Turning Attendees into Fans by @JennG_

While I’m normally on the outside looking in at conferences, three times a year I’m part of the all-hands-on-deck staff of the Marketplace events our company produces. During those conferences, I’m behind the curtain experiencing what planners tell me about all the time when I interview them for magazine stories. During last week’s Collaborate Marketplace, I learned first-hand the difference between attendees and fans. Attendees go to events that fit their needs, budget and schedule, but fans come to your conference year after year and broadcast their love for it.

Turning an attendee into a fan starts with creating a culture that puts them first.

Impeccable service goes beyond responding to a customer’s need in a timely fashion—it also means addressing the need in the way the attendee desires. Chick-fil-A and Morton’s, two companies on either end of the restaurant spectrum, both have embraced a culture of service that extends from the in-person experience to social media. Both restaurant chains have wowed customers by showing up unexpectedly with food orders a fan made on Twitter. Chicken sandwich and steak lovers can go anywhere, but they beg for Chick-fil-A and Morton’s.

Augusta National Golf Club chooses a more traditional approach. Last month, I had the pleasure of experiencing The Masters, held every year at the club in Augusta, Ga. The legendary golf tournament creates a lingering experience for every attendee. Even during the practice session I attended, every minute detail is covered on the course. The event has a culture of Southern hospitality where guests stay in homes rather than hotels, pimento cheese sandwiches are a mere $1.50, and volunteers greet every attendee with a smile, saying “Enjoy the tournament!” And they come back every year. The Masters has managed to turn fans of a sport into fans of its tournament.

Organizations that are successful at creating a culture of customer service have something in common: Interactions with guests are based on relationship rather than transaction. As we throw out the word “community” over and over again to describe our social networks and in-person events, I wonder how much of a culture we’re creating around our events.

Do your attendees come to you for your content or because of the experience you create for them? How can you turn attendees into fans?

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