Virtual Conferences 101

By Ellen Myrick, Publisher Spotlight

In this pandemic world, the traditional conference where you can meet booksellers, teachers, and librarians is no longer part of the mix. That does not mean that you can no longer interact with these important listeners in structured settings, however. Now, those settings have shifted to a virtual environment. Here are seven considerations as you think through your virtual experience.

  1. Here-and-now vs. Whenever. Focus – that moment when the attendee is engaged with you and only you – is always the goal. Virtual conferences are working through various ways to create opportunities for engagement with a sense of urgency while making the conference an event they will dedicate time to. However, there is no denying that creating content for a virtual booth that can outlast the few days of the conference and build your online presence is a real benefit. Keep both immediacy and long-term benefits in mind as you plan your presence so there is something for those who will be there the moment the “doors” open, to those who need to engage with the conference in their own time.
  2. Define Your Goals. Think about what makes an in-person booth effective: knowledgeable staff who listen, attractive product that appeals to that specific audience, a space that clearly showcases what is being promoted, and opportunities to capture leads and follow up. All of these and more can be replicated in a virtual booth, but you do have to prioritize. Also, all virtual conferences are not created equal and you may find some disconnect between your primary objective and what that particular conference excels at. Find a balance and be consistent.
  3. Create Content. Balancing your goals and the specific offerings of the conference, think about what types of content are most likely to be successful. Is your goal to grow the fanbase for a particular audiobook or narrator? A well-positioned giveaway or self-contained sample might be most effective. Consider posting an interview with the narrator or even a short video from the studio while recording. Or do you want to grow awareness of a new or underappreciated series or line? Link to a Pinterest board or Edelweiss catalog, and, again, think strategically in terms of free content. Do you want to grow the overall profile? Find ways to entice listeners and capture their information so that you can continue the dialog through social media and even a good, old-fashioned email newsletter.
  4. Capturing leads. Offer multiple ways for people to interact with your booth. A spectacular giveaway can boost your lead count. If you give something away, be sure to get their information first. Better yet, get the interested party to answer a few basic questions on the way to their free audiobook. This can help you do market research, learn more about their purchasing patterns, or find out their personal preferences. Research the chat options ahead of time and make sure you have staff ready whenever there are opportunities for engagement, too. Whatever you do, try to make it a must to interact before clicking away.
  5. Share the Social. Anything you do, any content you create, can be amplified across social media channels. As with any marketing, define your message, research the hashtags, make it interesting and pithy, and use images wherever possible. Don’t limit yourself to Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, but also think about Pinterest, LinkedIn and other platforms that may also have an audience for that conference. That said, don’t neglect to customize the message for each space.
  6. Before, During, and After. A basic building block of effective marketing is to repeat the message: tell them you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Whether through an advance eBlast or a social media campaign, let your audience know that you are going to participate. Share the goings-on throughout the days of the conference and continue to share content in the days and weeks after to maximize your investment.
  7. Continuous Learning. When the conference has concluded, take the time—always a hard thing—to evaluate each aspect of the conference. You can structure this as a traditional SWOT (Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat) or follow your own format, but don’t neglect this step. Be intentional and isolate key takeaways so that your next effort will be even better. This is a new world and we may never return to the traditional conference format even if we do get to meet face-to-face again. Be sure to get feedback from each member of the team and add those to your own Best Practices.

Virtual conferences are here to stay. You will learn the questions to ask on the front end and make the experience more rewarding for yourself and the attendees—just remember that this is new for everyone.

Would you like to take part in a virtual conference with a turnkey solution? Publisher Spotlight will be at the following conferences this Fall: ILA, AMLE, NAEYC, NCSS and NCTE.

Email with your best audiobook for high school English teachers and she will do a random drawing and give a free spot to one lucky audiobook publisher for the National Council for Teachers of English conference in November. The drawing will be done on September 1.

In the meantime, we invite you to visit our virtual ALA Annual booth!

Ellen Myrick is the President of Myrick Marketing and Media and Publisher Spotlight is their conference marketing service. She has been mounting exhibits for the book industry for more than 30 years.