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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Relating to the Public via Successful Events - Impressions of the Radian6 Social User Conference

My years in PR have not been without a fair share of event-planning. So, when I'm at a conference, I notice the details…in kind of an obnoxious way. From the moment I walk in the door, I can't help but have on my event planner hat.

I know what it takes to pull off a decent event, and even more, I've experienced firsthand the amount of attention and hard work that is required to make an event not just good, but exceptional. The truth is, a superb event is an incredibly effective extension of public relations. It's an opportunity to meet your public face-to-face, share your story, and create a positive and lasting brand impression.

Unfortunately, more often than not, I find myself at a conference noticing flaws and areas for improvement all over the place.

However, that was hardly the case when I attended the the
Radian6 Social User conference earlier this month to present an unconference session. In fact, I was more than impressed with the entire event, especially considering that this was their first run.

Here are some of the things that made this conference a success (and, some things to think about if you're going to be organizing one in the near future):

Effective Conference Signage
The signage at this conference was as useful as it was beautiful. From the welcome banner in the lobby to a giant board featuring the entire schedule in the conference common areas, to directional signage in between, they had wayfinding covered. And, they were gorgeous. Each featured the hand-illustrations of Radian6's branded material. (Take a peak at the banner on their
site if you haven't seen their stuff.) I especially liked that the registration desk which was custom-wrapped in conference graphics and that the ballroom for keynote presentations was draped in the same style, featuring digitized versions of this as well as conference information.

Well-Executed Conference Schedule
The two-day event schedule was full, but allowed ample time for breaks, networking and even personal time. As an event planner, this is hard to balance. You want attendees to feel as though there is enough content throughout the day, yet I've received a lot of feedback from events in which attendees were missing time for breaks. At Social 2011, the days were full of content - keynotes, product announcements, breakouts. But for balance, each session was followed by a 15–minute break (plenty of time for making your way between rooms in this venue), and there was no programming during the lunch hour, which, if you're at a conference for two days, is a great time to catch up on email and phone calls, or just hang with other attendees.

Efficient Conference Crowd control
I was surprised at the number of attendees at this conference - it was much larger than I expected with more than 500 people. However, it was handled well. It seemed as though Radian6 actually built the conference around registrations - scaling up and adding sessions as the numbers came in. When rooms at the conference hotel filled, a block was opened up at a hotel nearby. And, during the event, I never found myself waiting in line or struggling to find a seat in any of the breakouts. That's a rarity, especially for a large conference debut.

Attention to Sustainability
This one is important and so often overlooked. For me, it's kind of like the cherry on top when I see events that are making an effort to remain sustainable. At Social 2011, conference swag included a water bottle for attendees to refill during the event - there wasn't a single plastic bottle in sight. Lunch was "grab and go" - came in a nifty cardboard box and there were proper containers for recycling contents. And, since it was a light, sensible portion, I suspect there wasn't a ton of food waste, either.

Customer (conference attendee) Centricity
For some it's a marketing buzzword, for others, it means a thing or two. Either way, Radian6 clearly knows their audience. WiFi was available (and yes it was spotty at times, but I know the pains of this all too well and they had it covered quite nicely considering the size of the group), power strips were plentiful, and overall, it was an interesting mixture of a tech and social conference. (I heard this sentiment from more than one person I talked to.) From sessions on influence to API as well as Radian6 product announcements and learning sessions, there was something for every attendee, regardless of their company size, position, or experience level. As an added bonus, most of the speakers were in attendance and very accessible throughout the event.

Awareness and Participation in Back Channel Conversations
Sure, it is Radian6 so they're at an advantage when it comes to listening to online conversations, but there was a ton of online chatter during the conference and they were not only listening, but very engaged, responding to tweets, DMs and blog posts throughout the entire event. Props to their awesome community management team (I'm looking at you,
@vargasl @belllindsay @genevievecoates). Even more? They brought the back channel IN. On day two of the conference, Radian6's CEO Marcel Lebrun highlighted tweets from they day before, and even responded to a few of them in person, from the stage.

Throughout the entire event, attendees were thanked and praised for their awesomeness. It was clear that Radian6 had not lost sight that attendees are the reason why this event could take place. And upon checkout, I was pleasantly surprised by my speaker's gift - a donation to the
American Red Cross (social media director Wendy Harmen was on the closing keynote panel). It was a very timely class act.

Well done, Radian6 - this member of your public walked away mighty impressed.

Kary Delaria is a principal at Kane Consulting where she helps clients to develop and manage their online presence and reputation through social media analysis, monitoring and community engagement. She can be reached via email, or Twitter.