I belong to several groups in LinkedIn and came across a case study regarding the use of social media to increase membership to a LinkedIn group, which then drove conference attendance. I interviewed Bob Etheridge, social media aficionado, to learn more about his experience.
Bob Etheridge’s background has been primarily in the online recruitment and job board industry. In 1999, he co-founded JobCircle.com, a regional job board in Philadelphia and 2003, started a physical Job Fair division for the company, thus entering the event production and marketing world. The economic downturn and lack of hiring had a large impact on the business, so in May, they took their event production experience and created a B to B conference called Social Media Plus, capitalizing on the growth and interest in Social Media. Bob can be reached at email@example.com.
1) We both belong to the same LinkedIn Group and you mentioned how you increased membership to a group you were managing for a conference. Can you provide an overview of what you did?
Yes, creating a Linkedin Group is easy enough, inviting your first degree connections to join the group is also relatively easy. However, growing your group quickly after that becomes a challenge.
November 21, 2010 – Per Bob’s request, I have replaced the previous text with the below two paragraphs:
We utilized a service called Community Leadership offered by a company called Network Sunday. Network Sunday has virtual assistants that can help you with your Social Media marketing outreach. Network Sunday works with business development and conference marketing professionals to leverage Linkedin to help grow communities, create awareness and build personal and professional brand.
By joining relevant, Industry specific Linkedin groups using the Advanced People Search engine on Linkedin, we created a targeted list of members who would most likely be interested in learning about Social Media and networking with other Social Media Marketing professionals. We then invited these people, through Linkedin, to join the Social Media Plus Conference group using a simple, straight forward message. The campaign lasted for approximately 2 months before the conference.
2) Besides LinkedIn, did you use any other marketing and social media tactics? If so, how did you leverage these tactics for driving attendance.
Yes, we created a Facebook page and a Twitter account for the event. While Twitter was a great tool for communication during and after the conference with our #SMPlus hashtag, neither produced significant results in driving attendees.
3) What was the result of your efforts?
The response was phenomenal. In 2 months, our Conference group grew from 50 members to around 1800 and over 700 people attended the conference. We did some traditional marketing such as direct mail and e-mail marketing, but Linkedin was the most effective marketing tool by far. We tracked the click through bit.ly URL’s, measuring the use of unique coupon codes that we offered and by comparing the final attendee list to our Linkedin Group members. 450 attendees had joined the Social Media Plus Linkedin group prior to the conference. (Disclaimer – Bob was so impressed with the results that Network Sunday provided, he is now the US Partner helping other conference organizers in their Marketing efforts).
4) What three tips would you provide to those seeking to use social media to promote their conference?
1) Social Media Marketing is a two way street. Be prepared to spend time communicating directly with your audience.
2) Don’t over sell in your Marketing message. Less is more in this case. People want to explore and learn things on their own. If they have specific questions, they’ll reach out to you.
3) Don’t go it alone. Social Media Marketing can be time consuming and often companies start off with a bang, but burn out quickly. Social Media Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
As I believe virtual events will (if not already) become a more integral part of a company’s communications strategy, I will reach out to vendors and practitioners in the industry to share their thoughts for the weekly PRMM Interview leading up to the Virtual Edge Summit in January 2011. This week, I reached out to my former company to get a sense of how virtual events differ from webinars and where the industry is going. Mike Westcott, VP of Marketing with INXPO, shares his thoughts.
Mike Westcott oversees INXPO’s branding and marketing as Vice President of Marketing. Westcott has helped drive growth and innovation throughout his career as a leader at numerous global marketing organizations and agencies. He was most recently responsible for community strategy and marketing innovation with media company, Red7 Media, where he ran the Event Marketing Institute. He has been instrumental in helping to shape the dialogue in the brand and experiential marketing industry for over twenty years through his writing, workshops and thought leadership.
Can you provide a quick overview of InXpo?
INXPO is the first and leading provider of virtual business solutions. These solutions help organizations improve their business performance by transforming the web from pages and links to events and destinations where people go to connect, collaborate, learn and do business.
Many marketers currently leverage webinars as part of their lead generation programs. How are virtual events different from webinars?
In an era when content and education are an increasingly important part of marketing and communication, webinars are a proven means of broadcasting content to an online audience.
Virtual events combine webcasting of content with online conversation, peer-to-peer connection and collaboration tools and social media to help people connect much like they do at physical events. While virtual events don’t replace the face to face connection we experience at a physical event, they are fast becoming a critical addition to extend the content, conversation and collaboration of physical conferences and tradeshows. This combination, called Hybrid events are the way to go for smart organizations that seek to make the most of their communication and content investments.
Compared to a webinar, a virtual event is more costly and takes more time. Can you elaborate on the type of scenarios where a virtual event would be better than a webinar?
Virtual events are better than webinars in three scenarios
1. Hybrid events: when you want to extend an existing event investment
2. Revenue generating events: when you want to turn content and conversation into commerce by connecting a number of sponsors and prospects around shared interests
3. Education: when you want to engage your audience more deeply in educational content with collaborative activities, breakout sessions, surveys, gaming and other training tactics.
What are top 2-3 benefits of using virtual events for marketers?
1. Lower cost and shorter time frames than traditional events for lead generation and communication
2. Extending existing event and content investments
3. Online community building potential
There seems to be a lot of developments with virtual events. Where do you see the industry going?
Virtual community environments are quickly becoming the real payoff as they provide a real destination for content management and delivery, meetings and learning for corporations, associations as well as media companies who are realizing that content is not king, community is king. And content is the catalyst that brings people together.
In this week’s interview, I touched base with Maria Korolov of Hypergrid Business, a leading online blog on virtual worlds and environments. In three short years, she’s grown her business and I asked her thoughts regarding the virtual environments industry, what she attributes her success to, and what it will take to be covered by Hypergrid.
Biography: Maria Korolov (formerly Maria Trombly) is founder and president of Trombly International, a Massachusetts-based company which runs emerging markets news bureaus for US business and trade publications. Her clients include CIO magazine, Computerworld, Securities Industry News, CardLine Global, Waters, Reed Elsevier’s PharmAsia News, and dozens of other publications.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Hypergrid Business?
I launched Hypergrid Business about a year and a half ago, shortly after I discovered OpenSim, as an excuse to learn more about the platform and to talk to the folks building it. Since then, we’ve grown to over 10,000 monthly readers, over a dozen columnists and paid writers, and we’re having to turn away advertisers due to lack of space.
OpenSim, and enterprises uses of virtual worlds in general, are a hot topic right now. The fact that I’ve got over a decade of experience covering enterprise technology for publications like Computerworld is paying off here.
And I’m having a blast. It’s great to be in at the very beginning of a significant structural change in how the world works. The shift to the Internet was one such change. I believe that the shift to immersive environments will be another, and will be equally disruptive and transformative to the global economy.
We’ve got ambitions plans for our company. We’ve already launched a newsletter, are finalizing a vendor directory, have a 300-destination hypergrid travel directory up, are developing a video program, and are building a hyperport with multiple locations to cover all the possible hypergrid travel destinations. Further down the line, we might rent out space to merchants in our hyperports, or create an in-world advertising network. We are looking for both technology and business partners, as well as writers, researchers, marketers, and other positions — all part-time to start with, but with potential to turn into real careers as this platform evolves.
You mentioned that your readership has grown over the past three years. What would you attribute your growth to?
Part of it is simply organic growth. Someone reads an article, recommends it to a friend, and the friend becomes a reader.
Part of it is social media. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Digg… we try to make sure that every article we post is linked to from the major sites, as well as from BusinessWeek and LinkedIn.
We also make it easy for people to find us. We’ve been a Google News publication for around a year, and we’re near the top of the Google searches for relevant terms. Inbound links help drive up our rankings — and the more useful stories we publish, the more people link to us, and the easier it becomes to find us.
Marketers are more like publishers today. What tips would you provide to marketers to help drive their content marketing strategy?
Marketing is a big part of growing a new technology segment. Outreach and education are often neglected by technology folks, who assume that if they build a better platform, then people will come. That’s not always true — people won’t come unless they know it’s there, and unless they know what benefits it offers them. If a vendor is lucky, there will be a group of users who are active and vocal and go out and promote the technology, like Ener Hax is doing with SimHost’s OpenSim hosting service. Smarter vendors will seek out these folks and offer them discounted hosting or other incentives to get them to use and talk about their platform, instead.
It’s also great to get your name out in as many channels as possible. Virtual events and conferences, and face-to-face events. News articles. Published editorials. Press releases. Company blogs. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn feeds. The more a customer hears about a company, the more comfortable he or she gets with it. This is where marketing experts come in. An outside social media consultant, teamed up with a freelance writer, can do wonders to raise a company’s profile in the marketplace.
They need to get to know the social landscape, find out where their customers hang out, follow them, and provide value to these communities.
As a blogger, what three tips would you provide to companies seeking to be profiled by Hypergrid?
First and foremost, I want customer case studies, success stories, testimonials, first-hand accounts of how your product or service works. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a juicy disaster story, either! A smart company will take a disaster and spin it into a positive story of recovery and evolution. You’re guaranteed to get my attention with something like that.
Next, I want statistics. How many users? How many events? What percent were satisfied? What were the growth rates? What are the benchmarks? I love numbers, and readers love numbers.
Finally, and least interesting to me, are new product and version announcements. A company can put out a press release every week trumpeting a minor new feature. At a certain point, that gets boring — and not very useful to customers.
Anything else that you would like to share?
I’m always looking for guest columnists to talk about topics of interest to enterprise users of virtual worlds.
Cece Salomon-Lee is director of marketing for ACTIVE Network, Business Solutions division, and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.
This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.