Simply put, if you’re not actively leveraging content to accelerate the ROI of your events, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
Too often, when people think about events, they simply consider & plan for the event itself- The booth, the room, on-site factors. But great content, leveraged before, during and after the event can exponentially increase the reach, influence and conversion opportunity at every event you produce or attend moving forward.
In this extended blog post, we’ll cover a comprehensive look at why a content strategy for your events is so important, then walk through in detail exactly how you can leverage content before, during and after.
Event Content Objectives
One of the biggest challenges for content marketers in attempting to gain greater credibility for their craft inside organizations is that they too often measure the wrong things.
Content isn’t about impressions. It’s not about traffic. It’s about conversions. I realize not every marketing channel or tactic can be directly measured to sales opportunities and the bottom line, but that doesn’t mean you can’t assign revenue-related objectives and align your strategy and execution accordingly.
Thus, event content objectives should include elements of the following:
- Direct, qualified prospect engagement and interaction
- Lead capture
- Sales opportunity creation
It’s still fine to measure awareness and interest, especially related to exactly who is engaging (with or in?) your event content, but keep in mind that metrics like impressions, retweets and similar are means to an end.
Tracking ROI From Events
To more completely and accurately measure the business value and sales impact of your next trade show, define and measure success at three critical post-event milestones.
1. Immediately after the show
When you walk back into the office, what can you measure? How will you immediately know if the show was a success? Your likely measures for this include leads (or names) captured, meetings held, briefings or demos completed, etc.. Define these measures up front and drive your strategy and execution accordingly.
2. 30 days after the show
A month after the event you should have, at minimum, qualified all of the leads you captured and placed them in the appropriate stage in your pipeline. Many of the leads may go right into a nurture track. Some will require further qualification, and others may be actively engaged on a short path to purchase. But ideally, after a few weeks of working the immediate product of the event, you should have a sense for what pipeline expectations should be in the next few months.
3. Six months after the show
Depending on your average sales cycle length, this is the milestone at which you should start to expect closed business, booked sales and revenue recognition directly from the event. There will still be leads you’re nurturing, but six months should be enough time to see closed business and a solid pipeline of expected new sales in the subsequent six-month period.
Ideally, you establish goals for these three milestones not only before the event, but before you commit the resources in the first place. Because if the goals don’t add up to enough business to justify the event, save your time and money for something else.
Five reasons to prioritize content marketing at events
Some of these reasons may feel “basic” to advanced or experienced content marketers, but I’ve found them to be highly useful when explaining or justifying additional content investments with senior executives.
1. Low cost and high leverage way of expanding at-event reach
Think about the cost of doing taxi cab advertisements. Banners hung outside of the convention hall. All events still offer these kind of opportunities (some formal, some guerilla) but many of them are still prohibitively expensive.
All too often, you can garner the same impact with your target audience with some smartly-created content at a fraction of the cost. Plus, it has a shelf life and value well beyond when the banners are taken down and (most likely) just thrown away.
2. Extended lifetime and value well beyond the event itself
Just because the event is over, doesn’t mean people will stop engaging with your event-related content. I guarantee you’ll be able to recycle and repurpose much of your event content in the weeks and months ahead to expand its reach, influence, and conversion potential. And next year, when the event happens again, much of that content can be dusted off and used in almost the exact same way with next to zero incremental work or cost.
3. Participate even if you’re not there, and make your presence look significantly larger than it actually is
We’ll cover “remote” event content participation and strategy later in this chapter, but I’ve lost count of the times we’ve “participated” in events from afar, only to have people assume we were not only on site, but also a major sponsor given our presence in content, Twitter and elsewhere.
But even if you are in fact at the event, significant content coverage can make your presence look that much more impressive. Many events, after all, are in part about perception. It might be your once-a-year opportunity to make a solid impression with the majority of decision makers in your industry all at one time. Why not take advantage and use content to heighten that impression and opportunity?
4. Tap into the budgets, tactics and audiences of your fellow exhibitors more effectively
Every event that includes other sponsors, exhibitors and presenters means you have a significant opportunity to cross-promote and cross-market your services with each other. And when you actively use content, you can work with content marketers at peer organizations to exponentially increase coverage with the overall audience, and conversion metrics with the targets you care about most.
5. Impact and convert everyone who wishes they could attend but didn’t make it
For every one person to who attends almost any event, there are at least 4-5 who wanted to be there but couldn’t make it. They didn’t have the budget for travel, had a schedule conflict, whatever. But in the age of social media, hashtags and on-demand video, our ability to follow conferences from afar has been significantly enhanced.
When you create and execute great content before, during and after an event, you’re reaching many times more people that matter than who attend the event directly.
Ten pre-event content marketing best practices
I could easily argue that the greatest content marketing opportunity for events is before and after the event itself. This is the time when most other sponsors and exhibitors aren’t doing much if anything, and your attendees are actually back at work paying more attention to content channels (vs. walking the halls and breakout sessions of the event in person).
Great event content marketing starts weeks if not months before the event actually begins. Here are ten pre-event best practices to get your brain rolling. This is far from comprehensive, but should give you a solid flavor of what’s possible.
1. Develop an editorial calendar
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail – right? So if you do your homework in advance for the event itself –Who’s going to be there, what they care about, why they’re attending, etc. – you should be able to convert those insights into a solid editorial calendar that lays out the content before, during and after the event.
2. Find the influencers
Figure out who has attended these events in the past that have the most influence over other attendees. Run a report through Little Bird (www.getlittlebird.com) based on the conference name and/or hashtag to see who shows up first. Look for “most influential” lists within your industry and start there.
Then, create a plan to engage the influencers in advance of the event. Make sure they know who you are and what you’re presenting. Get their help to crowd-source or at least share to their audiences your pre-event content. Ask them to grab a quick coffee with you during the show.
3. Engage past attendees
Use last year’s hashtag as a means of collecting those who either attended or at least watched/participated from afar. Make sure you’re following those folks to engage with this year. Ask them what they’re looking forward to this year and create a crowd-sourced blog post featuring their feedback.
4. Engage the presenters
Anyone presenting at an event likely also wants to make sure their room is full of attendees. Why not reach out to those presenters and ask if you can interview them for some pre-show “teaser” content? I bet most of them say “yes”.
5. Help first-time attendees know what to expect
Could you create new-attendee orientation content? How to “survive” the crowds, where to find the best outlets to recharge cell phones, which parties are mandatory attendance, etc.
This can be in the form of blog posts, interviews, videos, etc. Newbies will love it.
6. Make session recommendations
The bigger the event, the more breakout session choices there are. Even veteran event attendees can get confused or intimidated by the choices. Why not create content recommending the sessions and speakers you most recommend attending?
With content like this, you encourage participation. Get people adding their own content to the comments section wherever your content is published.
7. Write a “what to do around town” guide
Even if you don’t know the city the event is hosted in very well, work with others who live or used to live there to get recommendations on where to eat, drink, hang out, get a good breakfast, etc.
The more eclectic and “off the beaten path” recommendations, the better. Where do the locals hang out? Where’s the best “take a picture of the city” location that nobody knows about?
This is another great opportunity to crowd-source content, and when you feature the opinions of others, they’re far more likely to spread the word with/for you as well.
8. Crowd-source more event recommendations from past attendees
Capture and publish the “wisdom of the crowds” in a variety of contexts, featuring survival tips from those that have been there before. This can be about anything – hotels, transportation, bathroom breaks, etc..
9. Start using the hashtag early and often
Literally, as soon as you see one published, start posting pre-event content. That way, at minimum, those reading the feed early are going to see you. Add value, of course. Solicit feedback and input for your crowd-sourced content. Share other people’s pre-event content via your Twitter and social channels as well.
In essence, treat the event hashtag as one of your primary publications. It’s a direct feed to a significant portion of the attendees and followers you want to leverage well before and well after the event to maximize coverage, reach and impact.
10. Develop your at-show plan
The next section will dig into at-event tactics & best practices more specifically, but make sure you create that plan well in advance. What’s your at-show editorial calendar likely to look like? What resources will you need to create in-the-moment, live content? In what formats will they be produced ?
Answer these questions well in advance so you’re ready to capitalize on the event in real-time, make adjustments on the fly based on immediately identified opportunities, and have the resources to get it all done.
Five at-event content marketing best practices
This is by far the hardest section to nail. Once you’re at an event, chaos reigns. Things go wrong. You’re pulled into 12 different directions at once.
But if you created your at-show plan in advance and have both secured the resources required to execute, and allowed some buffer for opportunistic content on-the-fly, all that’s required is focus and discipline to get it all done.
And remember, if it’s hard for you with a plan, it’s next to impossible for your competitors without one. Nail the at-show content and you’re highly likely to stand out even greater, and take advantage of opportunities to make your presence far larger (and look far more expensive) than it actually is.
1. Live-tweet the key sessions
Tweet the big keynotes and special speakers in particular and make sure someone on your team is live-tweeting the highlights using the hashtag. Keep watch on similar live-tweets from the conference’s influencers and retweet their content frequently. This makes it more likely they’ll do the same for you and expand your reach beyond your own direct network.
2. Retweet the most influential other attendees
Sometimes it’s more than just the “known” influencers. At every event, new influencers pop up. Unknown attendees get highly-active on the hashtag feeds and make a name for themselves. Keep an eye out for these opportunities you might not have known about beforehand, and take advantage in real-time.
3. Assign “summary” content from key sessions and keynotes to get published ASAP
This is where an editorial calendar and resource plan comes in really handy. Know exactly which sessions you’ll want to “summarize” in a blog post afterward, ensure someone attends and takes notes, and carve out time right afterward to draft and publish the piece.
This is important for at least a couple reasons. One, you’ll have some incredibly valuable content to share with the exponentially-larger group of people who couldn’t attend live but are trying to follow from afar. And two,at the end of the show, you’ll have a collection of fully-written summaries of key content you can aggregate into “key takeaways” content summaries, or even an e-book behind a registration wall.
4. Shoot “on scene” video
Doesn’t have to be fancy. Carry around a basic camera to shoot video and get “man on the street” reaction of the event from attendees. Schedule time with influencers and get them on camera as well.
Get good at publishing these snippets in real-time into the hashtag feed, and reserve time at the end of each day to stitch good quotes together into slightly longer, curated videos that can go up and get viewership traction right away.
5. Work with content producers from the event itself
Most events have their own content team now. Get to know them before the show, volunteer to be part of their coverage team, and make sure they’re following and sharing the content you create for the show as well.
In most cases, they’ll be thrilled that you’re expanding the reach of their event through your own content, and will be happy to share that with their audience as well.
Five post-event content marketing best practices
It is incredibly easy to get back from an event and simply move onto the next one. Or the next fire drill. Or the massive pile of work and emails and emergencies you need to deal with.
But after the event is when attendees are back in their own offices and likely paying more attention to content like yours. It’s your opportunity to continue building upon the awareness, interest and momentum you generated at the event itself.
It’s also perhaps your best opportunity to use content to not just engage but convert event participants into qualified leads and opportunities.
Here are five specific best practices after an event to leverage content to increase pipeline-building metrics.
1. Publish a great “key takeaways” post
This may sound basic and fundamental, but I’ve found it can also be the single-most important piece of the entire event content marketing strategy. Summarize the session highlights coverage you created during the event, highlight some of the themes that came across overall, and link to some of the other takeaways blog posts being created.
Once it’s published, send it with those who are covered or mentioned in your takeaways. Send a copy to the influencers. Help it start spreading, use the hashtag, and watch what happens. It can be magical.
2. Crowd-source other takeaways from other attendees
It’s actually a great away to engage leads immediately after the event. If you want your sales team to increase qualification conversations from booth attendees, have them start with a simple question to capture a key takeaway for your blog post.
Great way to break the ice, then transition into more of a needs-qualification discussion overall.
3. Keep engaging the hashtag
Just because the event is over doesn’t mean people stop watching the hashtag feed. In fact, those who create a custom column in Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to follow a hashtag tend to leave it there for days if not weeks after the event is over. This is mostly due to laziness, but it still means your content will be in front of them for much longer.
4. Do an internal postmortem, and make adjustments for your next event
Take a quick look at what worked (especially related to the immediate post-show key metrics you’re tracking) and figure out what you might do differently next time.
5. Create a templated process for content marketing at future events
No matter how you just executed your event content, take what worked and make it a precedent for future events. Much easier than recreating the wheel each time. I recommend literally writing down the whole process so that, in case you’re not directly in charge of execution next time, someone can pick up where you left off and continue successful execution.