Using Influencer Marketing to Grow Your Conference

How to tap into top supporters to maximize your event's reach

Aidan Augustin, co-founder and president, Feathr
Aidan Augustin, co-founder and president, Feathr

Influencer marketing is arguably the most effective technique for maximizing reach and getting in front of target attendees, yet many planners file it away as a tactic designated for consumer media. But most companies, organizations and associations are built for influencer marketing, says Aiden Augustin, cofounder and president of Feathr, a Gainesville, Fla.-based audience-growth and monetization platform. It's a notion he stressed during "What We've Learned About Conferences Over the Last Thousand Events," a session he led in August during the 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio. 

"The most influential companies and individuals in your industry are likely already members or supporters of your corporation," he argues. "And, believe it or not, they're usually willing to help market your upcoming meeting -- especially if they're part of the event." 

Through experience -- Feathr touts working with more than 1,000 events over the past couple of years -- Augustin says his team has learned a lot about what it takes to market successfully. "Influencer marketing offers huge growth potential for events, but it's dramatically underutilized by planners," he says. "And even when it is used, it isn't fully understood."

Following, the team at Feathr, as well as other industry professionals, dive deeper into growing a conference using influencer-marketing tactics. 

What Is Meeting Influencer Marketing?

According to Hubspot's 2019 Ultimate Guide to Influencer Marketing, the approach uses the talent of top content creators, specialized in their respective niches, to improve event awareness, increase traffic and further drive your meeting's message to target attendees. 

"Corporate influencer marketing works because it uses tactics like word-of-mouth and 'social proof' [the power of social media], which are now critical aspects of any successful marketing effort," says Kristen Baker, content creator, HubSpot. "Customers trust their peers, friends and people they admire more than companies selling products and promotions."

"Through the use of influencers, planners can tap into niche, industry-specific markets -- the markets needed to speak to and engage in order to garner new members and event attendees," notes Frank Waechter, founder and CEO of FM Waechter Digital Marketing. "Meeting planners need to engage attendees, and influencers can do it on their behalf."

Who Are Your Meeting Influencers?

Augustin says some of the most powerful players for promoting your meeting include the following. 

Collaborate with your team to map out the influencers your market already has available and within reach. 

Getting Influencers to Promote Your Event

"The first step in the process is making it easy for your influential partners to share your event information," says Augustin. "That might mean designing a sharable and branded event image, creating a multitude of social post designs, scheduling live shout-outs and coordinating any appearances regarding event promotion." Even if influencers are willing to help -- and might even do so for free -- Augustin points out that there's still a lot of behind-the-scenes work to provide the individual with a seamless and stress-free process. 

Incentivizing the process doesn't hurt, either. "Once you’ve identified your VIPs, determine incentives that will motivate them to participate in marketing," says Chris Hillman, on-boarding and training specialist for Feathr. "There is no science to this; you have to understand what your partners value, and offer it."

To get the wheels turning, following are some incentives Hillman says Feathr's customers have had success with:

  • Offer extra tickets to events at increasing levels of participation. This gives partners more opportunity to earn a higher return on their involvement but costs you next to nothing.
  • Offer upgraded sponsorship packages or larger booths to partners who market at a certain level. Pro tip: Offer these incentives for next year’s event to lock in another year of influencer marketing and participation.
  • Offer attendee matching at exclusive lunch, cocktail or other sessions. Give your VIPs valuable face time with your VIAs (very important attendees).
  • Promote some healthy competition by identifying opportunities to offer the highest-performing partners more positive exposure to your audience, such as a shoutout from the keynote stage.

More on Meeting Promotion Pathways

Coordinate a Mass Push

A mass social media push or email blast consists of a number of influencers publishing content that promotes your event on the same date and at one coordinated time. When a push is done individually, it dilutes the impact; but when a number of key players post the same message at the same time, magic happens. 

"This marketing tactic works if you stay on top of influencers and set clear expectations, like, 'On this day, at this time, the event registration opens and we want to make that known,'" says Augustin. "You'll need to communicate a clear focus and day and time to post." Equip all mass-pushers with the same or aligned branded event images, messages, hashtags, keywords, etc., to include in their postings. "When you see a message that six top representatives in your network have shared this same link at the same time, the impact aggregates."

Create a 'Twitterati'

"The Twitterati is just a playful way of describing marketing members who are willing to be exceptionally active," says Augustin. When it comes to Feathr clients, the deal is that all members of an organization's Twitterati have to agree to post on an ongoing basis leading up to the event. "The Twitterati becomes the hype team for your meeting," Augustin notes. And, he adds, if you can get a group of people on board with promoting this way, "the hype of being part of a group doubles the effort." 

Pick Up the Phone

Your influencers have their own lives, companies, issues and tasks to take care of. Even if they agree to promote your event, they might not remember to do so when the time comes. Augustin says there's so much value in picking up the phone to reconnect with your influencer market, especially if they seem to have gone AWOL. 

"Emails aren't effective. Remind the key players who are willing to promote for you constantly. Get them on the phone and share with them, voice-to-voice, the value of their assistance and what it means to both you and your event as a whole."

Measure Marketing Efforts

What's working and what's not? Which influencers are marketing and which are falling short on promises? Are audience members engaging with the influencer posts? Are audience members responding with action? Augustin believes promotion measurement is key to understanding influencer marketing for your meeting and creating successful pathways. 

Technology and Promotion

Rachel Stephan, chief, Snöball Event Influencer Marketing
Rachel Stephan, chief, Snöball Event Influencer Marketing

What stops planners from going all-in on influencer marketing? A lack of time, resources and know-how, says Rachel Stephan, chief of Snöball Event Influencer Marketing. "The logistics seem too daunting to tackle. We knew there had to be a simpler way, and that's the idea that sparked Snöball." Among its features, the platform generates unique landing pages for influential speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees, populated with custom information that easily enables them to promote participation at the event. The platform is meant to provide key players with access to untapped resources that help increase event brand awareness.

"We wanted to provide planners with a way to activate their influencers without the significant time investment," Stephan says. "We wanted to make event influencer marketing an automated process." With Snöball software, planners and their influencers can automate much of the process.

Customizable Landing Pages

  • Unique, personalized URLs
  • Sponsors/exhibitor logos
  • Booth number, head shots and presentation titles
  • Incentivization programs like VIP codes and discounts

Automated Email and Social Media

  • Fully customized influencer email campaign
  • Pre-written personalized social media posts
  • Shareable assets

Monitoring and Analytics

  • Monitor social mentions
  • Gather data on landing page traffic
  • Track conversions
  • Reward most active influencers

You can find more planner-exclusive influencer marketing tips throughout Snöball's free ebook.

"Event planners are used to seeing a lot of buzz on-site at their events, but what’s often lacking is the authentic voice," Stephan adds. "That’s the idea behind Snöball -- harnessing the power of influencer marketing to empower event participants to share your message through the filter of their own personal experiences. With influencer marketing, the planner is handing over the megaphone and creating a more authentic message."