Building the BuzzApril 1, 2014

How to Grow Word-of-Mouth for Your Convention By
April 1, 2014

Building the Buzz

How to Grow Word-of-Mouth for Your Convention

Johnston,Andy-IdeaGroup-110x140Andy Johnston is president and creative director of The Idea Group and is a sought-after industry expert in developing ingenious ways to engage and motivate audiences. Andy has deep expertise in strategic planning, messaging, creative direction, marketing and events. He can be reached at or 404-213-4416.

Successful convention marketing needs more than a well-designed communication plan. You have to build the buzz. Here’s how to grow both word-of-mouth and “word-of-mouse” for your event, conference or convention.

Look at your pre-event to-do list. You have an event Web page, online registration, email marketing and event application, and you have your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram team and YouTube channel all ready and waiting. What else can you possibly need to whip up interest and attendance?

Where’s the buzz? That’s right, even with all of those marketing tools, you are missing the biggest one of all: word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is when someone talks about something valuable and interesting with someone else.

Why It Matters

I know what you’re thinking. People talking to other people is so low-tech and 20th century. Talking seems very Stone Age when you can text and tweet.

We’ve all made the shift from paper to electrons, but did you know it’s estimated that 80 percent of word-of-mouth marketing communication actually happens offline? Only 20 percent is online. That means the conversations about your upcoming meeting may begin with technology, but they end one-on-one. Your challenge is to transform “word-of-mouse” into word-of-mouth.

What can you do to inspire, motivate and participate in the buzz about your events?

The Biggest Thing to Remember

In event marketing, whether it’s word-of-mouth, electronic or social media, the rules have changed. If you walk away with only one thing from this article, please remember this: Traditional event marketing is an invitation to join you and your event. With buzz marketing, it’s reversed. Your target audiences don’t join you — you join them. You have to reach out to create a relationship, share some stories and be a part of their communities.

Effective buzz marketing is “about” someone or something. It’s not made up of your objectives, messages and data. Buzz is personal and emotional. This style of marketing isn’t random or passive. You start, fuel, direct and manage it. There are two flavors to focus on.

Media to people: People see, hear and read about your event, speakers and experiences in the media.

People to people: People talk and share about what they’ve heard and experienced.

Get the Media Buzzing

Instead of press releases and the typical PR, offer your media contacts unusual hooks and resources they can use for news stories. Can one of your executives or speakers be an expert on a new or trending topic or offer a comment? Look outside the obvious. You want your media contacts to notice what’s new about your event and start talking. Here are a couple of ideas on how to work with them to reach your target audiences.

  1. Feed the buzz: Buzz is just like gossip — it needs a great story. Give the media something unusual to talk about. The trick is to have a series of buzzworthy stories that benefit the company, and your products and services. Don’t think typical PR and email blasts. Think people, examples, surprising data, and how the event or conference could have repercussions in an industry, the host city — or even the rest of the world.
  2. Controversy is your buzz best friend: No boring buzz! Members of the media feed on the unexpected, the humorous and the emotional. Instead of promoting the location, date and agenda of your event, focus on what the event means and how people feel about it. Talk to your key speakers about fresh ideas and actions that are spreading across the region or nation. Break your media messages down into small, enticing pitches instead of one big one. Your campaign doesn’t have to be complicated or sophisticated. Hey, close to 35 million people have watched the Keyboard Cat play the piano on YouTube!

Then Get People Buzzing

Word-of-mouth starts when people feel they belong. If they’re comfortable with your event and have a great experience, they’ll talk. If they’re uncomfortable with your event and have a bad experience, they’ll talk. The trick is to build option No. 1 while minimizing option No. 2.

Here’s how to get potential attendees talking positively about your event or conference. People-to-people buzz requires you to talk with instead of to attendees.

  • You want two-way communication.
  • You want a multiple-person experience that is not merely transactional.
  • You want to shift the focus from the details of the conference to the experiences that attendees share.
  • You need to go where your attendees go and get involved.

Remember that big point I asked you to remember? Your target audiences don’t join you — you join them. What forums do they join? What are their favorite discussion groups on LinkedIn? Who are their friends on Facebook, and where do they gather?

Go there and join the conversation. Invest the time to listen a lot and contribute. People are curious — so give them a little and they’ll ask for more.

Give them something to talk about. Take a hard look at your event or conference. What’s truly “buzzable?” What will attendees and potential attendees naturally discuss? What will excite them? Just as with the media, you’ll find more interest if you identify a series of smaller, intriguing topics than one big one.

Then jumpstart some powerful conversations. Here are some great ways you can get them talking.

  • Sponsor forums where people can talk about topics that will be featured at your event.
  • Establish your own hashtags and encourage people to use them when they discuss key topics or talk about your event.
  • Monitor and feed the flow. The instant you sense the first shift of attention away from your event, add a contest, survey, coupon or promotion. You don’t think that Oprah gave away cars out of the goodness of her heart, do you?

Finally, realize that good word-of-mouth can’t be managed, regulated and enforced. You can’t make people get excited about your event. You have to let it happen. In the real world, building relationships and friendships takes time. But you’ll get a strong return on your investment.

Word-of-Mouth Equals Trust

Just like an honest reputation, the value of good word-of-mouth is immeasurable. You can’t find a marketing strategy that’s more direct. When people talk with enthusiasm about your event, the topics and personnel, they are giving you and your organization both a strong endorsement and a solid-gold recommendation. What can be more powerful?

Word-of -mouth is one of the most cost-effective ways of expanding the influence of your events, building loyal attendees and reaching new ones. Just remember to make your event or conference a part of the story but not THE story. Keep it interesting. Make it personal. And you will build the buzz! AC&F


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