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Social Media at User Conferences: How to Approach The Opportunity

I’ve heard it said that content is the fuel that keeps the social media engine humming.

That’s a nice simplified view of the importance of content creation. To break it down some more, content is the refined gasoline (or generated electricity if you’re into green vehicles). Like the companies that provide that end-product, you have to invest in content exploration projects to get the raw material to refine into your high-octane content.

A great source of content raw material: Your user conference

While general industry trade shows and conferences have suffered with the economy, user conferences continue to be an important investment. From educating customers on best practices, meeting face-to-face with them to understand their challenges first, or allowing for peer-to-peer interaction, these events generally energize a passionate customer community.

And it also serves as an untapped content exploration opportunity. To be successful requires careful advance planning, however, as you can’t expect to just show up with a video camera in hand and start shooting.

Following are the key considerations to take to strike it rich. This is based on my own experience with our clients:

JDA’s social media agency, Lois Paul and Partners, conducted social profiling of attendees, journalists and analysts prior to the event to provide more targeted messages in event communications.

Tailor content to appeal to attendees - For a recent user conference, we received a copy of the pre-registration list to understand the social “technographics” (to use Forrester’s term) of the attendees. This allowed us to know the extent to which attendees are active on social media both from a company and attendee level. We also could discern from this what aspects of the agenda and sessions to promote before and during the event for the most enagement.

Pre-plan video interview topics - Be involved with the event planning team and understand the key storylines and messages that will emanate from the conference. Then develop a series of video interview abstracts consisting of an interview premise and 2-3 key questions to ask, and share this with your subject ahead of time. If it aligns with what they are presenting at the conference and their area of expertise, they will be well-prepared with minimal effort. They’re busy enough as it is, so the approach ensures that they don’t see this as yet another item on their plate. I’ve found that this makes it fun in the end.

Use the SIG’s - Many user conferences hold important meetings for the leadership teams of user groups and customer special interest groups (SIGs). Work with the teams that interface with these SIGs to arrange time with them for an inteview — either for a blog post or a video. While many times customer attendees are reluctant to agree to a video interview, SIG members may be more willing if the benefit to them is to communicate their groups’ agenda to fellow users. This is a great example.

A little incentive - As mentioned before, get involved in the event planning effort to be sure that references and links to your social channels are everywhere — in pre-event e-mails, on signage, on flyers in the welcome kits, in the slides and speaker notes of the general session and more. Encourage attendees to share their favorite quote, a photo, speaker session or something fun via Twitter, and reward the best ones with something like a $50 gift card. Gather the best tweets and photos and splash them on the big screen at the next day’s general session or parties. Attendees love seeing their tweets share with their peers.

Not only are user conferences filled with the raw materials that can be refined into social content fuel, the engagement with customers communities that comes from the event can carry over well after the event is over and extended to other campaigns like webinars and other regional events.

How have you used your user conference for your content engine? The ones above are only a few of the ways that we’ve leveraged them. What’s worked for you?

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