How to Make In-Person Events Your Go-To Content Marketing Tactic

Andrea Fryrear on B2B Marketing Strategy

A huge majority of B2B content marketers use in-person events as a content tactic (81% report doing so in 2016 according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends Report).

When it comes to effectiveness, in-person events are number one, with 75% of content marketers indicating that this tactic is effective for them. This has been the top tactic for the past six years, and in 2016 it jumped 6%.

So what is it about in-person events that make them such a content powerhouse?

And, more importantly, do you need to pony up $10,000 to sponsor a conference to get these levels of effectiveness?

I’ve been a regular conference attendee, presenter, and sponsor for the past 18 months, and I can tell you that there is no cover charge required to get a huge return on your attendance at in-person events.

Whether you’re sponsoring, speaking, or attending, these tested and proven techniques will show you how to turn in-person events into a top performing content tactic for your team.

5 Lessons from My Year of Events

I’ve spent about a year attending events of varying sizes and themes (from 350 to 10,000 attendees), and I’ve eaten a lot of buffet food and learned a lot in the process.

When you’re preparing your next in-person event, I offer you these hard-won lessons so you can get the most out of your conference time:

  1. Connect in advance. Review the sessions and pick your favorites, and establish social media connections with speakers wherever possible.
  2. Strategy and goals are key. Create a content strategy for each event so you spend your time the right way. You may be better served scheduling one-on-one interviews instead of going to the closing keynote, but you won’t be able to make that call without explicit goals.
  3. Don’t skip out. On day three, you may be exhausted and tempted to skip sessions or events. Don’t. Do your best to attend every event that you’ve identified as valuable. If you need to, schedule a recovery day after the event ends, but don’t squander these opportunities to connect in real life (no matter how sweet your hotel room is).
  4. Don’t be afraid to talk. Do your homework so that you feel confident striking up conversations with speakers and attendees alike. Ask questions, listen actively, and contribute intelligently. These unplanned interactions often lead to the most valuable future connections.
  5. Social media is your friend. Follow the event hashtag at all times, interact with others who are using it, and promote your attendance as a benefit for those who aren’t there to become a follower or connection.

Looking for more specific guidance? The following are the tactics that I’ve used to great effect at many events.

Choosing the Right In-Person Events

This can be tricky because you need to balance the needs of your organization with your own (somewhat selfish) desire to hear interesting presentations.

Certainly, content-centered events like Content Marketing World and Content Marketing Conference can give your content creation a jump start, but you’ll need to make sure you’re also on top of events that your audience will find valuable.

The bottom line when choosing events: make sure they’re in line with your larger content and organizational goals.

Getting to Know Your Personas

At MarketerGizmo we’re marketing to marketers, which gives me a great reason to travel the country checking out marketing events of all sorts. But I also provide content for the SurveyGizmo blog, which serves a much broader audience.

To give those readers content they’ll actually be interested in reading, our content team needs to travel to other industry events. This year that will include Technology Services World, the Association for Institutional Research Forum, and The Market Research Event, among others.

While the agendas for these conferences may not appeal to me on a personal level, they represent topics that our survey-driven audience is keenly interested in. So, our content team will be there to report on what’s happening and share what we learn.

A good, old-fashioned Google search will help you identify in-person events that are meaningful to your own personas, as will conversations with current and potential customers.

Ask which events they regularly attend, as well as which events their bosses go to. Particularly for B2B marketers, the higher up the decision-making chain you can reach, the shorter your buying cycle will be.

Making the Most of Your Time at an Event

Once you’ve figured out which events to attend, you need to make sure you’re going to the right sessions, meeting the right people, and devoting the right amount of time to content creation during the event itself.

These all require a fair amount of legwork before the event, as well as a deliberate allocation of your time while you’re there.

Picking Your Agenda With Care

When selecting the breakouts to attend, be sure to consider your overall goals for attending an event:

  • Are you looking for blog topics, interview opportunities, breaking news, or case study ideas?
  • What personas are you hoping to target with this content?
  • How will your content’s success be measured?

For each session you attend you should have a good idea of the content you hope to produce at the end.

Of course, establishing connections with the speaker or simply learning a new tactic or best practice to use in your own day-to-day work are also legitimate outcomes for attending a session.

Just be sure you’ve identified those as your goals before the talk starts, because of your behavior before, during, and after the session will differ if these are your goals.

Identifying the Right Connections

Even at relatively small marketing conferences, there are a lot of people to talk to. How do you find the “right” ones? It’s not a difficult process, but it does require some investments of time.

First, check out the speaker list. This is a goldmine of potential influencer connections:

It can be tempting to focus on keynote speakers, but very often they show up for their talk and leave. Even if they do attend the regular events, you’ll probably have trouble getting close enough to have a meaningful conversation.

But the “regular” speakers are typically just as influential, and since they may not be as well known your chat/request/business card is less likely to get forgotten in a huge pile.

Second, mine social media for other folks talking about attending the event. Hashtags will be an invaluable search tool. If there are folks who match some of your personas, it may be worth your time to interview them. You can also find potential guest contributors.

Learning About Your Connections in Advance

When I’m looking for folks to meet, I create a spreadsheet with all the presenters, their titles, and their session topics, then I scan it for those who are speaking on a topic that’s relevant to me and/or my audiences. Those become my must-attend sessions.

If you find non-speakers who you want to reach out to, they can be added to a separate tab.

Then I add columns for Twitter and LinkedIn and start trying to establish connections well in advance of the conference. I read and share their content, attend Twitter chats and webinars they host, and generally try to get familiar with them.

Sometimes this leads me to choose different sessions because I realize that the presenter doesn’t quite line up with my event goals; other times they become one of my favorite people to follow in a niche.

All this background information will put you in an excellent position to ask intelligent questions in their sessions and engage them during meals or cocktail receptions. Plus you’re very likely to learn some great stuff in the process.

Finally, remember that people get very busy during a conference. It can be nearly impossible to schedule time with them in the moment. Lay the groundwork before things get crazy, and you’ll be much more likely to get some face time with important influencers.

Writing and Tweeting Wisely

This may seem like a no-brainer, but shockingly few attendees do this; when the time comes for keynotes and breakout sessions, make sure you’re following the event hashtag and including it in all of your social media posts. Every speaker will appreciate tweets that reference their session, particularly if you tag them personally.

Writing and tweeting religiously during conferences has opened up many doors for me to connect with influencers who might otherwise have been outside my reach. They thank me for the shares, and then I am no longer just another Twitter handle among a sea of other fans.

Similarly, when it’s time to write up your experience, be sure to reference your favorite presenters by name and tag them on social media when you share the article.

This type of exposure is extremely valuable to speakers, and it’s yet another way for you to stand out amidst a sea of other attendees. Then, if you want to try to connect with them for an interview, a case study, or a quote for an article, they’re already familiar with you and your company as someone who has done them a content-related favor in the past.

Make In-Person Events Work For Your Content Team

Experiment with events that are relatively local while you refine your approach, and then turn your team loose on conferences nationwide. You’ll be amazed at the returns that you can get on a single trip.

From fascinating new content topics to influencer connections to great new ways to approach your own marketing, the potential benefits of in-person events are practically endless.

Have you had some big wins at events? Share with the group in the comments!