Hosting a user group conference is a huge investment, both in terms of money and manpower. Depending on the size of the event, the up-front planning can take several months and involves an extensive number of hours on the part of the marketing team, technical presenters, and executives.
Broadly speaking, the primary objective of most user conferences is to provide customers with a forum for extending the value of a company’s products. Most conferences include a mix of general sessions and break-out sessions by topic. Some of the content may be broad and non-specific, while other presentations go a bit more “under the hood” and target advanced users.
The host company will typically introduce updates to existing products, as well as new offerings. Certain sessions may highlight regulatory changes impacting product development and use. Also popular are “best-practices” sessions that feature innovative ways customers are using the company’s solutions to achieve great results.
User conferences provide an excellent opportunity for networking. Both customers and employees enjoy making a face-to-face connection with people they’ve built a relationship with over the phone or exchanging emails. Companies that have hosted annual conferences for many years know that the traditional educational sessions are only one part of the draw for users who return year after year.
For many attendees, the brain share that occurs outside of sessions is even more valuable than the presentations themselves. In fact, at every conference you can find a few participants who take their networking so seriously that they can be found chatting until wee hours of the morning – most often in the hotel bar.
Obviously when your company hosts a user conference, the biggest beneficiaries of your efforts should be your customers. However, user conferences can also be a goldmine in terms of PR opportunities. User conferences can reveal a wealth of customer success stories that can be communicated via a variety of mediums throughout the next year. They provide an opportunity to identify potential candidates for future media interviews or individuals that are willing to share a great ROI story for a case study.
A user conference is an ideal time for the hosting company to advance its PR initiatives. User group attendees tend to be the company’s happier customers and support the company’s long term success. If you are hosting a user group meeting but are not sure how best to leverage your PR opportunities, here are 7 tips to get you started:
- Capture client testimonials on video. Every user has a story – you just need to ask them. Request five minutes from customers to share on video how they use your product or service, why they partnered with your company, or their impression of your support operations. After securing the appropriate permission in writing, post the testimonials on your corporate website; summarize their story for social media fodder; and/or, create a post for your corporate blog. In addition, take your client’s message and use it as the basis for a larger case study. Catalog the stories for future media pitches so you have a ready source when suitable opportunities arise.
While hiring a professional videographer is ideal – especially if you want to post videos to your site – using a personal video recorder or even a smartphone gives you the ability to document customers’ stories in their own words.
- Record important keynote presenters on video. Especially those who are recognized in the industry. Link the videos to YouTube or Vimeo and forward them to journalists to encourage their coverage of the event. To that end, if the presentation format provides an opportunity to ask questions of the speakers, go for inquiries that may be a bit controversial or at least newsy in order to pique the interest of media.
- Invite the media. Assuming you are confident that your clients are reasonably happy and would respond positively to media inquiries, invite journalists to cover the event to amplify your company message. Offer to provide journalists with behind-the-scenes access, including exclusive interviews with customers, executives, or keynote speakers. Keep in mind that journalists tend to have limited travel budgets and may be unwilling to accept an offer for travel reimbursement. However, consider adding an industry journalist to a panel to share his or her insights, or, to provide attendees with insider tips for dealing with the media. Journalists will likely be flattered by the invite, and, because they are speaking, their publication will likely allow them to be reimbursed for travel.
- Invite industry analysts. Industry analysts typically have more flexible budgets than journalists and may welcome the opportunity to speak directly to your end users. Again, this is only a good option if you feel comfortable that majority of your customers will offer positive feedback.
- Take photos. Humanize your brand by taking plenty of photos of people interacting, having fun, and participating in educational and networking activities. Post the images to social media during the event and beyond.
- Create a series of blog posts about the conference. Leverage the great content from keynote presentations and breakout sessions to create blog posts that provide value to readers long after the conference. An easy way to start is to write a summary of the event, or perhaps a craft a post that includes a catchy title and unique perspective (“10 Moments that made us LOL during Our User Conference”).
- Do something newsworthy. Ask attendees to participate in a survey, either about a timely industry topic (“Has your practice experienced a data breach of patient records?”) or a hot news story (“Which presidential candidate will be best for healthcare?”). Publish a press release and use social media to communicate the results (while also building greater awareness of your company and your meeting.) Other newsworthy suggestions include setting a world record (the most potato chips eaten simultaneously) or participating in a hands-on charity event (building bikes for kids).
A company user conference is a major investment that also provides an excellent opportunity to build goodwill with customers. And while clients are enjoying all the educational and networking opportunities, don’t forget to leverage all the PR opportunities!
Photo credit: 2016 Aprima User Group Conference