Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Social Media Business Forum in Durham.
I met some great people, listened to some of my Twitter idols, heard some of the best lines I’d ever heard and was generally impressed by how well it was run. So impressed I decided to ask one of its coordinators if he’s be willing to answer a couple questions via email.
I’ve known Jeff for a few months, first meeting him at Social Media Club. He is one of the guys that started up #OurHashtag, along with Wayne Sutton, Ryan Boyles and Kipp Bodnar. The #OurHashtag guys were the brains behind the Social Media Business Forum.
I’ve always been interested in how a new conference gets started, so I asked.
Thanks for agreeing to do this, I’ve always thought the idea of putting together a conference was overwhelming, on top of just “where do you start?”
So that’s question #1…
Q: When you guys first said, “let’s do a Social Media Business Forum”, what was the first step towards making it happen, or maybe the first few steps?
The first step in putting on a conference is deciding to put on a conference. The partners of OurHashtag (Wayne Sutton, Kipp Bodnar, Jeff Cohen and Ryan Boyles) have been part of planning free social media-related events in the Triangle, both individually and collectively, for the better part of two years. Several of us also have event planning in our backgrounds. We felt that it was time to push beyond the bounds of the social media community and connect with the Triangle business community to educate them about the strategies, practices and tools of social media.
Question #2: How long from idea spark to registration day?
Never long enough for the first event. We starting talking about ideas back in the summer for a social media conference, and it took some time to hone in on the approach we would take with the conference. Serious planning and discussions occurred after Ignite Raleigh in early August. It was less than 90 days from our definitive conference vision to event date.
Question #3: What is the sequence of the following? Venue, speakers, sponsors, pricing, dates.
The very first thing that we did was confirm the NCCU School of Education for October 23. Once we had a date and location, we could begin the planning process. The next thing that we did was decide on a name and a theme for the conference. We knew we were focusing on social media for business because that was our target audience, but we wanted to address how business communications have changed due to both tools and customer expectations. We also knew we wanted to have a different kind of event. We did not want formal moderated panels. We wanted all panelists to have an equal voice in the sessions. We also wanted to make sure attendees left with practical information. We set pricing based on other events we saw locally and around the country.
So once all that was in place, we registered our domain name (http://SocialMediaBusinessForum.com) and began contacting speakers and sponsors. This was an ongoing process, as speakers and sponsors were interested in participation up until the last couple of weeks. Once an initial group of speakers committed to the event, we announced the event in the end of August.
Question #4: What conference did you guys look at as an inspiration (that did it right).
There was no single conference we saw as the perfect conference. We took ideas from a variety of events and combined those with our own ideas of what makes a good conference. The four OurHashtag partners have attended and spoken at a large number of events and conferences and we wanted to do things differently.
Question #5: From my perspective, it ran pretty smooth, how did it run from your perspective?
The Social Media Business Forum ran smoothly from our perspective too. That is the benefit of having four organizers and one fantastic volunteer coordinator. While most of the preparation of the conference was handled by OurHashtag, much of the onsite operations were handled by Lisa Sullivan and her team of volunteers. They managed registration, room monitoring, videotaping and other behind the scenes logistics that contributed to the smooth operation.
Question #6: What did you learn from SMBF that you can do better next time?
The biggest thing we learned was that we need more time to spread the word about the conference. We are already looking at dates in 2010.
Question #7: What are you guys planning next?
We will continue to organize events like Triangle Social Media Club and TriangleTweetups, as well as plan Ignite Raleigh and Social Media Business Forum for dates in 2010. That is just the beginning of many more exciting things for OurHashtag in 2010.
Thanks to Jeff for answering all my questions. If you have a question about the 2009 Social Media Business Forum, you can ask Wayne Sutton tomorrow at Cliqset where he’ll be chatting with Robyn Cobb.