Getting Started with Conference Content Marketing

Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript from Noel Wurst’s presentation (embedded below) on Conference Content Marketing. The below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

My name is Noel Wurst and I’m the Content Marketing Manager at Skytap in Seattle, Washington. Skytap is a public cloud provider that extends enterprise cloud and DevOps strategies to traditional on-premises applications.

Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

This is what content marketing looks like at Skytap. I can’t stress or recommend enough that content marketing should support content from every single team you can get it from. To me, that’s every single team, no exceptions. There are hopefully incredibly smart and talented people with interesting stories to tell in every department at your organization. Pull these stories from that talent, and get it published far beyond your company blog.

These are some social media shares of a video case study that was recorded by our products team, an award that Skytap recently won we shared to support our recruiting and talent team, a byline that was written by our director of product management, a marketing survey, a blog written by a consultant from our customer success team. Like I said earlier, we really pull stuff from every department. Content marketing should never be just marketing content that comes out of marketing. I really can’t stress that enough.

So why do we “do” content marketing? Why do we love it? And where can we improve?

Well, it’s all the rage! A lot of people say it’s a must-have, but…there are still a ton of skeptics out there who struggle with understanding the point, especially when it can be difficult to show metrics that matter.

We also like content marketing because of social media. We can share the content that we create in subject matter-fitting channels. But engagement on social media can be pretty hard to come by, especially with self-promotional material.

Lastly, content marketing is excellent for building awareness. But sometimes it can feel like as content marketers, we’re often stuck in that top of funnel awareness stage.

I think awareness can actually be the ultimate goal, if not one of the ultimate goals of content marketing, especially if you’re making the right people aware of you, and you really expand who you treat like a customer to a much larger group. I love this quote from Walt Disney and it’s kind of a mantra of mine.

“I like to make absolutely certain that people don’t just know what I do and what Skytap does—I want them to enjoy what we do so much that they are compelled to tell others about it.”

When that happens, they then become customers of my content. To me, this is where the buyer’s journey actually begins. And the way I’m personally making more people aware of Skytap these days, more so than any other initiative that I’m currently leading is through something I’m calling event or conference content marketing.

So what in the world is conference content marketing?

Conference content marketing is a subset of content marketing that revolves around three stages of profitable engagement, before, during, and after attending an event or conference, resulting in content that dramatically increases ROI. Like the picture shows, this really is putting the cart before the horse, something that’s normally not advised. But it’s working really well for us, and here’s why.

We’re taking part in profitable engagement first, and doing so results in better content. We’re not creating content and hoping for engagement afterward. We still want engagement afterward, and we’re getting it. But for this purpose, we have completely flipped content marketing in reverse.

Disclaimer: This approach is going to require one thing that you may not be doing today. When you attend a show, you need to have at least one person who will not be chained to the booth on the expo floor for the entire conference. You need someone who can get out there and be everywhere. Think of them as almost like a resident, in-house journalist at your organization. This may be an additional expense if it requires sending an extra person to the shows you attend, but my hope is that this session proves that this role is indispensable.

Step 1. Before the Event—Be the Early Bird

My number one rule here is to treat and promote the event like it’s your own. You’re investing money to be there, you may be paying for a partner or a customer to attend as well, you’ve had stuff shipped to the expo, and attending these events is not cheap. My hope is that by following this process, you find yourself able to both dictate and increase the ROI of attending an event, and not be so reliant on the event’s organizers, where they put your booth, the amount of foot traffic, and other things out of your control.

If you look over on the left, you’ll see a series of activities that I recommend before every show you attend. These are absolute musts for me and for our team.

1. Monitoring Pre-show social media activity

Whether you use a tool like Hootsuite or even just Twitter on its own, in the weeks before an event you’re attending, set up a channel or list to keep up with who is using that event’s handle or hashtag. This will show you who is just as interested in promoting their attendance at this event as you are to promote yours. These are potential customers of yours.

They’re not customers in the traditional sense. It may be conference organizers or a PR company, or a person giving the keynote, or any other speakers at the show. They have different audiences and followers than you do. They may have customers, fans, and even trust that you don’t have.

All of these people have a huge interest and investment in making sure that everyone knows about this event, and you’re going to help make that happen. In turn, they’re going to help you with the exact same thing and they’ll be excited to do so.

2. Shopping the conference agenda catalog

These catalogs are the ticket to getting your organization to be a part of every session that you wish you were presenting. It’s how to be a part of the same conversations that those sessions will generate. You’re looking for sessions and speakers that you can honestly and interestingly tie your own story or brand to, where each of you comes out stronger for you doing so.

3. Ask Someone Out on a Content Date (just don’t call it that)

A content date is any opportunity that you have to work with a speaker, partner, or customer of yours who is attending the same event as you. The two (or more!) of you may do a recorded interview, or collaborate on a future blog article or byline, or any piece of content made stronger by their participation.

What does this look like?
About a month before a conference we attended last year, the DevOps Enterprise Summit, I sent an email to the show’s principal organizer, who also happens to be one of the most trusted and admired thought leaders in the industry that Skytap serves. I let him know that I was very interested in helping promote the show—not ourselves. And this was 100% true. As an attendee of the conference and expo, we didn’t just hope attendance was high, we needed it to be high, and not just at the show, but also in the sessions where we share a common message, so that more people are aware of our brand’s relevance before the event has even started.

At the top of this slide, you’ll see the letter that I got back from Gene Kim, the aforementioned conference organizer, and respected thought leader.

“Yes, I’d love to brainstorm about ways that you can get maximum mileage out of your trip, and, more importantly, create some awesome content with the speakers beforehand and raise Skytap visibility.”

I didn’t ask him for help doing any of those things. But he’s returning my favor to him 10-fold with a bunch of things that are going to help me tremendously, and things that I would have never asked for right up front.

If you look on the left at Mirco Hering’s tweet, Mirco was speaking at the show on a topic that Skytap talks about every single day, and he’s from Accenture. Skytap sells to the enterprise, so the opportunity to speak with someone from Accenture, to gain their trust, and to discuss a topic that we love talking about was a huge opportunity. Mirco needs people in his session, and we want people in there, too.

From my Hootsuite feed, where I’d set up my channel to monitor pre-conference chatter, I got an alert about this tweet, I sent him one tweet praising his topic choice and asking if he’d like to do an interview on-site regarding his topic, and he was. We recorded it as a live podcast at the show and it couldn’t have gone any better.

And on the right, you’ll also see that I’m attacking this from my own personal Twitter account as well to show that we have personal interests in this show as well. Not everything should only come out of your corporate accounts, and individual efforts on social media go a long way.

These really are “profitable engagements” and they all happened long before the show ever began. I also consider these to be mutual customer actions. These are people you’re willing to spend time on and promote, and they’re willing to do the same for you. The benefits can last long after a show is over, which we’ll get to later in the presentation.

Last year’s STARWEST conference was a show where I took a slightly different approach to promoting, because we had a completely different involvement and investment. We were throwing a cocktail party with one of our partners, and another partner also attending whom we had created no content with up to that point and a third partner that was presenting two different sessions alongside a customer of theirs that we really wanted to meet.

Before this show, we did everything I pointed out on the last slide, but we also had a lot of social media around the cocktail party. We wrote a blog summarizing all the different activities that we’d be participating in, and we did a healthy amount of promoting our partners’ activities.

Step 2: During the Event—Turn It Up to 11

There’s going to be a lot of noise during the event or conference and my goal is to be the loudest one there and to be the go-to source for valuable and relevant event info. You may remember those two words as being part of the earlier definition of content marketing. They’re very important.

During the show, and again, this is going to require someone with the time, job, and personality to do this, but you’re going to need that person who can get away from the booth (I rarely step foot into the expo at the shows I attend) and participate in the following activities:

  • Monitor and generate social media conversations with other attendees
  • Meet the people you’ve introduced yourself to, including the conference organizers
  • Attend any sessions you can recap for your blog or potential bylines later
  • Write live blogs, record interviews and podcasts, take pictures—create nonstop content
  • Interact socially with partners, customers, strangers, over coffee, lunch, drinks, etc.

You’re likely not going to do all of these things at every show. But I will say that you should do any of them that you can when there’s the opportunity.

Live Conference Content Marketing: DevOps Enterprise Summit

During the DevOps Enterprise Summit, we were lucky to have four people, myself included, who were able to attend sessions, participate in interviews and other content, and call out highlights of the show on social media. Don’t get discouraged – we’ve never had this many “extra” attendees at a show, and all of this can be done by a single person.

On the bottom right, you’ll see a tweet from Gary Gruver. Gary is another heavyweight in our industry, and he’d just released a new book, which he was promoting at the show. I picked up a copy, tweeted how I couldn’t wait to read it, and he replies, “Let me know how you like it.” He later joined me on a podcast for an interview, since his book speaks so directly to our company’s same story.

Live Conference Content Marketing: STARWEST

I tackled this show a little differently because of the multiple partners also in attendance, and because I was the only person who could participate in these types of activities. You’ll see some tweets here from some sessions I attended, but also at the top, you’ll see this “Testers rock!” tweet. This was sent out during a session presented by Parasoft, one of our partners, and their customer, Alaska Air.

After the session, I asked our partner for an introduction to the speaker from Alaska Air, and by doing so, I was able to secure one of the biggest content marketing wins that I’ve personally ever had here at Skytap, and I’ll share it in just a bit.

You’ll also see a video thumbnail—this was a “partner spotlight” recorded with our brand new partner, and before the show was over, I was able to record this video, complete a blog recap of their CTO’s half-day tutorial that was cross-published on his blog, secure a byline in their quarterly magazine, and begin planning a future webinar.

This all happened in less than 48 hours, and it would have easily taken weeks to secure via email had we not taken advantage of our time together there at the show.

Step 3: Post-event: Time to breathe…not quite

I say, “not quite” because the pace now is not anywhere near as hectic as it is during a show, but for any show-related content, blog recaps, byline recaps, anything that’s purely show-specific, that content has to come out ASAP. If a show ends on a Thursday or Friday, I’m publishing blog recaps and submitting bylines to publications no later than the following Monday—and preferably sooner.

Remember, you are striving for valuable and relevant content after a show is over, and these two die quickly once a show ends. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.

If there’s one aspect of conference content marketing that people are doing today, it’s these recap-style pieces. So help share them, and people will do the same for you. In your complimentary tweet, send them the link to yours and start a conversation with them.

I also highly recommend sending a personal email to any speakers or conference organizers that you mentioned in your blogs or bylines. They’ll love knowing that they were commended, and when they share the content they were mentioned in with their own audiences, the awareness people have of your organization continues to expand.

Lastly, keep all the promises you made at the show. This goes for those that you made to partners, customers, complete strangers, everyone. The people you told to expect a byline from you, be dependable.

Post-Conference Content Marketing: DevOps Enterprise Summit

These are some of the accomplishments our actions before and during this show earned us:

  • Future interviews secured with conference speakers
  • Vendor-neutral, industry commentary was cross-published by relevant content aggregators
  • Event recap shared and promoted by conference organizers
  • New introductions made and relationships formed that continue and lead to future content

Post-Conference Content Marketing: STARWEST

While we had similar wins like the ones mentioned above, we also had the big win with Alaska Air that I mentioned earlier.

After publishing the interview/podcast I did with the speaker from Alaska Air, I shared the link with him, and encouraged him to share it himself. He shared with me the email you see here, where he let me know that after returning home, he ended up having lunch with one of our salespeople, and this company has now become an active lead.

As those in the content marketing industry know, being able to tie a piece of content that you helped create to an actual sale or a new lead is almost as good as it gets. The email then goes on to point out that the interview ended up being shared with the speaker’s coworkers and that it was “blowing up internally.” This is obviously something I’m incredibly proud of.

In Summary

Conference content marketing is outstanding for making awareness actually mean something, and expanding that awareness to an audience that many have struggled to reach. And again, I’m not talking about making people aware of your new white paper, or your upcoming stale, repurposed webinar. I’m talking about making people aware of the stories you can tell, and the trust that others have in you. You’re going to have to earn that trust, and you’re going to have to step out of your expo booth—which may be your comfort zone—to accomplish that. The good news is that most speakers I know spend little to no time in the expo anyway, so half of getting their attention is spending more time where they actually hang out.

By ramping up our conference content marketing, we’re establishing, and attracting new target audiences by creating relevant and valuable content with that audience, and the payoff has been a return on investment that kicks in well before a show begins and continues long after it ends.

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Noel Wurst
Noel Wurst
Corporate Communications Manager

Noel is the Corporate Communications Manager at Skytap, where he is responsible for setting and executing Skytap’s content marketing strategy, which includes overseeing the creation and distribution of high-quality, targeted content, and managing the team and external resources associated with those efforts.
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