How to Market a Conference: Everything You Need to Fill Your Event
Before you dive in, if you are interested in conference sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for conferences” series:
If you’ve read my other posts on creating and planning a conference, then you should know that promoting and marketing your conference is one of the most critical parts of the entire equation. It’s how you get new sets of eyes interested in your conference who might have otherwise not heard of it. How do you successfully market a conference?
Here’s how to promote a conference:
- Create a conference-specific hashtag
- Retarget would-be attendees
- Make a social handle just for the event
- Use email marketing
- Get added to industry event calendars
- Use influencer marketing
- Host a contest
- Livestream parts of your event
The above marketing strategies all fold neatly into your overall promotions plan and can be a great way to generate a buzz about your upcoming conference. Keep reading for actionable tips and pointers to utilize!
How to Market a Conference: Use These 8 Strategies
Create a Conference-Specific Hashtag
Hashtags are how you get found on social media.
From TikTok to Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook, users on these social media platforms can click a hashtag in someone’s post and then see all the aggregated posts under that hashtag.
Your goal when promoting your conference is to come up with a hashtag that people will want to use. When they take photos and videos at your event, they can tag the content on social media using the hashtag.
The hashtag doesn’t have to be the name of your conference, although it helps if you can get it in there.
Try to come up with a catchy and quick slogan or phrase such as something that rhymes.
Your hashtag should be short for a couple of reasons. It’s easier to read short hashtags than longer ones. Your attendees won’t have a hard time remembering a short hashtag.
Plus, the longer the hashtag, the greater the risk of spelling errors. If a person misspells even one word in the hashtag, then it won’t show up with the other posts.
I’d recommend that several people in your company or organization read over the hashtag before it earns final approval.
Why is that? Well, because hashtag gaffes happen all the time, and a lot of them are terribly embarrassing yet completely preventable.
For example, the Chester Literary Festival used the hashtag #CLitFest. I won’t explain why that’s inappropriate as all get-out, as I trust you know.
How that got past anyone, it’s hard to say!
Sure, if your hashtag accidentally has sexual or otherwise inappropriate connotations, it will get a lot of usage, but not in the way you were hoping.
Retarget Would-Be Attendees
Retargeting is a handy marketing tool that I implore you to use as well.
I’m sure you’ve been retargeted on the Internet before. You’ll know it’s happened if you looked at a product or service and then an ad for that same product or service followed you around on other sites you visited.
The way that retargeting works is pretty genius. Cookies can track who clicked on a page on your website and even on your online ad.
A cookie is just data that a web browser holds onto in this case. It’s not referring to baked goods.
Once you have the cookie data, you can present a targeted ad to your would-be customer and give them a second chance to buy what they missed out on before.
Now, some people view retargeting as invasive and kind of creepy. I can understand that even after knowing how it works, but it can be a valuable way to get potential attendees to reconsider buying tickets to your conference.
Make a Social Media Handle Just for the Conference
Here’s another social media marketing tip for your conference.
Rather than use your company’s socials for promoting the event across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like, make an account just for your conference. Name the account after your conference.
Post on your main company socials that you have a handle just for the conference. Be sure to promote your new social media handle ahead of the conference in emails and social posts as well as afterward.
You’ll find that your follower count should begin inflating rather quickly.
You can still cross-post between your company account and the conference account but having a conference account makes it easier for people to get the information they want.
That’s info about your event, not necessarily everything else going on with your company!
Use Email Marketing
In my post about how to plan a conference, you’ll recall that I lauded email marketing for its usefulness in event marketing especially.
Should you have missed that post, you should definitely go back and give it a read. In the meantime, let me say it again. Email marketing is an integral part of your conference marketing strategy.
Email marketing allows you to connect with warm leads (since they signed up to your emails via your website’s opt-in form, they’re certainly more interested than a lead who clicks an ad). You can also strengthen and maintain the connection you have with your current audience.
How do I recommend you use email marketing for your conference? Here are some of my best practices and pointers:
- Always include a call to action or CTA in your emails. The CTA should be clear, whether you want your readers to download your new conference app, click a link to your website to learn more about the new speaker you just added, or even buy tickets.
- Incorporate videos into your emails from time to time. A/B testing tool VWO found that you can boost your conversions by up to 80 percent using videos.
- Use email automation. With all the planning you have to do to run a successful conference, you might not always have the time to send out that next message in your drip email campaign. Automation can schedule and send your emails for you according to the parameters that you set.
- Capitalize on the reader’s sense of FOMO or the fear of missing out. This is a conference you’re marketing, after all, and so the FOMO can be especially abundant. Your goal is to make people feel like they’re going to lose out on a great opportunity if they don’t buy tickets to your conference now.
- Personalize your emails. You want to make something as large and (let’s be real) impersonal as a conference feel like it’s tailor-made just for your individual audience members, and personalizing your correspondence goes a long way towards doing that.
- Write catchy, engaging subject lines. What’s catchy and engaging will vary by audience. It could mean using emojis or harnessing that sense of FOMO.
- Use A/B testing. It’s there for a reason! By comparing Version 1 and Version 2 of all your emails (and subject lines) before they go out, you can expect higher open and click-through rates.
Get Added to Industry Event Calendars
Your industry likely has a resource that compiles all the upcoming events, linking out to various conference and convention websites so people can learn more and buy tickets.
If you could get your conference on that list, you’d be made in the shade.
So how do you do it?
You’ll have to seek out these resources that create industry event calendars. Contact them via email or even phone.
Introduce yourself, write a bit about your company, and then delve right into your conference. Explain when and where your conference will be and be sure to provide a link to your conference website as well.
Then wrap up the message by asking if you could be added to the industry event calendar.
This can go a long way towards getting more people interested in your conference. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a cent!
Use Influencer Marketing
Speaking of free means of promoting your conference, next on my list is influencer marketing.
Influencers have the audience’s reach and have worked hard to build such trust in their audience that if they tell that audience to do something, it usually works out well.
If you could work with an influencer to promote your conference, you might be able to ratchet up the ticket sales and thus the attendance numbers.
How do you even start the process?
I’d recommend looking up influencers who are somewhat related to your industry.
For example, if you’re in tech, then you’d want to seek out influencers who are always talking about the latest iPhones or smart watches or gaming consoles.
Then you’d reach out. I’d suggest sending an email rather than a direct message. Since you and the influencer aren’t connected, your message won’t show up in their main inbox. Rather, it will be filtered into a messages category they might not check.
In the email, briefly explain who you are and what your conference is about. Then propose the influencer marketing arrangement.
Keep in mind that you’re going to be far from the only person emailing this influencer and asking for a bit of their time. If they don’t deem your cause one that they can put themselves behind, then they might ignore your email or respond and tell you no.
That’s why you should have a few other influencers on standby that you can reach out to afterward.
Don’t be surprised that if once an influencer agrees to work with you, they might want a spot at your conference or some sort of shoutout for their time and generosity. It’s only fair!
Host a Contest
If there’s one tried and true way to get people excited about any event, it’s to host a contest around said event.
The contest can be anything of your making, but it should fit thematically into your conference.
Be sure to give you and your team ample time to plan the contest, including what it will entail, what the entry criteria is, how long the contest will last, and–most importantly–what the grand prize is.
The prize should be something that your conference attendees would find useful and valuable. Sure, you could go the new car route if you’re really stumped for ideas but try to think outside of the box if you can!
Livestream Parts of Your Event
My last conference marketing suggestion is this. If yours is a multi-day event, be sure to livestream footage of at least one day of the conference for a little while.
You want to talk about ramping up that sense of FOMO, well, this will do it without a doubt!
People will realize all the fun they’ve been missing out on once they see your conference live and in action. If you still have tickets left, these people will be seeking the tickets out and buying what’s left.
Marketing your conference to the masses grows your brand, strengthens existing customer bonds, converts more leads, and boosts your ticket sales. With the methods I presented here today, putting on a successful, well-attended event is now in reach!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.