If you’re a blogger, you’ll probably attend a blog conference at some point during your career; blog conferences are an opportunity to sharpen skills, meet other bloggers and form partnerships.
In the past, Rafflecopter sponsored blog conferences remotely — we would pay a sponsorship fee, send a swag bag insert (e.g. stickers, shirts, coupons, etc.) and be “digitally present” throughout the conference by monitoring hashtags on Twitter and responding in real time.
In this post, I’ll take you behind the scenes for a glimpse of what goes into preparing for and attending a blog conference as a sponsor. Along the way, I’ll share a few lessons learned.
First Contact: How We Heard About BYBC
Camille, the eldest founding sister of Six Sister’s Stuff, emailed Rafflecopter in early October — a little hint to conference planners, contacting sponsors a minimum of 3 to 6 months in advance is ideal *thumbs up Camille* — and asked us to be a “gold sponsor.”
In mid October, we committed to sponsor #BYBC2014 and attend the conference in Salt Lake City on February 7th and 8th.
The Decision To Attend #BYBC14 IRL
After several years of sponsoring conferences from afar, you might be wondering “why now Rafflecopter? Why leave the warm comfort of the Hangar in Boulder CO?”
For starters, because we can. Since June 2013, our team has grown from 3 to 8. We finally have the bandwidth required to attend conferences while staying on top of our top priorities: software development, scaling our customer support and acquiring more users.
The second and primary reason: we love our users :) We know many of our users from interactions we have with them online, but 99.9% of our communication w/ our users has been online only up to this point. This was a great opportunity to finally meet some of the folks that use our software face-to-face. We couldn’t pass that up.
Conference Tip 1: Start Earlier Than You Think
Greg and I met several days before Christmas to sketch out a conference to-do list. We planned on tackling the list in early January after the holiday break.
In retrospect, we should have started preparing earlier. We managed to complete our conference to-do list in time, but we could have avoided several stressful moments and close calls.
An example is that we underestimated the time required to get a branded sign and table cover. While Greg and JR worked on designing the sign, I compared and contrasted the production cost and manufacturing time of several vendors. Local vendors are more expensive while online providers take more time.
For local providers the first two steps in the process are getting a design proof made and a quote. For online providers, the pricing is more transparent but a proof is still required. Once we approved the proofs, the sign and table cover went into production.
We ordered our table cover from an online provider and ordered our sign from a local printer. Both arrived several days before the conference. Lucky for us, delivery was smooth and there was no delay. However, it was still stressful cutting it so close…
Conference Tip 2: Plan for the Unexpected
“Anything that can go wrong — will go wrong.” – Murphy’s Law
Another reason to start early: something will go wrong… eventually. Trust me.
We used Next Day Flyers for printing our company media kits. As their name suggests, the printer guarantees production on the same day of the order and delivery the next day.
We placed the print order several days before the conference. Unfortunately, Next Day Flyers had an error resulting in a misprint. We called them and requested a reprint and overnight shipment of 500 media kits— this time with no errors (fingers crossed)— they arrived just in time (24 hours before we departed).
Conference Tip 3: Depart Early, Especially if You Drive
We originally planned to leave Boulder on the morning of February 7th, drive to the Salt Lake City and attend the kickoff blogger speed dating event at 7 pm.
Normally, the drive from Boulder to Salt Lake City is ~8 hours. Driving through Wyoming, we encountered heavy winds that blew snow all over the highway; the drive lasted 10 hours. By the time we arrived, we were exhausted from the long ride. It would have been tough to network with conference attendees for three hours after a trek like that.
Thankfully, we left Boulder on February 6th and had plenty of time to rest and prepare for the kickoff blogger speed dating event the following day :)
Conference Tip 4: Monitor Conference Hashtags
We started monitoring the hashtag #BYBC2014 two weeks before the conference; by doing so, we wouldn’t miss the opportunity to respond to relevant and interesting Tweets.
Conference Tip 5: Printed Materials Should be Relevant & Useful
We anticipated that bloggers would shower us with their media kits and business cards. To show our appreciation, we designed a Rafflecopter media kit for the conference attendees.
In addition to information about Rafflecopter (e.g. what we do, company stats, etc.), every media kit included a unique promo URL that would give conference attendees a free month of Rafflecopter’s premium subscription.
In Jill Nystul’s conference presentation, 10 Ways to Get More Traffic to Your Blog, she mentioned giveaways as one of her strategies. With giveaways fresh in the minds of attendees, they could get started planning their giveaway by using the promo URL that we included on our media kit.
Conference Tip 6: Announcing Giveaway Winners on Twitter is Hit or Miss
When attendees came to our table, we asked them to put their business cards in a fish bowl for the chance to win several prize packs. In between conference sessions we would randomly pick several winners out of the bowl and Tweet at the winners.
“@OvertheMoonBlog your card was chosen as the 2nd #winner! swing by your booth for an annual subscription / prize pack :) #BYBC2014”
Most of the winners didn’t respond until days later! Tweeting at winners wasn’t as effective as we hypothesized.
However, we were utterly mobbed in between the last speaker sessions and the closing ceremony after we tweeted, “We’ve got a few leftover Rafflecopter t-shirts left! Stop by in the next several minutes to grab one :) #BYBC2014”.
Conference Tip 7: Use Hand Sanitizer & Fortify Your Immune System
While meeting users in person, we shook many hands, answered many questions, received a few hugs and shook more hands.
Several days after coming home to Boulder, we both became ill with vicious colds and infected the rest of the team.
I’m not 100% certain that our our illness was caused by several days of close proximity to 400+ people… regardless, next time we’re using hand sanitizer and fortifying our immune system by popping zinc and vitamin C like candy.
Our First Blog Conference: That’s a Wrap!
Overall, we had a great first conference experience and we’ll attend other conferences this year. It was fantastic meeting everyone that was in attendance, bloggers and other sponsors alike. Hats off to the folks at BYBC for putting on a great event.
As attendees, do you have any conference tips you’d like to share? We’d love to hear ‘em! Share with us your conference tips and the conferences you plan on attending in the comments below.