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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Do conferences need bloggers?

Yes, good bloggers can sell the sizzle. For this post, we're using the terms bloggers, podcasters, videographers and media personnel interchangeably. Various conferences may call them "official bloggers" or "ambassadors." The impetus for this post was the query from a newly hired (volunteer?) publicity/marketing chair for a state genealogical society:
"... I am planning on-site marketing activities that will happen at our annual conference. I know RootsTech pulls together a big Media/Press booth in the exhibit hall, where bloggers can relax and work on posts, videos, interview people, etc. I've seen you there. The regional conferences I have attended do not provide this type of area. 

1) Is a blogger/media area typical of the national conferences? (Other than FGS 2015 at RT, I haven't been to one). 

2) As an avid gen blogger, do you find value in that kind of setup? If so, why? Or do you think it's not necessary? 

I'd like to set up at least a nice cozy visible small area like this in our conference (not on the scale of RT). But my fear is that it will end up empty...with most bloggers preferring to work elsewhere. I tend to do my blog posts from the bar with friends, or up in my room late at night."

Dear Marketing Person,

If you ask people about the perceived value of attending annual conferences such as the National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) or RootsTech, they will invariably say:
  • networking with friends, colleagues and bloggers
  • great presenters
  • research time at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah
Saddled with a distant venue, your genealogy conference had better make good on the first two items. You don't have control over "friends" or "colleagues" so you'd better heavily pack powerful outside genealogy "bloggers" into your conference plans. 

Great PR coverage at the current annual conference
attendees and non-attendees are jazzed about coming next year.

You'd better believe the more exciting an event appears, the more hoops people will jump through to get there. They'll find roommates to share costs and shop the best airfare offers. They may even forego the daily Starbucks in favor of saving $50 bucks a week toward attending a worthwhile annual conference. Well, maybe that's too extreme for some people, but I digress.

  • Aren't genealogy conferences like any other conference? Don't they need paying attendees to meet contractual agreements with the conference venue? 
  • Don't FGS, NGS and RootsTech want to "spread the word" about genealogical research methodologies, preservation, and technology?
  • How are these conferences going to get the word out if year-over-year attendance doesn't grow?
Your society's reach is maybe 2-3,000 people if you are lucky.

What are the numbers your outside media people bring to the table?  

When your society posts its bi-weekly announcements and spotlights about the upcoming conference, let your "official" media folks cross-post these regularly to their followers to grow the numbers. 

For instance, DearMYRTLE's reach includes nearly 28,000 in a single Facebook group, among her other groups on Facebook, Twitter and Google. There are other bloggers/content curators who have higher numbers, but won't play the "official" media game, so beware.

Genealogy conferences should be FUN in addition to being informative. It costs attendees $800-$1,000 to attend and maybe time off from work.  Simply put, there have to be mighty compelling reasons for a person to attend.

Southern California Genealogical Society is perhaps the only other conference that thinks outside the box. They were the first to embrace a "bloggers summit." SoCal also does silly things like having costumed theme nights. It's something different every year.

FGS and NGS tend to put a table and a few chairs off to the side or even outside the exhibit hall for media. There is no point in this. The idea that NGS dedicates half of it's long, rectangular booth as the official media hub is beneficial to all concerned, but do they address this in advance? Do they spice it up with a video cam setup? Do they post a schedule of specific blogger appearances in addition to NGS' published authors book signing appearances?

RootsTech manages it official media hub well by placing it roughly in the middle of the exhibit hall, drawing people through the big sponsor booths and well into the vibrant mix.

These are a few additional considerations: 

A. Most active bloggers have a full dance card before they arrive at a conference. This reflects their speaking assignments, special appearances owing to vendor partnerships, software and web design CEO and CTO appointments, in addition to keynote and speaker interviews they've scheduled in the media hub.

B. Use EventBrite. RootsTech offers media pre-scheduled interview times with keynote and Innovator Summit finalists. These could be sofa chats with multiple interviewers, vidwo booth interviews or one-on-one interviews.

C. Space to interview people. 
  • Attendees 
  • Vendors (who don't want to venture far from their booths anyway) 
  • Each other (with ideas for interviews, sharing press releases, sharing blogger beads, forming dynamic partnerships.) 
  • Meet-ups with our followers 
  • A FamilySearch recording booth with cameras and lights, taking media coverage to a higher level visually and emotionally. (Good equipment doesn't require the glass-enclosed space we see at RootsTech. Even Ol' Myrt here has two mics that block out most ambient sound.)
  • Most media people don't post lengthy blogs during the event.
  • Photos get posted by media almost immediately via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, though more frequently by our followers. This extends the reach exponentially. 
D. Multiple ethernet and electric charging points. Wireless internet for media only.

E. Don't give media folks a paper press release during the conference UNLESS it references an email with the same info in .doc format. Experienced bloggers observe embargo dates/times for releasing press announcements. Send an embargoed post by 10:30pm the night before the big announcement, and we'll have time to create a post and set it to automatically publish in our blog a few minutes after the embargo expires. We certainly cannot do anything more than send a Tweet if something big happens live during the day. And that's if we're not booked with interviews and happen to hear of your big announcement.

F. .PDF format press releases may look beautiful but these make your media people jump through hoops to get your message out for you.

G. Thoughtlessly adding social media folks to your conference PR sadly a mere nod to social media. That's like saying "Sure, our society is into social media." This means nothing. Spotlight your media personalities in advance and make a fun place for them to work their magic at the conference itself.

  • Media folks can be as valuable as to the success of a conference as the presenters.  
  • If a conference is popular vendors will happily attend.

Think about that. 

Most genealogy boards and conference chairs don't get any of this.

Unlike RootsTech, me thinks FGS, NGS and other major genealogy conferences are worried about the cost of the 2-4 booths this would take to provide dedicated media hub space. Yet, if the official media personalities are chosen wisely, the space will be a busy focal point. If your media people are showcased on the conference website, and in multiple society blog posts, this builds interest. If media people can "do their thing" like at RootsTech, then the cost of the media hub exhibit hall space is well spent. Your attendees are part of "what's happening" with their favorite social media personalities.

You aren't  merely building interest for this year's conference,
but for all future conferences as well. 

Your society's marketing department wants to build momentum. We're not talking merely snail mailing a full-colored flyer here. You do need a good conference logo, providing them in banner and side-bar advertising size for your media folks. We are talking about pulling out all the stops - using social media to get the word out:
  • two to three times a week in your official blog
  • spotlight a presenter
  • spotlight a specific presentation topic
  • spotlight each conference track
  • spotlight a vendor's product
  • spotlight a software vendor and the chance attendees have to speak with the developer
  • spotlight the typical weather, so attendees will know what to pack
  • spotlight an after-hours excursion
  • spotlight a wacky talent night
  • spotlight a local blue grass concert
  • spotlight the local library
  • spotlight the local archives
  • spotlight the local Family History Center
  • spotlight the local heritage museum
  • spotlight a good restaurant within walking distance of the conference venue
  • spotlight local area attractions people can visit before or after the conference
  • spotlight the airport
  • spotlight high speed rail, taxi and shuttle services
  • spotlight handicapped rental services for scooters and wheelchairs
  • spotlight individual media folks
  • spotlight major sponsor at the platinum, gold and silver levels 
  • Provide pics with each announcement, so the newer magazine format RSS feed readers will look splashy. 
You can calendar these topics in advance and then, say, post about a different local restaurant twice a month. During the six month's prior to the conference, your attendees will learn about 12 cool places to meet with friends for dinner after a busy day at the conference. Your society's blog will become a "go to" place for all things surrounding your conference. And your media people can rebroadcast this content to their followers extending your blog's reach. That's social networking in action.

If a media person must pay for conference admission he will spend more time going to classes and very little time in the media hub. Why should we pay to promote your conference? Silly things like offering free access to the next year’s conference in exchange for being the most “prolific” blogger doesn’t take into account the wide variety of ways a high profile blogger sells the sizzle.

The following are just three varied approaches that can effectively contribute to the success of a conference via social media:
  • Randy Seaver of GeneaMusings Blog and his conference compendium, even concerning conferences he doesn’t attend. This is a practical service appreciated by his many followers. 
  • Thomas MacEntee, of High Definition Genealogy who is very business oriented. Thomas' strengths include building business partnerships, including facilitating the introduction of  new products and services to the community. 
  • In my case, I can afford to invest in my DearMYRTLE profile. My goal is to build an esprit de corps among all of us - have people feel welcome. That goal has served me well, and has grown my business even though I've taken to the wheelchair. 

Most social media folks in the genealogy vertical haven't tuned into the business side, but may also contribute to your society's conference success. 

Yes, genealogy conferences need bloggers. We should be loved, cherished and fed fine chocolates on a regular basis. Seriously, the PR we can provide is invaluable.

Hangouts: Pay what you want. So it's simple. If you value the work Ol' Myrt, +Cousin Russ and our beloved panelists do week in and week out on your behalf, please:

Check the DearMYRTLE Hangouts Calendar for upcoming study groups and hangouts. There you'll find links to the GeneaConference (in-person) and the GeneaWebinars Calendar with over over 200 hours of online genealogy classes, webinars, live streams and tweetchats from other hosts and presenters over the next 12 months.