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Last week a digital conference in the UK became a social media sensation by selling out its 1,500 tickets in under one minute and became a national trending topic on Twitter for hours. Learn how they did it in this feature interview.
He contributed some of the most popular growth hacking articles on this blog and he happens to be the founder of BrightonSEO. I needed to find out what was going on. Having managed trending topics crises in the past, I know it is never an easy time.
I quickly discovered that this was no bad news. Quite the opposite. #BrightonSEO opened gates that morning to allocate 1,500 free tickets for its conference. They sold out within a minute. The waitlist was of epic proportions, almost tradeshow size.
Yeah, Everybody Can Sell Out Free Tickets
To a certain extent I agree. A free ticket cannot be compared to a $100, $500, $2,000 ticket. Correct. At the same time there are a bunch of free events that struggle to fill up rooms, making sponsors quite disappointed. Ask the tradeshow sector.
And while you can still allocate 1,500 free tickets for a cool event, to do so in 50 seconds for a very niche conference makes #BrigthonSEO the de-facto Glastonbury of conferences (it actually sold out quicker).
Some reactions included:
— Corey Thompson (@optimiserprime) January 11, 2016
BOOOOM! - I got a golden ticket!! - Really excited to be going to #BrightonSEO for the 5th year running!
— Richard Woods (@Richard_Woods) January 11, 2016
— Chris Green (@chrisgreen87) January 5, 2016
Now, if you are able to generate this level of engagement for a conference ticket release, you have my respect. Actually the whole industry should bow in reverence. Because while every 'expert' fills their mouths with words like 'engagement', 'experience', 'advocates', very few can demonstrate what these beautiful words mean.
I am very lucky to have met Kelvin, to have had lunch together while at an industry event and to have had him write for us. I begged him to answer my questions despite him being super busy. Please do read what is coming next as it is packed full of fantastic advice and inspiration if your job is to run conferences.
Hey Kelvin, Tell us about BrightonSEO
BrightonSEO is a digital marketing event that takes place twice a year, it's over two days.
The first day is paid for training and the second day a free to attend conference. The event's got a fairly simple mission: to help digital marketers meet, learn and do their job a little better.
It started as a few people meeting in a the room above a pub and now 1,700 people come from all over the world twice a year to get together and learn about search marketing.
We've built ourselves a great reputation not only for great talks but a welcoming atmosphere where people are able to relax, learn, make friends and have a great time.
Tell us what happened when you opened sales
We've always had quick sell outs of the free tickets, but this release was unprecedented for us. All 1,500 free of charge tickets were registered in under 60 seconds.
This led to us trending on Twitter and ending up with enough people on our waitlist to sell out the event a second time and still have hundreds of people to spare.
Which is pretty mad for a quite niche digital marketing event!
What got you there? How did you do it?
Because our event is mostly free to attend (though you can pay for an extra training day or for VIP tickets) we've always tried to make tickets to the event scarce. This combats one of the biggest issues with free events, that your attendees think you're worthless. We get a much lower drop-out rate than most free events and we don't have to promote the event for months and months.
We tend to launch our tickets with a bang. It's not just a case of sending one email out saying tickets are now available, That doesn't create any kind of sense of urgency to book now. We had a whole marketing plan leading up to the ticket release. A series of emails, loads of social media advertising, scheduled social updates from me, the event and all our speakers and sponsors. We wanted to make sure if you were a potential attendee of our event and online on Monday at 10am there was no way you wouldn't know about our event.
We really care about the event experience for our attendees, they mostly come to learn so we make sure every element of the event is set up to encourage that. A great thing about our attendees is they're all influencers online, that means if they have a great time they let other people know. Though this does also up the pressure not to make any mistakes!
What makes BrightonSEO different? Why do attendees react this way?
Our event is fundamentally different to all the other events covering similar topics. They are either trade shows which are all about getting thousands of people to traipse around an exhibition area until pushy sales staff can steal your contact details. Or they're conferences which deliver great talks but cost hundreds or thousands of pounds to attend because they are paying fancy hotels exorbitant amounts for decidedly average food and drink.
By having a different approach and business model to our rivals we can deliver an experience they simply can't replicate.
Because the attendees seem to love this approach the tickets are hugely sought after. I think it's also about confidence, most events sound like they're begging you to come along, offering discounts and always extending early birds. For black Friday rather than discounting our tickets for 24 hours we doubled our prices. That's not the sort of approach that other events covering search take.
What is the role of social media in your success?
Social media is huge for us, we basically have three marketing channels, email, word of mouth and social. Social for us mostly means Twitter. We're very fortunate that so many of our potential audience spend all day on Twitter, that's simply not the case for most businesses.
But social media really acts as social proof for us. If you see all of your connections on social anticipating a big ticket release, warning you how tickets might sell-out, you're going to consider registering for a ticket.
We do all we can to encourage these kind of conversations, because they really help us as organisers of the event. Social media also allows our speakers to highlight their expertise. The more knowledgeable our speakers are, the more our audience wants to see them speak.
What would you do differently, if anything?
We had one small issue with ticket release this time. It takes time for our email platform to send everyone in our database an email. It's only a couple of minutes but we think tickets may have sold out before some people had even received their email letting them know they were released, which is disappointing for some people.
But when you've got nearly two thousand people on the waitlist for a 1,700 attendee event, unfortunately you're going to have some disappointed punters!
Where should eventprofs start if they are struggling with sales?
I'm a big fan of scarcity, but it's hard to make your tickets scarce if they're actually abundant... My top tip would be to see if there's something every one of your competitors does that you can do the exact opposite of? You can play it too safe....
BrightonSEO is not a free event. The free tickets/training structure make the business model a freemium version of what we see in the market. The large crowds coming for the conference do convert into paid audience for the training and exhibitors, well, wouldn't you like to exhibit at an event where tickets sell out in 60 seconds?
This is the power of events, this is the impact of social and online for events. Beyond all the words, well done Kelvin and team!