Event Strategy: How To Know When To Plan a User Conference
If you work at a tech company, you’ve inevitably discussed needing a user conference. For many in this position, it’s hard to know whether a user conference will provide the return on investment to make it worthwhile (and planning a conference is a huge undertaking).
The short answer to “To user conference or not to user conference?” can be determined by asking the five questions below. If you answer yes to most of these questions, then the question isn’t whether to plan a user conference but when and where to schedule your user conference!
1. Do you have a community of users?
User conferences bring existing and potential new users together to generate excitement around your product and build better brand awareness. Depending on your product, having a community of users might mean having a few hundred or tens of thousands.
What’s important is that your company has established a network of loyal customers interested in attending your conference to learn more about your product and to network with like-minded people. Here are some of the ways you may have built up your community of users:
- Social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
- Company blog
- Email newsletters
- Customer advocacy programs
- Webinars or other events
Finally, companies with a base of users typically can draw existing users to “best-practice” webinars or to smaller, more informal meetings with marketing or customer success departments.
User Conference Example: Dreamforce by Salesforce
Customer relationship management solution Salesforce holds an annual user conference called Dreamforce that caters to hundreds of thousands of global users. The event offers keynote speeches, opportunities to learn about the future of technology, the chance to discover how to unlock the value of Salesforce’s suite of solutions, and moments to give back.
In 2022, Dreamforce welcomed 40,000 people to San Francisco — making it the largest trade event in San Francisco since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — and this year, the user conference is happening in-person and on its exclusive virtual platform Salesforce+ to ensure maximum impact and reach.
2. Does your business have a full-fledged customer success division?
If you have enough users to warrant a substantial Customer Success department, you have enough customers interested in attending a user conference.
Consider asking your Customer Success team to reach out to users with whom they have a good relationship to ask them about their interest in attending a user conference. If a good selection of your user base reacts positively to the idea of a conference, it’s a green flag to build a flagship user conference.
User Conference Example: MozCon by Moz
Moz is a platform that helps users to monitor a specific website’s search engine performance. Their users are incredibly passionate about the product and often turn to Customer Success reps for help getting the most out of Moz’s tools and features. In response to intense user loyalty — and to serve the larger community of SEO experts — Moz created MozCon.
This annual user conference is one of the world’s most popular digital marketing conferences, offering three days of non-stuffy networking and expert sessions delivered by industry leaders in SEO, search marketing, mobile, conversion optimization, local search, and more. There’s a reason this event is known as a “summer camp for marketers.”
3. Is there evidence your users want to become platform experts?
One of the major selling points of a user conference is that those interested can absorb best practices to become platform experts and evangelists. If your company already has a dedicated “Customer University,” knowledge base, or certification program that is heavily trafficked, you have our answer. If you don’t have one of these programs, research the following:
- Does your software’s FAQ page or knowledge base see lots of traffic or upvotes/downvotes?
- Do customer success reps or account managers report users regularly asking for information about best practices?
- Is your company’s support Slack channel busy with people asking questions on behalf of users?
- Are outside websites (e.g., YouTube channels) discussing how to get the most out of your platform or offering tutorials?
User Conference Example: CloudWorld by Oracle
CloudWorld is the premier event for Oracle customers and partners. At this conference, Oracle invites users to learn about Oracle solutions- including infrastructure, databases, and applications — from experts who build and use them.
The event features keynotes, demos, technical labs, sessions, and training opportunities catered to users’ roles and industries. The conference also offers ample time for networking at receptions, lounges, evening events, and more.
User Conference Example: INBOUND by HubSpot
HubSpot Academy, the CRM’s popular certification and training program, is where users expand their knowledge and get the most significant ROI on their investment in the software. When you think about the thousands of certified HubSpot consultants, agencies, and in-house marketing teams, it’s no surprise that HubSpot holds a successful user conference each year called INBOUND.
Every year users and superfans — who may not even use HubSpot but rely on its blog and academy to become better marketers — travel to HubSpot’s INBOUND in the Boston area to learn about the latest inbound marketing best practices. At the conference, users dedicated to mastering HubSpot’s platform can talk with those who built it about new features, ask for new tools to optimize the software, and more. Plus, the entire INBOUND experience is known for its brand activations, parties, epic keynote speakers, and more.
Want to learn how Bizzabo’s Klik Experiential high-tech wearable — aka SmartBadges™ — turned INBOUND 2022 into a next-level data-gathering and networking experience? Read the case study.
4. Are you getting ready for a major product launch?
If you want to make a big splash with that new product or feature you’ve been working hard on, user conferences are the best and most common place to make such announcements. A captive audience with your most dedicated users is a powerful tool for any company to kick off a product announcement or launch. It’s also a perfect location for these new customers to learn how to use newly announced updates or to get excited about upcoming products.
During the COVID-19 pandemic many brands took product launches virtually, and many are continuing this practice today because it expands reach globally and boosts excitement for a much larger audience.
User Conference Example: WWDC by Apple
Apple has had various iterations of user conferences since the 1980s. The most well-known user conference was Macworld, which ran from 1985 until 2014. These events were where Apple announced its popular iPhone, various MacBooks, and its software suite updates and iterations during these events.
Today, Apple holds three or four live or livestreamed events yearly to reveal its latest products and plans. The brand’s most well-known user conference is WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) is a significant event for the company’s estimated 4 million Apple Developers globally.
During WWDC, Apple unveils its latest OS updates, hardware announcements, and more. In 2022, for example, Apple used its WWDC keynote to unveil the M2 chip for the 13-inch MacBook Pro plus the redesign of its Air models. For the past few years, the event has been virtual with limited in-person attendance, but speculation is that the 2023 event will bring in a larger in-person audience.
Source: Counterpoint Research
5. Do your key stakeholders want to build brand awareness?
For many companies, a user conference is the pinnacle of the annual marketing strategy. That’s because these conferences support and complement various marketing initiatives. User conferences offer a rich source for event content that can be purposed into podcasts, blog articles, ebooks, webinars, and other marketing resources to feed a 365-day marketing cycle.
A user conference also helps put other marketing initiatives in perspective while inspiring event attendees to further engage with your brand by communicating a clear vision through a curated experience.
User Conference Example: Event Experience Summit by Bizzabo
In 2022, we held our first Event Experience Summit to bring together our customers, partners, and prospects for a special event industry user conference. The event featured many outstanding luminaries of the event industry speaking at the event and sharing their expertise, so we took the opportunity to extend the reach of the event for those who were there and those who couldn’t make it.
Here are some of the ways we repurposed content from this high-impact event to feed our larger marketing strategy and build unique lead-nurturing journeys:
- Blog articles: In addition to a key takeaways article, we also wrote three other blog articles based on content from top-performing sessions.
- Podcast episodes: We repurposed five of our Event Experience Summit sessions into podcast episodes. Listen now!
- Insights report: We took key takeaways and actionable insights and compiled them in an event recap report to give attendees and others ways to extend their experience at the event.
Get Started Building a User Conference for Your Brand
A user conference gives your company’s marketing and events teams a cornerstone moment to build a 365-day experience for your users. Moreover, it gives your customers a rich, meaningful experience showing your investment in their success — not just their monthly software payments.
We hope the examples in the article inspire you as you consider whether a user conference is right for your company. If you’re ready to start planning and building a user conference, having the right software in your corner is vital for ensuring planning, executing, and measuring success are a breeze. When you’re ready, let’s discuss how Bizzabo can help you build a memorable user conference experience!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for quality and relevance.