources which are not trying to sell a £500 ticket on the side. They would also have to source a lot of great content and keep it maintained and fresh all year round, which may not be within scope.

To effectively use blog posts to amplify an event, you have to go to where the readers are and give them really useful content that doesn’t feel like a sales pitch. If you are a commercial organiser with a website geared up to sell conference seats, this means you need to research alternative locations to place your (tagged) blog content, which have credibility with the audience. These could be industry sites, the personal blogs of speakers or participants, sponsors’ websites or networking sites like LinkedIn. Positioning interest pieces, session previews, speaker interviews and topical questions out in the wilds means that more people will see your content in a natural context and start to see a picture of the problem space your event is (or should be) designed to explore.

The problem with this approach is that it involves resigning some degree of control. You could have limited control over how it looks and what comments get attached. You might not even be able to write it yourself. If the content is not appearing on your own site, you may find that you need to enlist some advocates in the field to write and publish content for you to achieve credibility in these independent spaces. The process is therefore more complex than simply writing some copy and slapping it up on the event site, and requires a more considered event amplification strategy.

Therefore, to amplify a commercial event using longer form content, such as blog postings, I would suggest that conference producers need to do the following:

  • Recognise what their website is good at, i.e. delivering logistical and promotional information about the event;
  • Commission blog content (scene-setting/taster content, interviews or debate stimuli etc), which can be published out in the wilds where their intended audience spend their time;
  • Recruit advocates to increase the amount of coverage generated;
  • Concentrate on aggregating and sharing links to this content, to appear as a showcase on their own site, rather than hosting it locally;
  • Monitor, respond and comment.

The event amplifier can co-ordinate the practical aspects of the above and produce some of the core content for publication, leaving the event organiser to concentrate on their area of expertise: the event experience. As part of their strategic role, an event amplifier may identify suitable locations for content, carry out interviews with speakers/sponsors or research and write topical pieces for submission to those sites, co-ordinate posts from advocates and integrate the dissemination of all this longer form content with the rest of the amplification strategy. The event amplifier will also be geared up to monitor and respond to comments as part of their efforts to build up the conversation around the event, and will be equipped to aggregate and present all this activity in an appropriate way so that visitors to the event website can find all of this material, even though it is not being hosted directly on the event site.
 

Its not just about sales…

 
Blog posts are not just useful for pre-event build up. Whilst live coverage from your event is often better delivered via tools such as live video streaming or in the form of a bite-sized live commentary via Twitter, longer, more reflective blog posts summarising the event deliver great value once the everyone has gone home and wants to recap or follow up on particular ideas.

However, if you are not running a dedicated event blog on your site for the reasons above, you need to think more creatively about where that post-event content could appear to help amplify your event most effectively.

If you have a good relationship with an industry blog, they may be happy to post selected summaries from your event to provide an exclusive insight for their readers. Sponsors, exhibitors and speakers may also be keen to promote their involvement by accepting guest posts from your event amplifier. Your advocates can be encourage to write up their reflections on their own blogs. All of this activity can again be collected on the event website, but it will be taking place out where the conversations are.
 

The down side

 
As with all strategies, there are trade offs. The key one being measurement: if the content is not hosted on your site, how do you measure how many eyeballs it is attracting?

Part of your research needs to include getting a clear idea of the readership of each of the locations you target. I don’t just mean the numbers. How many is not as important as who and how likely are they to share with others in their own social networks, both on and offline. Amplification, as opposed to social media marketing, is not about generating visibility to encourage purchasing: it is about talking and connecting. You are trying to start a conversation around your event. Not everyone involved in that conversation will necessarily buy a ticket and attend in person, but by participating in the conversation they will be contributing to the event experience.
 

Conclusions

 
Conference content can take many forms, and an event amplifier shouldn’t just consider how to create that content, but should also be considering where it should go to best create a dynamic and wide reaching conversation about the event.
 
Photo Credit: Robek.
 
 
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