While traditional place-based conferences certainly provide a great deal of value for organizations trying to connect with their members, there are often barriers that make it difficult for a majority of the intended audience to attend – travel time, travel costs, schedule conflicts…. the list goes on and on.
Virtual events, on the other hand, remove some of these common barriers, which is why some organizations are already including them as an important part of their educational offerings.
Phil Mershon, director of events at Social Media Examiner, knows just how impactful virtual events can be, as they have been a major part of his company’s business model from the very beginning.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Jeff talks to Phil about the critical factors that have made their virtual events so successful, the relationship between their virtual event and place-based event, as well as the launch of their Social Media Marketing Society.
Listen to the Show
Read the Show Notes
[00:20] – A reminder to check out the Leading Learning Symposium, an event designed specifically for senior leaders at organizations in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development. The symposium takes place this year on October 24-25 in Baltimore, Maryland.
[03:04] – Introduction to Phil and some background information about Social Media Examiner and his role there.
[04:25] – Can you tell us a little about what you offer in terms of virtual events – is it down to the one big event a year or do you have others that you’re doing? Phil explains how virtual events were used as somewhat of a test and how Social Media Examiner evolved from there. Today they have one online event and one physical event as well as the membership society they started about a year and a half ago.
[06:18] – What do you feel are the key factors that have made your virtual events successful? Phil attributes their success to three critical factors:
- Having great content
- Having content that is tailored to the needs of the audience (which is found through surveys/research)
- Having a good marketing plan
[09:38] – Having good content is dependent upon building strong relationships with the subject matter experts. It seems that you must really make an effort to cultivate those relationships day in and day out – is that correct? Phil shares that some of it is intentional and formal such as having them write for them or strategically having them on the podcast or their live show. He says they also maintain relationships by making an effort by go out in person and adds that they are constantly looking for the new voices.
[11:46] – Can you talk a little about how you come up with and structure the content for something like the Social Media Success Summit (an event that takes place over 4 weeks)? Phil explains that all sessions are live over 13 days in the month of October with 39 sessions. They now try to drive each day’s topic by a theme (i.e. Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.), which allows attendees to skip a particular day if it isn’t relevant to them. Engagement is encouraged to happen over Twitter, through a private LinkedIn group, or on their Facebook event page. About 25-35% show up live and they release recordings within 2-3 hours after each session. This is important because only 60% of their audience is in North America and it’s impossible to accommodate all the different time zones.
[15:53] – You followed the opposite path of most of the organizations that listen to this podcast in trade and professional associations – that is, you started with online events and then moved to do a place-based event. Do you find much overlap between the audiences? Phil shares that the studies they’ve done only show about a 10-20% overlap.
[17:31] – Aside from the obvious logistical differences, what are the key differences in how you approach planning and marketing the two types of events? Phil says the way he differentiates the events is that the online events are almost 100% tactics focused, whereas the physical conference has a mixture of tactics and strategy, with the latter being important to discuss when in person. Phil adds that at the physical conference, a huge focus for them after content is networking. He also says they provide a greater mix of content at the physical conference.
[20:39] – Do you feel like you make a concerted conscious effort to differentiate between the two types of events in your marketing and how you communicate it out to the audiences you serve? Phil says it might be subtle but there will be differences in the language used. He explains that if you get their virtual pass for their physical conference, it will be a similar experience.
[22:23] – How does the Social Media Marketing Society fit into the big picture of Social Media Examiner and your events – and was this a natural evolution based on having built these communities around the events? Phil talks about how the Social Media Marketing Society started as the Social Media Marketing Networking Club. He explains that it provides a year long community with 3 training sessions each month, a networking hangout, a curated forum where people can ask questions of each other, as well as a place to learn cutting-edge content that might not be available online.
[24:55] –To what extent has the Social Media Marketing Society impacted your identity, if at all (i.e. do you think of yourself as being anything like the American Marketing Association, for example?) Or is this a completely different take on the concept of society? Phil says they aren’t trying to be like trade associations. Rather, they want to be a learning community, which is a need their audience had.
[26:33] – What are your own lifelong learning habits? Phil shares that he listens to podcasts, reads physical books, and attends conferences. He also reveals that he assigns himself assignments to help him learn more about a particular topic.
[28:29] – How to connect with Phil:
[29:05] – Wrap-Up
A reminder to check out the Leading Learning Symposium.
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[30:46]- Sign off