There's a great conversation going on over at Acronym about word-of-mouth and associations. Since what I know about association member recruitment and retention wouldn't fill a thimble, I'll leave that part up to the experts. But as I was reading, I couldn't help but wonder if word of mouth marketing actually works for something that hasn't happened yet; i.e., a conference. That's a lot harder to sell directly than, say, an iPhone; forget about inspiring others to do the heavy lifting for you. Because, let's face it, most conferences really aren't all that remarkable, and even if they are, how do people know they are before they occur? Why would anyone be talking about them?
I can't think of a single conference I've ever attended because of what I'd heard about it from others. But I can think of a bunch I would give my eyeteeth to go to, like the TED Conference and, back in the day, the Fast Company RealTime meeting. In the case of TED, while I don't know anyone who's actually gone, the videos of various presentations that flurry around afterward are enough to give me serious TED envy. And after my colleague went to RealTime and told me all about it, I was dying to give it a shot. In both cases, the financials just weren't there, but boy, if I won the lottery, I'd go in a heartbeat. But these are both, or at least sound to be, truly off-the-charts experiences.
But then I think about a meeting of women entrepreneurs I went to last night. In the loosest possible sense of the word, I guess you could call it an association, seeing as we are a group of people all passionate about one thing (well, I was mainly just along for the ride, since my side business has been fallow for quite a while now—this day job just takes up all my time!). The setting was someone's house, the food just mini-pizzas and salad, and the speakers were just us. But what really got me, and will get me to go to the next one, is not the pizza, or the free samples, or even learning about new businesses I might want to try. It was the energy in the air as people shared experiences and looked for synergies. Will I pass that along to other women entrepreneurs I know in the area? Oh yeah.
In his post, Scott says, "Of course, the next step is figuring out what sorts of things will make these people [evangelists/sneezers/mavens] feel special so that they want to continue to come back again and again." I don't think it'll be the keynoter, or the decor, or even the food. It'll be the passion and energy—however you make that happen—that'll make the meeting worth talking about. Without that, stick to the glossy brochure and hope someone reads it. It'll be your best shot.
P.S. We just upgraded our blog software, and will be working out some glitches for a while, it looks like (such as losing the past 10 days worth of posts—oh well, such is life.) If anything's being glitchy for you, please let me know and we'll try to get 'er fixed.