How to Host a BlogFest

As promised, this is my article providing advice to vendors, and bloggers, who sign up to be part of a blogger field day, aka BlogFest.

SNIA have held two of these events, and as an attendee at both, I have some tips based on what worked well, and not so well, on the days held so far.

Before the Event

Before the big day, you’ll need to spend some time preparing. This is a marketing event, so treat it like one.

Would you lob up to a trade show or conference without doing at least some planning? Of course not. Make sure you put some effort in before a BlogFest, too.

If you’re under-prepared, it shows. At both SNIA events, there was at least one vendor who was under-prepared for the event. It was a newish idea then, so it’s at least partly understandable, but it still doesn’t look that good. I’m sure you’d like to look your best, right?

Do your Homework

Before the event, you’ll need to do some research. Ask the host what they expect to get out of the day. Ask who the attendees will be.

Learn about the attendees. Read their blogs. Follow them on twitter. Get a feel for the sorts of things they’ll be interested in.

And figure out what you want to get out of the day. Plan how you’ll handle it. What one central message do you want to communicate on the day? How will you do that?

The best example we’ve seen of this so far was IBM. They were very prepared, ran their session smoothly, and made sure they got their central message across. They also managed to be interesting and engaging, but more on that in a little bit.

Join Twitter

Get onto Twitter. It’s where most of the action happens with BlogFests, and there’s plenty of chatter before the event. If you’re not already involved with social media as part of your marketing, you might want to rethink that plan. Not being where your customers are doesn’t seem like a smart move to me.

If nothing else, if gives you inside information on the other sessions in real time. At least one of us will be live-tweeting the event, so you can see what the other vendors are talking to us about, and adjust your strategy if required.

Engage with the Bloggers

This is for advanced marketers only. Engaging directly with the bloggers means you have a chance to build personal connections and rapport before the event begins.

You can learn more about them, and they you. This can only help to get everyone communicating openly.

The main advantage here is benefit of the doubt. If you’re already a familiar entity to the bloggers, you’ll likely get a more favourable hearing. Why wouldn’t you want that?

Excluding Bloggers

We’ve had a blogger excluded from a session because of a potential conflict of interest. It looked a bit silly, since the people in the session and the blogger all knew each other and work together all the time.

I’m all for avoiding conflicts of interest and moral hazards. That’s one of the reasons SNIA selects only independent bloggers who are there on the day in a personal capacity. If you feel it’s necessary to exclude someone, that’s fine. Just be aware of the way it looks.

We don’t talk about anything under NDA. Anything you tell us is assumed to be public knowledge, or will be shortly, because we’ll be publishing it. As such, commercial conflicts of interest really shouldn’t come up.

The whole point of BlogFest is to share information so that the local tech community, and your customers, can be better informed about your products.

Being overly paranoid or secretive mostly just makes you look silly.

During the Event

As mentioned above, follow proceedings on Twitter. It’s an inside edge at the moment, as few vendors do this.

Note that there’s an external audience watching the tweet-stream, so you can engage with them as well. They’re your customer base.

Be Organised

Most important tip first.

We’re on a tight schedule on these days, and have precious little slack time if someone runs long. Usually it means we end up with 10 minutes to scarf down a quick sandwich at lunchtime before running for the bus.

Do us all a favour and be a well oiled machine, with all the little admin tasks taken care of as much as possible.

If there’s a security sign-in, have all the passes ready to go and needing only a signature.

Have enough chairs in the meeting room. Take coffee orders as we walk in, for those who want one (assuming you’re doing a coffee run, see below).

The less time we spend mucking about, the more time you get to convince us to be excited about what you sell. Let’s focus on what’s important.

Technology Requirements

BlogFest is a high tech day. Bare minimum for the bloggers is a powerpoint and space to set up a laptop each.

Some bloggers like to record audio or video, so choose a space that suits. If audio or video recording isn’t cool, let us all know well in advance of the session, to manage expectations.

There will be big bonus points for a vendor who manages to arrange easily accessed WiFi for the session. The bloggers love them some live-tweeting, so network access is a must. We’re talking simple sign-on (no 97 hex-character passwords) and responsive WiFi. Guest WiFi with 60% packet loss and 2kB/s bandwidth won’t cut it.

We’ve all learned our lessons from early on, so we tend to have either personal phone tethering or mobile broadband dongles to work around non-existent or non-functional WiFi. Still, decent WiFi would win you brownie points.

Do Provide Refreshment

Water and mints are great, since we’re spending all day talking. Have enough jugs and glasses in easy reach so we don’t have to disrupt proceedings to wander over to a sideboard.

A coffee run may be welcome, depending on the time of day, and how many we’ve had already. I’m from Melbourne, and there’s at least one other coffee snob about, so I’ll pass on the drip-o-lator thanks.

Some soft-drinks are generally welcome as well, though not my personal cup of tea.

Tea is a nice alternative to coffee, though.

Lunch

Lunch is usually a sponsored thing by whichever vendor is up just before lunchtime.

Catering places are a bit funny, and often do weird things like cut perfectly adequate sandwiches into soldiers to make them more.. I dunno.. arty? Maybe they’re trying to justify charging $14 a sandwich because they’re cut up in novel ways.

They also seem to favour exotic fillings, like eggplant and lettuce. What’s wrong with a nice ham, cheese and salad roll, say I?

Seriously, just stick to basics. We don’t need gourmet mini-quiches. A plate of sandwiches or rolls with simple ham, cheese, chicken, salads etc. on them is plenty good enough.

Slides

Yeah, ok, if you must.

This is always tough, because marketeers do love them a slide deck. Please, for the sake of avoiding snarky tweets, keep them to a minimum.

If you really want to impress, use a whiteboard. Draw pictures to illustrate some points.

The thing to keep in mind here is that what we’re really after on a BlogFest is a conversation. We don’t want a sales pitch. Many of us will have already seen it, or something very similar, as part of our day jobs.

What we want is the inside goss. How is it special? Why are customers excited about it? Be specific, and concrete, and meaningful.

There’s nothing quite so engaging as someone who knows what they’re talking about and is excited to teach other people about it. And then they go crazy drawing pictures to explain it. It’s more collaborative and fun, and those are the vendors who get the best reviews from the bloggers.

Other Vendors

Pretend there aren’t any, unless we specifically bring them up.

We get it. Your products are awesome, and theirs all suck. We read Twitter; we’re used to the regular pissing contests between the sales teams. Is it really necessary to use your session to talk about their products?

We’re there to talk to you. So talk to us. About your stuff.

If we do bring up a competitor, address our point as a direct comparison on that specific point, and then leave it alone. Often we might be more familiar with a competitor’s product, so what we’re trying to do is understand your stuff by starting from a known place. Help us understand your gear by leading us from what we know to what we don’t.

And then get back to focussing on why your stuff is so cool.

Skip the Trinkets

I speak for myself here when I say that I don’t need any more mugs, dongles, t-shirts or other branded merch.

Some writing paper and a pen are useful, though we all bring our own, and I’m fussy about pens that write well. We have a tradition of full merch disclosure, too, so going overboard will likely backfire.

There’s more potential downside here than there is upside, so better to just leave it alone.

Some sort of information pack that we could take with us would be great, though. Some brochureware on whatever you’ve talked to us about, to give us extra detail. Maybe a whitepaper. That sort of thing.

After the Event

The event isn’t over for us at the end of your session. We’ll be moving on to another vendor, or a de-brief session at the pub.

Some of us will be trying to file stories pretty quickly, so if there’s outstanding information from a session, please get it to us as fast as you can. If you can give us an indication of when we’ll receive the info, so much the better. It helps us plan better.

Be available afterwards for follow-up questions. We might need to clarify something simple, like how to spell someone’s name, or their correct title. We might need something explained to us again if our notes turn out to be too vague, or a few days makes our memory hazy.

Again, it’s about engagement, and making sure that the right information is out there for us to write and talk about your company and your products.

Your Turn

Hopefully these tips can help you to stage a successful blogger session that benefits both your company and the bloggers themselves.

Got any other tips? Share them in the comments!

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