Why events professionals use LinkedIn

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This month the Who’s who in events community has been running its annual survey and there has been a great response from every aspect of our vibrant industry.

One of the primary purposes of the survey was to discover more about our members to ensure that decisions taken about group management and other such matters are based on consensus.

Crucial to this latter point is understanding what event professionals use LinkedIn for in the first place.  Consequently a question was included in the study.  Respondents were asked to rank six activities in terms of their primary reason for using Who’s who in events on LinkedIn.

In first and second place were ‘Seeking information about the industry’ and ‘Networking’, illustrating the importance members place on being able to identify and connect with like-minded professionals.  In third and fourth place were ‘News’ and ‘Asking for advice/assistance’, though statistically these were not too far behind in terms of popularity.  In fifth and sixth places were ‘Looking for suppliers’ and ‘Job-hunting’.

You can draw a number of conclusions from these results, but primarily it illustrates the vital importance that is still placed on making individual connections upon which a relationship can be built.  It also shows that if you are active in your social networks you will attract fellow professionals and create links that could, in the long-term, be both beneficial and lucrative.

 

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The perils of managing a group on LinkedIn – Part II

Linking people togetherThe New Year sees me once again grappling with the complexities of managing my community’s presence on LinkedIn.

You may recall that last year I talked about the group Who’s who in events in my post The perils of managing a group on LinkedIn.  I’m pleased to say that the group continues to grow in numbers, it is still curated, and everyone continues to be polite to one another.

What strikes me most about managing – or curating – a large group on LinkedIn is that it is very much like parenthood.  While certain rules are all very well for a toddler, they have to be adapted and changed for the older child and teenager.  As participants get familiar with the medium they begin to use it in different ways.  In its early days, the group was inundated with undisguised sales messages that were easy to dispose of, but this is much less of a problem now.  Similarly, the number of people who post irrelevant answers to questions has also diminished, as has (fortunately) the mad ranting that some individuals used to indulge in.

For the individual(s) managing the group this does add another decision layer.  There are far more articles and interesting material available, but where is the line between what is a promotion and posts that are putting very valid views forward, albeit taken from a single, biased source.  Do I, as the group’s curator make the decision or should that be left to the members themselves?  If I manage the content, does this make me a media owner/editor, and if so should I have a clear, published policy which makes it easy for every member to understand what will make it onto the discussion boards?  Even if I did, would everyone take notice of them?

Similarly, who should be in the group and whose membership request should be rejected?  A vibrant group needs a constant influx of new members who are willing to contribute, but large numbers do not necessarily guarantee that this will be the case, particularly as new members tend to attract their own contacts who are often from similar (possibly non-relevant) backgrounds.  As I wade through another tranche of applicants to join I find myself once again questioning whether the group should be a free for all to enter but this is no guarantee that it will continue to thrive.

From a group manager/curator point of view though, here are my top 5 do’s and don’ts for companies and individuals who want to make the most of group membership on LinkedIn:

  1. Check out a group’s statistics (such as they are) before you join.  A group may have a large membership, but if the geographical concentration doesn’t match your own it is unlikely that the conversations will either.
  2. Are the discussion boards actively monitored?  Groups without moderation tend to fill up pretty rapidly with sales messages and content which few people ever comment on or even read.
  3. Do you really need to join all of those groups? Are you up to your maximum of 50 and how many of them do you actually participate in?  Whatever your interest there are bound to be two or three groups that stand out- and you can bet that a core of the same people are in all of them.  Spend a little time checking out which are the most active and relevant and put these to the top of your group listings. (You can change the order of your groups by navigating to the groups page and clicking on the settings icon.)
  4. You are more likely to get a response if you post something that warrants discussion. It sounds really simple, but lots of the posts I see don’t do this.  By making a statement and throwing it out onto the floor you aren’t actually asking anyone to participate with you in a conversation, and if you don’t start talking to people you can’t build that all important relationship.
  5. Get straight to the point. Take a leaf out of the Twitter book.  Practice getting your message across quickly and succinctly.  You have but a blink of an eye to attract someone’s attention so don’t waste it with waffle.  Post snippets of information regularly for the best results rather than one diatribe a fortnight.

Like any medium, used well, LinkedIn is a great tool.  But it is just that.  A tool.  You need to use it diligently and with real enthusiasm if you want it to create wonderful things for you and your organisation.

The perils of managing a group on LinkedIn

7K0A0129Back in 2008, when the Internet was finally throwing off its stabilisers thanks to better connectivity (who misses the modem dial-up tone?!) I decided to set up a group for the members of my event community on LinkedIn.

Admittedly I was a little behind the curve, but I didn’t see why I couldn’t join the party.  So I set up Who’s Who in Events primarily because at the time there didn’t appear to be another group for event professionals in the UK and I thought I would give it a try.

Nearly six years later, and the group I founded by inviting my 65 contacts now has 80,000 members (and I have a few more connections).  It is the third largest event industry group and the 270th largest group on LinkedIn – which out of 2.1 million isn’t bad!  I’ve stuck to my guns in terms of keeping it a curated group (despite the temptation to just open up the floodgates and let everyone get on with it themselves) and believe this is what has kept it both industry focussed, geographically diverse and unique.

When working with clients on their event marketing strategies they often begin from the standpoint of “we need to set up a group on LinkedIn”.  By the time I have finished telling them about my experiences it isn’t top of their priorities.  Quite simply, running a successful group is practically a full-time job.

For instance, it doesn’t matter how often you tell your members the rules, some of them just don’t follow them.  No promotional posts in the Discussions tab – doesn’t apply to me surely? And one person’s interesting blog post is another’s spam.  Doesn’t everyone want to know about how to write a CV?  Why can’t I answer a question with a blatant promotional post?

Some people get very cross.  Most of the time I am polite, occasionally I am sarcastic (bad habit I know – but I’ve had it for a long time and I’m not changing now), I try to be helpful where I can. I’ve made changes where I think they are beneficial and kept the wagon on the road.  Sometimes I get hauled up by someone who tells me it is the membership’s group and I have ‘no right’ but I’ve tried making the membership take control and it hasn’t worked (doesn’t mean I won’t try again sometime).  With 2,099,999 other groups to compete with I’ve got to keep the majority happy.  I made lots of sub-groups, but that just made 10 times more work, so now there are just three (they are self-managed and somehow have never quite got going).

LinkedIn doesn’t make it easy for me: a slightly more sophisticated membership filter would automate some of the entry procedure – so that I wouldn’t be greeted with hundreds of poor people awaiting approval (which is the reason so many groups have become open to all); an incremental advertising revenue model similar to YouTube would allow me to massively increase the activity and information available to members, making them come back to the site more often because I wouldn’t have to keep stopping to make a living elsewhere; a nice HTML newsletter for members on a proper weekly basis rather than the current automated timing which means at some point you have to miss out a day.

I’ve taken a decision to remove the promotions tab at the end of this month – too much good stuff gets dumped in this graveyard.  But some of the content can’t go in the discussion forums because it will just get clogged up – so I am trying something new and curating a Who’s who in events company page where the best will be posted.  I’m not sure if it will be popular – but I am going to give it a try.

I’m proud of what I have achieved, with a little bit of help here and there, and one day soon I hope I’ll be announcing that we have hit 100,000 members.

 

Using social media to market events

Once upon a time it was all so simple…

Providing you owned, could access or buy, good data and had the budget to hit your target universe five times on average with your message you could more or less guarantee an audience for your event.  For exhibition marketers, preregistration was a very clear indicator of footfall on the day, with conversion rates of between 60 and 75 per cent.  In the conference market a twelve week cycle of marketing would, possibly with the input of some telemarketing, produce enough registrations to cover costs and deliver that all important margin.

And then life got a whole lot more complicated…

The advent of online and email marketing brought with it a more instantateous way to talk to audiences. Unfortunately though, like a child gorging on the pick-and-mix, many marketers have abused the latter, flooding their database’s inboxes with messages on a far too regular basis. Others have treated their web presence as an online brochure, asking visitors to sign up for updates and news when in reality there would be none because noone factored in the time or resource for either the marketing or the main event team to curate such things.

Into this already crowded, and rowdy, room marches social media…

It’s like a toddlers tea-party.  You want to make yourself heard above the cacophony: so you shout louder; you run hither and thither until it seems you are everywhere at once; you wear the gaudiest outfit because you think it will make you stand out; and you try everything, briefly. But when you leave you are hoarse, tired and, if the truth be told, you didn’t actually get very much done or make much of an impression because you were just one of a group of over-excited, slightly out of control children in inappropriate clothing.

For event marketers, the biggest problem is that the promotional cycle for an exhibition, conference, awards etc. is actually very short; very rarely does the campaign last for more than four months. This really doesn’t lend itself very well to social media because relationships in places such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and long lists of followers in Twitter aren’t built overnight, and if you want to establish a well-read blog then there is no point starting it ten weeks out from your show. And if you stop talking to your audience, they lose interest and go somewhere else.

Let’s look at two examples, both expos with conferences and seminar programmes attached and a technology bias, though not IT events as such, and with similar attendance figures at their live days:

Our first event takes place annually in February.  They have a LinkedIn group which was established in January 2008 – a month before that year’s event.  It’s growth profile looks like this:

While the group shows a steady growth in membership over the last four years, it is interesting to note that there are identifiable spikes in the number of new memberships in February of each year., i.e. when the event happens.  Just three weeks later both increase in membership and activity, as shown in the chart below have fallen dramatically.

In contrast, the second team have created a LinkedIn group which began life based around their event (which takes place in March) but has been nurtured and developed to deliver to the expo’s existing and potential audience all year around.  The group was established in December 2007, four months before the event was scheduled and their growth and activity profiles look like this:

As with all statistics you can look at these two sets of information in a number of different ways, but at face value the contrast is clear.  One team started earlier and kept the momentum going whereas another only focusses their effort in the final push towards the event.  The groups have been around for approximately the same amount of time, yet one has nearly six times the number of members as the other and is showing a positive growth pattern.  One team is clearly putting the time and effort into creating a community that isn’t abandoned as soon as the last speaker has left the building…

Utilities like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. aren’t just another medium into which information can be lobbed out to the target audience in the same old way.  Think about it: you strive for coverage in relevant magazines and industry journals because you want your product to appear in an environment that has kudos and stature.  This is delivered by the editorial content created by the teams that manage those media.  If you want to do the same thing via LinkedIn etc. then you have to create an editorial and community environment that makes your potential audience want to interact with you.

To deliver real ROI and marketing with impact for your event you can’t just dip in and out of social media, ignoring your audience for 11 months of the year and then shouting at them for four weeks before you want them to attend.  You need to spend time getting to know them, finding out how to work with the community you have created via your exhibition, conference or roadshow.  Remember, they sought you out and it is up to you to make them stay.

missioncontrol @purerocketscience

p.s. If you want to find out more about creating social media strategies that work for events, our colleague Hellen Beveridge will be teaching a series of courses over the next few months.  Visit www.gallusevents.co.uk/our-events/ for more information.

Time to wake up and smell the coffee chaps…

While rummaging through my email inbox this morning I stopped and read the one from the professional institute of which I am a member.

It’s compelling, and beautifully written, as it ought to be and it was asking me very nicely to attend the annual conference.  And offering me a discount.  What’s not to like about that?

What caught my eye though was that the early booking discount was £200 + vat.  If that’s the discount I thought, how much is the conference?  A mighty £445 + vat no less.  Which means that if I don’t book before the early bird discount runs out I’ll have to fork at a eye-watering £645 + vat to attend a conference run by the association I pay to be a member of.  Wow.

Possibly not for the right reasons, the organisation now had my full attention.  Surely this must be a two day event I thought… but no, this was for a one day 09:00 to 17:30 affair (with an hour and forty minutes of break time; you’ll be relieved to hear that lunch was provided) where I could attend ten sessions (if I had the fortitude to get through it all) of which there were some of only marginal interest.

The marketing line what smaller companies can learn from the “big boys” illicited a wry chortle. Because at that price how many small businesses are actually likely to attend.  The HMRC definition of a small company is if your turnover is £5.6million or less or have fewer than 50 employees.  In reality many small, and very dynamic, businesses fall well below these thresholds.  In the Marketing Week/Ball & Hoolahan marketing salary survey for 2012 the salary for a marketing manager is somewhere in the region of £36,000.  If you extrapolate down from this you can work out that this conference organiser is potentially asking a company to pay a quarter of an employee’s monthly take home pay to attend a one day conference from which there is marginal company-wide return on investment.

You don’t need to absorb much media in the UK to work out that these are straitened economic times.  There is many a managing director trying to work out whether they should pay the wage bill or the suppliers, and telling their employees that “we’re very sorry but there will be no wage increases this year”.  Training budgets may survive, just, but spending on expensive conference days out (we haven’t factored in travel and accommodation/lost productivity costs in all of this have we?) isn’t a priority for many.  And what about those who have embraced redundancy and become freelance marketers… if you take the cost of the conference and the loss of a day’s earnings why on earth would you even consider booking a place.

And conference organisers wonder why their attendance rates are down… Discriminating against large sectors of the audience by virtue of price isn’t going to help much is it? And membership organisations are more at risk than ever because we’re not even sure we need you any more guys.

It is in times like these that great innovation often occurs. Exhibition and live event organisers have recognised for years the need to add more and more value to their offerings, creating environments where visitors can get information or experiences that they just can’t get elsewhere.  It’s time that conference organisers did the same. There is no point telling a potential attendee that they will learn new things and network with their peers, because they can do this via LinkedIn without spending a bean or having to get up at 6:15am to get to the venue, and a day full of plenary sessions with tiny comfort breaks (because the programme is crammed to make it look like it is value for money) doesn’t deliver for many people.

So dear conference organisers I challenge you to do three things differently this year:

  1. Start your pricing strategy from how much you think your conference is worth and how much your delegate is willing to pay rather than from how much money you need to cover your venue costs.  If the answer is £99+vat then find a solution that fits.
  2. Stop trying to cram too much into a programme to justify the huge sum of money you are asking for.  Remember how exhausting it was to sit in a lecture theatre for a couple of hours as a student and ask yourself why you think people can endure it for eight hours or more now that they are older.
  3. Embrace some new technology to deliver to your audiences and members in a different, more inclusive and accessible way.  Get out of that traditionalist box right now.

At present most conference organisers (associations included) attract on average less than 5% of their target audiences to their events.  Which means that for every delegate you get there could be another 19 waiting to engage with your organisation. Time to go get them.

hellen @missioncontrol

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Social media has turned marketing on its head.  In every sense.

Marketing managers find themselves beleaguered by the number and complexity of media that they are expected to embrace and conquer even for what has always been the most straightforward sector – B2B.  As quickly as they understand the dynamics of one method of communication up pops another one – until the choice is both bewildering and extravagantly large.

Like children in a sweetshop, managers further up the chain, or stepped sideways from the marketing discipline, want it all.  They aren’t so worried if they are satifying a need, why just take the licorice when you can have the chocolate and the sherbert fountain, and the marshmallows and the sours, and the jelly beans…  But all this approach delivers is a stomach ache and no memory of the taste from each individual component.

Marketing for events has become a little like this.  Wanting email and direct mail and contra-deals and editorial and blogging and groups on LinkedIn…  but unless you stop to work out the strategy before you start all that happens is you have run around like a headless chicken for a few months and guess what?  You still don’t have any delegates for your event.

But this is where the smart organisations are getting their act together.  They have taken a long hard look at what email and random social marketing hasn’t got them, and they are embracing once again the old school of intelligent PR and great direct mail to form the backbone of their campaigns.  They aren’t spending as much money on these elements, but they are creating targetted shots that are really hitting home on their targets.

These same organisations are the ones who are also investing in specialist knowledge to help them build and maintain a social media campaign, managed and directed by a marketing manager who is not expected to be all things to all media.

Sounds like the way things were done 20 years ago – only better…

Networking delivers competitive advantage through the sharing of good ideas

In his paper The Social Origins of Good Ideas, Ronald Burt from the University of Chicago looks at the behaviour of employees and how their networks affect the generation of new ideas and how often they are applied.

Two key trends appeared from his study: that ideas generated from within a particular department were rejected more often, being seen as too insular; and that people who’s network spanned individuals across departments and organisations were more likely to come up with good ideas.

Neither of these results should be particularly surprising, but it’s good to see them qualified in an academic study.  Water cooler conversations that take place between colleagues from across an organisation enable indivudals to put a different perspective on a situation, giving examples of how something has been done elsewhere or simply to say ‘have you thought of doing it this way’.

Burton summarises the study in his paper:

People whose networks span structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations which gives them a good competitive advantage in delivering good ideas.  People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity.  This is not creativity born of deep intellectual ability.  It is creativity as an import-export business.  An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.

Some of this explains the explosive growth of social networking.  With 25% of all internet pages visited being to one of the top 10 networking sites and 9% of all internet visits going in the same direction, our insatiable need to connect with others is going somewhere to being satisfied.

The next step is to move this networking into a truly collaborative environment, where conversations can take place between many in a virtual space that crosses geographic and language boundaries.

Ten years ago this was just a figment of our imagination, today, thanks to some very clever folk, it’s a reality.