Didn’t see us at the HR Technology Conferenc e? That’s because we weren’t there this year, but fortunately we didn’t miss a thing. We’re a small team so attending every conference under the sun isn’t an option for us. Over the years, our team has had to pass on many a great conference; sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day or days in a month.
Not attending doesn’t have to mean missing out on much. The Recruiterbox team has learned to master the art of learning from a conference without having to actually attend.
Presenting the Art of Virtually Attending Conferences:
Learning starts well before the conference from both a vendor and many HR technology providers are starting contest, demos and webinars before the actual conference, meaning you can get some learning and even comparative or competitive info in before the conference itself! Contests are usually well promoted via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or company blog posts. The prizes are great and all, but we love that these entries lend an easy gateway for networking .
Often, when you enter contests, the company will ask you to take a survey, do a demo or send you follow-up information. This can be just as beneficial as stopping by a booth. Not to mention that often vendors and media groups alike will send out great lead gen materials afterward. Yes, the email overload can be overwhelming but it’s a close second to walking a mile on semi-carpeted halls to collect 500 business cards.
We also like to join the online conference groups, whether it’s the live stream chats on Twitter (#tchat did one during #HRtechconf). LinkedIn and RecruitingBlogs.com both had great HR Tech groups in which the conversation was going well before, during and after the conference itself.
A lot of companies will also post a blog introducing themselves and letting you know where they’ll be and what they’ll be doing. You can gain insight as to what your competition will be experiencing, or just see what your industry friends will be concentrating on.
Onsite or just the site
You can also jump on the conference site to see who will be attending, what vendors will be showing and who will be speaking on what topics. This is a great resource to reach out to the speakers and ask how they feel their particular session went, ask attendees about their experience and learn about which vendors to follow.
Once you know the sessions that are relevant to your product line, customers, target audience or just flat-out interesting, you can follow the twitter hashtag to see what the attendees are tweeting live. This will often show many of the high notes without the eyestrain of distant powerpoints!
Ride the Hashtag
Jump on the hash tags and join the conversation. This isn’t a members-only affair. Don’t just click and read, really get into the action engaging with others, asking questions and offering advice. Attending virtually can also entail group chats, FB, LinkedIn, looking for live streams of sessions and reading the blog posts.
Hashtags are massively important during the actual time of the conference because long-form content tends to get drowned out in a sea of spotty wi-fi and mobile only access. If you take only one thing from this post, it’s this! This is also a great chance to learn more about the influencers in the space. Just follow everyone tweeting on the hashtag!
You will probably already have some of your influencers established, so see whom they’re talking about. We liked this tip from @LRuettiman:
Trending, trending 1..2..3..
It can be easier to gain greater insights from outside the conference than when you’re in the melee. When you have a bird’s eye view of the happenings, it can be easier to spot trending topics and get a deeper view of what might emerge when all the wiped out conference folks get back to their blogs and product dev. As a conference attendee, it can feel like a whirlwind of information whizzing past you and the chaos (and the amazing swag!) can obscure the true learnings we all go to conferences to get!
When you have the luxury of being on the outside of all of the conference commotion, it is easier to process. Furthermore, attendees can’t have their nose buried in their phone the whole time, it is much harder to keep up with the conversation when you are a conference attendee. Use the hashtag stream or the blog posts identified therein to generate a word cloud and post something on the trends before the actual attendees have even gone through security!
Follow. Up. Seriously.
Just because you didn’t meet face-to-face, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow up on your initial interactions with these people. In fact, it means that following up is even more important. Make it about making connections and establishing relationships. Thank those with whom you had great conversations. If someone provided great conference coverage, acknowledge it both publicly and in your message to them via LinkedIn or even old fashioned email. If you plan on attending events in the future, let them know that you will be there (c’mon, you can’t sit these things out forever!)
Not attending every conference doesn’t have to stand in your way when it comes to being well connected on the events scene. If you play it right and follow the tips above, you can have just as much impact as if you were there, maybe more. Whether there just isn’t enough time, or another costly conference isn’t in the budget, you can network and learn just as much, if not more, from a strategic virtual conference plan.