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Event marketing | 18 December 2015

How To Know When It’s Time For A User Conference

David Epstein

If you’re in the marketing department for a medium sized tech company, you’ve inevitably had discussions about the need for a user conference. Given the seeming proliferation of user’s conferences, it makes sense that this sort of discussion is coming up.

For many in this position it’s hard to actually know if a user conference will provide the return on investment you and your team are looking for. Especially if  those on your team are unfamiliar with event marketing to begin with.

The key to knowing whether or not the timing is right for a user conference comes with understanding what’s happening with current users, and what you hope to achieve by investing considerable resources in a conference.

The short answer to the question of “to user conference or not to user conference” can be determined by evaluating the five facts below. If you answer yes to the majority of the scenarios below, then it’s time to seriously consider starting a conference for users.

User conference scenarios

1. You Have A Community Of Users:

User conferences are about bringing existing users and potentially new users together to generate excitement around your product and to help build a stronger brand.

Depending on the product, having a community of users might mean having a few hundred users or tens of thousands.

What’s important is that the company has an established a network of loyal customers who would be interested enough in going through the logistical trouble of attending your conference to learn more about your product and to network with like minded people.

Companies with an existing community of engaged users typically have a corporate blog that generates plenty of chatter on social media or in the blog comments section. They might also have existing user groups on networking platforms like LinkedIn, or Facebook. Finally, companies with a real base of users typically are able to draw existing users to “best-practice” webinars, or to smaller more informal meetings with marketing or customer success departments.

Example: SalesForce Success Community

SalesForce Success Community

SalesForce has a robust online community of users and sales people to draw from when kicking off the next DreamForce conference. Their Success Community features nearly two million members who not only engage with other users about how to maximize SalesForce tools, they also talk about things like  professional advancement, and business best practices.

2.  Your Business Has A Full-Fledged Customer Success Division:

If you have enough users to warrant a substantial Customer Success department, you most likely have enough customers who would be interested in attending a user conference.

Consider asking Customer Success Reps to reach out to users who they have a good relationship with, to ask them about 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 move forward with your investigation.

Example: Moz Customer Success

Moz Customer Success

Moz is a platform that helps users to monitor the search engine performance of a specific website. Their users are incredibly passionate about the product, and often turn to Customer Success reps for help in getting the most out of the Moz platform.

In response to intense user loyalty, and as a way of serving the larger community of SEO experts, Moz created MozCon. It’s an annual conference held in the Pacific Northwest where attendees are comprised of users, Moz blog fans, and non-users alike.

3. There’s Evidence Your Users Want To Become Platform Experts:

One of the major selling points of a user conference is that those who are interested can pick-up best practices to become platform experts.

Understanding if your users are already looking for helpful information is a great way to determine if there’s an existing market for best practices information. If your company already has a dedicated “Customer University” that is heavily trafficked  – there’s your answer right there.

If you don’t have an existing University program, research the following:

  • Are FAQ pages related to best practices heavily trafficked?

  • Do Customer Support Reps or Account Managers report users regularly asking for information about best practices?

  • Are outside websites talking about how to maximize your platform?

  • Do you have a popular customer blog?

Example: Hubspot Certifications

Hubspot Marketing Certification

Hubspot’s popular certifications program is an excellent indicator that users are interested in mastering the platform. When you think about the thousands of certified Hubspot consultants and in-house marketing teams, it’s no surprise that Hubspot also hosts a successful user conference each year called Inbound.

Each year users and non-users alike travel to Boston to learn about the latest in inbound marketing best practices. At the conference, users who are dedicated to mastering Hubspot’s platform have an opportunity to talk with the people who actually built it to learn new tips and tricks.

4. A Major Product Launch Update Is Approaching:

User Conferences like Inbound and DreamForce are excellent platforms for Hubspot and SalesForce to introduce new product updates to a dedicated group of users.

Having a captive audience of some of your most dedicated users is a powerful tool for any company to kickoff a product update announcement or product 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.

Example: Macworld

Macworld User Conference

In 2007, Steve Jobs announced the Apple iPhone at the annual Macworld conference. Macworld was an unofficial users conference that ran for 30 years. Eventually the conference played a notable part in Apple’s marketing efforts, and Steve Jobs used it as a platform to launch some of his company’s most monumental products including iTunes in 2001 and the iPhone in 2007.

Launching these products at a user’s conference instantly energized Apple faithful and helped these new products to quickly grab a footing in press outlets. 

5. Key Stakeholders Want To Build A Brand:

Whether you’re receiving top-down pressure from bosses to focus on brand building initiatives, or you and your colleagues are interested in trying to build a strong brand image, creating a user conference can play a critical part in any brand building initiatives.

For many companies, a user conference is the pinnacle of annual marketing campaigns. That’s because these conferences tie in to many different ongoing initiatives. From building online communities, to creating helpful content through blogs, webinars, eBooks and so on.

A user conference helps to put in perspective other marketing initiatives, while also inspiring event attendees to further engage with your brand by communicating a clear vision through a curated experience.

Example: Modern Marketing Experience by Oracle

Oracle User Conference

Oracle’s series of modern experience conferences makes it easier for the company to brand itself as an expert in each of the vertices they specialize in.

From marketing software, to tools for sales or customer success teams, Oracle educates business specialists to be better at their jobs while becoming masters of Oracle’s tools. By partnering with visionary speakers, Oracle is perceived as an industry leading brand, while also creating a value-added experience for existing users.

These series of conferences helps a company that would otherwise be considered lumbering and out of touch, to become a brand that’s percieved to be innovative and cutting edge. 

Conclusion: Is A User Conference Right For Your Brand?

If you’re working for a tech company with a dedicated base of users who are sizable enough to warrant a customer success team, or a customer blog it might be a good idea to start thinking about a user conference.

Alternatively, if your company has a group of users who clearly want to become platform experts, if your marketing team is interested in building a strong brand image, or if you’re interested in creating a platform to announce product updates or launch products, a user conference might be warranted as well.

Having a user conference provides your company’s marketing team with a cornerstone moment each year to plan initiatives around. Moreover, it provides your customers with a true-value added experience. As evidenced by the examples used in the article, creating a user conference can help to build brands that are considered industry thought-leaders, and community staples.

If you think that a user conference is right for your business, the next step is learning to market it properly. Click the button below to check out more event planning resources.