Most conference websites go dark for a few months after the event; they either get taken offline or are not updated. The reasons are simple: most of the time, it is a case of plan, plan, plan, and get through the event and start working on next year. Once the material is ready for the New Year, planners then get going on updating or restarting the next conference website. This is a terrible idea, a very, very bad idea.
By going dark for any period, you are shooting yourself in the foot and allowing others to control the flow of information. By the time you are ready to go on the next year’s event, your audience has moved on, and you now have to rebuild the audience. You may not be starting entirely from scratch, but you have most certainly lost the momentum that was on your side.
A couple of quick recommendations.
Keep your website current at all times. Before this year’s event has taken place, have your logo ready for next year. You are going to create a logo anyway, so why not do it now? This way, the day after the event, you can switch the website to have a current look. Don’t have the dates or location yet? No worries, say it is a TBD; people are grown-ups. They can handle that. Have the dates already? Post them. What are you trying to hide? It also helps to get on people’s radar as soon as possible so that they can add it to their calendars.
Conference planners should also be using the conference site for year-round engagement: post industry information, news releases from sponsors, and blog posts from thought leaders. One of the most important things you can do to build excitement and traffic for next year’s conference is to add all of the content from this year’s event. Pictures, video, transcripts….whatever. It is all an open game. If you want new people to attend, you must show them what they missed.
Answer me this: unless your meeting or conference is some big secret, you are not telling people things that they do not already know or want to know. If they are not getting this information from you, they will get it from someone else, and you have lost a fantastic opportunity.
Have a conference Twitter feed or Facebook page? Great! People are not going to stop following you the day after the event. You can use the Twitter feed and Facebook page to drive traffic to the conference website throughout the year. When you are ready to announce that registration is live, you will have found that your audience has actually grown if you have been adding content throughout the year.
Remember this, if you are not driving the conversation, if you are not in control of the message, someone will be. If they are not friendly to your organization or perhaps they have an event that is competing for market share, you may not like what they are saying.
These are a couple of simple things that you can do to create an event that has a year-round presence. Trust me, in the coming months, if you are doing the simple things, you will go the way of old T-Rex, and we know how well he did when confronted with massive changes to his environment.