Cultivating Event Communities: Lessons from IBM’s John Clark

March 3, 2016

IBM InterConnect 2016

Every year there are hundreds – possibly thousands – of events focused on technology. From small local meetings to major international conferences, today’s tech professionals have an abundance of event options to choose from. So how can you make your event stand out amongst the competition?

Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing and exploring IBM InterConnect 2016, IBM’s marquee global summit for IT and business professionals. But it wasn’t until we arrived and had a chance to view IBM InterConnect’s hundreds of workshops in action that the unique and powerful presence of the IBM user community really sunk in. On the EXPO floor alone, everyone was inquisitive and excited to dig deeper into their areas of interest and expertise, whether it be through interactive activities, guest speakers, or booth demonstrations — all powered by a marketer’s favorite word, content.

So we sought to speak with John Clark, IBM’s program director responsible for content marketing, client advocacy, and user community within IBM’s Cloud Integration business. He revealed to us how content and audience research plays a central role in making IBM InterConnect both meaningful and memorable for its diverse spectrum of attendees each year — and shared three thoughtful insights for other marketers working to gain the attention of today’s technology professionals.

1. Assume Expectations are Very High.

As technology allows for more innovative and impactful curriculum and event capabilities, the expectations of IBM InterConnect attendees have changed drastically over the last few years. As John put it, “Today’s tech professionals are engaging with brands, products and technical information in very different ways than they have in the past. They consume more content – and want it delivered in a wide range of formats. This means that they are well-educated and they come to events like IBM InterConnect with high expectations.”

As marketers, it’s important to truly connect and cater to your user base throughout every facet of your event. That way you can not only meet, but also exceed them and win the respect, business and loyalty of this important audience.

2. Listen, Listen, Listen.

What’s the best way to tap into growing expectations? Through direct interaction with your key stakeholders. As John and his colleagues prepared the curriculum for IBM InterConnect, they surveyed their user communities to better understand what they wanted from the event.

By committing to listening first, John and his team discovered that their audience was looking for opportunities to build skills and expertise, engage with IBM subject matter experts, gain answers to pressing technology concerns and network with their peers.

As John summed it up, “We saw very clearly that these are the key priorities of our target audience. So we committed to delivering curriculum, content and an experience at InterConnect that would directly address their priorities.”

And it’s clear that John’s programming was built on these topics – the attendees loved it and championed it — proof that it pays to listen and truly get to know your audience.

3. Deliver the Real Experts.

Today’s tech professionals are very knowledgeable, so delivering credible experts that will present new ideas, approach topics in innovative ways and really challenge their sophisticated thinking is a must. Take a look at IBM InterConnect’s 1500+ sessions and you’ll see that IBM’s dedication to enthralling, impactful content is no joke.

One example can be found in InterConnect’s “Meet the Experts” sessions. Here, John and his team set out to deliver additional content that was directly related to the needs and challenges identified by the IBM user community — such as social activation, which LinkedIn helped to craft curriculum around.

“What these ‘Meet the Experts’ sessions have allowed us to deliver are sessions driven by IBM and industry subject matter experts,” said John. “With them, we are able to provide a program that helps our audience build skills and expertise. We give them access to the IBM experts they asked for and directly answer their most pressing questions.” Certainly John and his team did a terrific job in achieving this.

What it all comes down to are the basics that we all know as marketers, but can often lose sight of: know your audience really, really well and let them drive the discussion to ensure your content is truly relevant. That’s the key to building strong event communities, driven by content, that will delight and create meaningful experiences for attendees.

Experiencing IBM InterConnect first-hand was a great reminder to do whatever it takes to thoroughly understand your audience before building any event curriculum or content strategy.

If you’re interested in additional insights shared at IBM InterConnect 2016, check out our blog and view the event’s sessions anytime on-demand for free at 

Did your brand make the top 50? Did your competitors? View the entire top 50 in The Content Marketing 50: High Tech Edition infographic.