Why Your Attendees Are Your Best Marketing Tools

Sure, direct-mail pieces and email newsletters can be compelling. But having your attendees market your conferences or events for you may be a sure-fire way to engage new audiences.

One of my best friends came to visit me a few weeks ago. She’s one of those people where we go a year-plus without seeing each other, but it feels as though we’ve never been apart and that we share a brain.

The goal is to provide these people who are not there a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening, so maybe in future years they’ll say, ‘I want to go to this.’

And also the same taste.

Case in point: As we were getting ready to go out, we turned around to realize we were wearing the same winter hat, in the same color, that we purchased some 1,300 miles apart.

Which is exactly why we spent the weekend sharing our favorite new stores, and cool websites, and must-have products. Because, pretty much, whatever she recommends, I want to try or buy—and vice versa.

To put it in a business context, we’re great word-of-mouth and influence marketers to each other.

And, as association meeting pros, you know who your best influence marketers likely are? Your attendees. It’s just up to you to figure out how to leverage them.

One association that’s jumped on the idea is the National Association of Realtors. In an article posted on earlier this week, writer Mitra Sorrells took a look at how NAR shows its members who do not attend its Realtors Conference & Expo what they’re missing.

“Conference Live is our website that has 30 featured attendees who are posting photos and commentary of what their experience is … so people can see through the lens of someone like them what’s going on at the event,“ NAR’s vice president of conventions, Matt Lombardi, told BizBash. “The goal is to provide these people who are not there a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening, so maybe in future years they’ll say, ‘I want to go to this.’”

NAR Marketing Director Allison Fitch-Markham manages the Conference Live initiative and selects the 30 attendees to essentially function as reporters.  These “featured attendees,” who are not compensated in any way, are to submit at least three posts—from blogs to videos to photo galleries—during the four-day conference.

Instead, what NAR promises participants is exposure. “In a membership association, when you are trying to rise through the ranks of leadership, that exposure can be very positive,” Fitch-Markham told BizBash.

And the effort has been successful: Fitch-Markham said that based on an analysis of IP addresses of site visitors, most traffic was from outside the state where last month’s conference was held.

But, what if wrangling 30 attendees and managing the related content and website seems inconceivable for your association? Is there another way to go about getting members and attendees to help promote your conference that goes beyond generic testimonials?

Perhaps there something to be learned from the “micro-influencer” trend that’s pretty popular in social spaces, particularly Instagram.

What exactly is micro-influencer marketing? It’s using everyday individuals with small, dedicated followings online to market brands, products, and services using their own voice. You may have seen it with food bloggers, fitness Instagrammers, and so forth. And research shows that this new type of word-of-mouth marketing works. According to McKinsey & Company, it’s responsible for 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.

Maybe the way for your association to start is to reach out to its members who are not only active in these social spaces and have a good following but who are also regular attendees. You could ask them if they’d be willing to share with their followers—in their own words and in a format of their choosing—why going to your association’s conference is a must for them or to share their takeaways post-event.

To sweeten the deal, consider offering them a discount on conference registration or something else along those same lines. You never know, you could end up with some of your most compelling conference marketing collateral yet.

In what ways has your association made use of highly engaged members or conference attendees as influencers or word-of-mouth marketers? Tell us in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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