Virtual Conferences 102
Or What We’ve Learned in the Past Year

By Ellen Myrick, Publisher Spotlight

We’ve had another year of connecting with librarians, booksellers, teachers, and listeners in the online environment rather than in person at conferences. What have we learned since we did Virtual Conferences 101 last summer? Quite a bit, actually!

  1. Virtual conferences are here to stay. Initially, we thought this would be a passing phase and that we would return to the world of actually connecting with people in person. In some ways, this has replicated the experience of the audiobook industry which made the shift to digital long before we had heard the word “coronavirus.”
  2. Be strategic in picking your conferences. Look at the exhibitor lists from last year’s events and mine your LinkedIn contacts to reach out and see if they thought the conference was worthwhile. We had a good experience at AMLE, for example, with a great interface and respectable amount of interaction, only to discover after the conference that attendees could opt out of marketing so our lead count was minimal. We won’t be back.
  3. Conferences are the rocks, social media can be the ripples. Or waves, if you do it right! When planning for a virtual conference, the most impactful marketing might not even happen in the official space. Think ahead and plan for a range of social media assets and take full advantage of the conference hashtags. Adapt each asset for the platform and do not neglect video! And Pinterest! And BookTok!
  4. Have realistic expectations about online interaction. Don’t be dejected if you don’t get many visitors to your online booth. Depending on your platform, you may or not have the ability to greet people when they enter your space. Which leads us to our next point . . .
  5. Create your own opportunities for interaction. Does the conference offer author signings? Many recognize that it’s especially hard to lure in zoom-weary attendees so sponsoring associations are especially supportive of signings and interactive presentations. Promote your narrators within that space and find a hook that is sure to intrigue or enlighten such as how to prepare for a picture book read-aloud or ways a single narrator can differentiate voices in a book with a large cast.
  6. Social media rules all. If it didn’t happen on social media, did it actually happen? We already discussed the importance of preparation but don’t neglect real-time posting, sharing, and engaging. Again, know your hashtags and start to use them in advance of the conference. Be sure to tag the sponsoring association so they can share the love right back at you!
  7. Always have an alternative way to engage your audience. At Publisher Spotlight, each conference has a conference showcase microsite that includes all of our content plus multiple ways to capture lead information. Without exception, we have collected more leads from our site than from the official conference. We send out an eBlast to past attendees as well as use every possible portal within the official booth to bring people to our site.
  8. Stay nimble and learn from other exhibitors. As soon as the site is active, peek at the other exhibitors and see how they present their information. Are you frustrated by the lack of customization? Check out how another exhibitor is changing their video thumbnail multiple times so that they can refine or expand their message. Is the background graphic yawn-inducing? See if others figured out a way to jazz it up and ask them. We’re all figuring out this new world and most colleagues are willing to share a hack they’ve worked out. It’s good karma!

Virtual conferences are here to stay. Plan to create assets for them as part of your marketing mix from the get-go. Use your network and do your research to maximize your investment and grow your audience.

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. Check out their most recent conference showcase here.