It's been a month since All Day All Night (ADAN); the first ever 24 hour social and digital media online conference for the higher education sector.
I’m still a bit stunned by the event's turn out. For our first time around we managed to sell over 200 tickets, bring in 50 speakers from around the world and secure 10 sponsors. If this is a reflection of the beginning of rapid growth for online conferences I think we might be onto something here.
How ADAN started
It began with commiserations on the inability to meet up with all my higher education (HE) pals at various different conferences due to COVID-19 restrictions. The last week in March came with postponement announcements for both ContentEd and CASE SMC (two of my favourites) which prompted a thought to organise just a small one day online social media conference for HE.
Rob Armstrong-Haworth (Neon Caffeine) and I had were just finishing our monthly catch-up at the beginning of April and I had mentioned in passing how nice it would be to have an online conference that felt like an event not just a webinar with extra steps. Fast forward 2 weeks and we’re launching All Day All Night a 24 hour global conference, with early bird ticket sign-ups (because we didn't know how much to charge), speaker submissions and social media channels. We also announced that the conference would only be in 10 weeks.
So how did we pull off a 24 hour conference in 10 weeks?
Rob and I started by setting out our core values for the conference:
Develop a global online conference that felt like an actual event
50/50 speaker gender split
Pay all speakers
Offer affordable tickets
Provide global knowledge sharing opportunities within HE
All profit donated to charity
We used these values as guidelines when making planning decisions. They especially proved their merit when we decided to re-assess our line-up after noticing a very distinct lack of diversity. I’ll expand on this a little later.
ADAN was self-funded, so the incentive to break even at the very least was strong. We had to sell tickets and bring on sponsorship if we wanted to stick to our values; with outgoings for speaker fees, advertising, website, and hired help on the day. We also had an unspoken mutual agreement that we would not take a fee, to ensure we had enough to give to charity and pay speakers.
Conference name, theme and branding
This is where Rob came into his own, we quickly settled on All Day All Night (ADAN for short which won me over). We literally had under 3 months before the conference began so we didn’t have the time to ‘um-and-ah’ about names. Rob also felt it important to have a theme and came up with ‘Into the Unknown’ which worked perfectly. We were ourselves eyeball deep in the unknown and it fit with COVID-19 challenges within HE.
To keep costs low, branding of ADAN was kept in-house; finally able to put that design degree to good use! It was a time drainer but I'm happy with how it turned out.
Website and ticket sales
I designed the ADAN site from scratch using WIX… and my word was it a headache. Don’t get me wrong I'm happy with the site, but the constant updates to speaker profiles, session titles, agenda tweaks along with setting up SEO for each page was massively time-consuming and often frustrating. The website proved invaluable with over 12K page views and an average session duration of 2 minutes.
The integration of ticket sales was really useful too, and it was nice to keep everything in one spot. We used Stripe to process all orders. A word of caution - beware additional charges - we decided to absorb all additional ticket costs from both WIX and Stripe which ended up costing us around £3 per ticket.
Social media, marketing and advertising
We used Twitter as our primary channel, taking the approach of 90% entertainment / 10% actual marketing messages. We highlighted funny facts and ‘embarrassing’ photos of speakers, joined in on relevant conversations and just generally showcased the conference personality. This enabled us to quickly grow our following to over 400 in a short amount of time with half of our followers joining us just a couple weeks before the conference.
Our budget for marketing was only £1K which went directly into social media ads (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). With a small budget it meant we had to be granular with our audience. Retargeting people who visited our site and didn’t buy tickets, look-alike followers of our speakers as well as our existing Twitter followers. All the creative was done 'in-house' as well to keep costs low.
Agenda, speaker selection and recruitment
The agenda framework was more difficult and time-consuming than either of us anticipated as we were trying to work with multiple time zones. Even now, I still don’t think we nailed it, and we'll be making updates for next year.
We were fortunate to have quite a few speaker submissions, but we also had to be discerning, making sure they fit with our conference themes without too much overlap. We also wanted to make sure there was a 50/50 gender split and representation from multiple countries. When we had to go outside of our speaker submission pool it could sometimes be an arduous process explaining a conference that no-one had ever heard of, but fully worth it when we saw the calibre of speakers who wanted to take part.
Black Lives Matter - this movement has gained so much exposure over the past few months and for good reason too. Rob and I noticed very quickly that our speaker line-up was very white and didn’t reflect the diversity within our sector. There was no excuse for this; and in a very short amount of time we managed to find exceptional black speakers who were willing to speak. We’ll be adding this to our core values for 2021.
Deciding to keep it simple was the best route, with only one type of sponsor package – we asked sponsors to choose one of the 24-hour slots for £450 all in. We were fortunate to have so much support in the sector and sponsors were happy to hop on board. Rob was a wiz with sponsor contracts and dealing with all that fun legal shenanigans that I tend to avoid.
Kudos to our sponsors who quickly understood the importance of the online conference trend within HE; without their support we wouldn’t have been able to pull off ADAN with affordable ticket prices.
Conference platform and production support
We waited until the last minute to decide on a platform and it just so happened that one of our sponsors Unibuddy was just releasing Unibuddy Live - an all singing, all dancing live streaming platform that they were willing to let us use. Unibuddy Live had everything we needed to make sure we weren’t going down the webinar route. There were of course a few growing pains which are be expected with a brand new platform, especially when we were pushing it to the limits with 24 hours of streaming. However, it really was a life saver, performed well under pressure, and ensured there was a feeling of conference community with breakouts for networking and more. The Unibuddy team were also on hand throughout the whole 24 hours to help with any technical challenges we faced which was brilliant.
Another aspect that was helpful was our production support. It was a huge weight off our shoulders, getting Billy and Eric in from Live Suite Media and took the hassle out of our live stream. They made sure all our speakers were ready and prepped, ensured our live feed always had something streaming: animated holding screens promoting the next session, live speaker name plates, or pre-recorded videos. Having the the two guys taking care of all the technical aspects of a live stream allowed Rob and I the space to manage the conference.
Rob and I each chose a charity to support. I went with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and Rob chose UK Black Pride. Not only did these charities reflect our personal interests and values but we also felt it was important to demonstrate in a tangible way ADAN's support of the BLM movement. We managed to raise over £3K which was split equally between the two. Read more about our charities here.
What to do differently next year?
I’m going to wrap-up this long-winded blog with a list of what we’re planning to do differently for ADAN21.
We’re going to start planning a lot earlier this time (think end of August 2020)
Get sponsors on board early to give us a bit of a safety blanket financially when we’re developing our advertising budget and determining ticket prices.
Start selling early-bird tickets right away without the arduous sign-up form / send out discount codes approach that we took previously.
Decide on a streaming platform a lot earlier to integrate ticket sales.
Extra breathing room in the agenda to allow for organic conversations and break outs.
A lot more emphasis on utilising video break out rooms to host round table discussions or 1-1 meetings
Increase speaker diversity from more countries - this year we had speakers from UK, Ireland, United States, Australia and South Africa - next year we’d like to expand it even further.
Help from different time-zones so we can get some sleep - we’ll be looking volunteer leads in each of the different time zones to help us out
Panel of industry professionals to help with the speaker selection process
Sell tickets right up to conference kick-off
And that’s a wrap on ADAN20, thanks to everyone who joined us last month. Get in touch if you're planning an online event or conference big or small. Happy to chat and share any additional tips and tricks that could make your life easier.