How to Organize a Social Media Conference

How to Organize a Social Media Conference
By Jenny Holmes

If you ask a variety of people throughout assorted industries what they know about how social media can benefit their business, organization or position, you will certainly get a variety of responses. Everyone acknowledges they need to be more social savvy but they aren’t sure how to get there. Take it into your own hands and help them out. Host a social media conference in your area. A local conference can benefit a variety of individuals, from PR and marketing professionals to small business owners and non-profits. These are the people who won’t typically travel to conferences in a big town but will be thrilled with a newly acquired skill if you build it and bring it to them. Don’t get caught up in whether you should gear your conference toward a specific industry, just focus more on variety of speakers on this first one.Start out by choosing a date, venue and the geographic area for this conference. For a first conference, it would be best to make the speakers and sessions as diverse and skill-tiered as possible. As soon as you have pinned down a date and location, it’s time to get a website up and running. A service like GoDaddy or Register.comlets you easily design your own page, get it up quickly and make frequent changes.This is where your multi-tasking skills come in to play, because now you have a lot of work to do to get that website up with consistent information as you secure and regularly update a conference agenda (workshop list with times), speaker bios, photos, and exhibitor opportunities.

Time to pull out your Twitter skills and find some great speakers. Create a Twitter account for your conference, then go to Twitter and type “social media conference speakers” in the search box. Press to Follow each and every one of them. This is like your big invitation to recruit speakers to your conference. Offer a private email address and ask them to email you of their interest in the conference.

This is where it gets interesting, but know these things going in: speakers will come to your conference from all over the nation and then some—and they will come for different reasons. As an author and long-time speaker myself, I have attended conferences where I got to speak for free and even paid my own conference fee, but received a discounted rate. I have received honoraria and occasionally receive an all expense paid speaker opportunity including hotel, air, travel andcompensation. So I knew, going into this speaker selection, that there would be negotiating.

I followed about 200 people on Twitter and a bunch followed me back, then messaged privately for details.

Start by explaining that it’s a new conference. Offer the gurus the title of ‘keynote’ speaker because they want to add that to their resume. Let them know an honorarium is in the works and you aren’t sure of the dollar amount, but you hope to cover gas mileage at a minimum.

Then with each speaker you secure, immediately get them on the website. You can look at www.the-bam.com and get an idea of tabs to set up on the website, how to list speakers and simultaneously work on getting exhibitors and sponsors.

Next, register your event with www.EventBrite.com. It is very easy to use and they save you a lot of time by handling a variety of services from guest registration, reports, money management and even guest check-in tools via iPad and iPhone for the day of the event.

Then, begin posting your conference on national websites such as Lanyrd.com.

Take some time to do targeted marketing with each new speaker as they come on board. Use individual bios and create email newsletters to send to different businesses in your area.

While you could spend months, even a year, organizing a conference, you can also turn it around in about three months. Get the best speakers you can at the lowest rate possible. Offer an affordable one-day conference fee and then offer discounts for large professional groups. At the event, be the host/hostess with the most/mostest and make the speakers feel special. They need breakfast, coffee and a comfy place to hang out with some nice strong WiFi. Though you will ask in advance, you’ll need to know their technical needs to do a presentation and make sure all projectors, laptops, etc. are in excellent working condition.

Line up lots of incredible volunteers to help you with every aspect of the conference, then find a way to give them a little something for their time, be it cash or T-shirts.

Make registration easy (use Eventbrite tools). Have guests complete surveys so you’ll know what they enjoyed most about the conference and how you can help them better in year two. Thank everyone involved, every chance you get.

Add a special touch: capture video of each session on Ustream.com (check with speakers first to make sure that is okay). Then give your guests the information to access the videos so they won’t feel like they missed out on any classes that went on at the same time as the ones they attended.

Jenny Holmes is Director of Marketing & Social Media for Paramount Arts Center and is the author of several books, including Marketing the Arts and The Mobile Marketer: 50 Apps and Tips to Up Your Social Game. She can be reached at jenny@thepubplace.com