David Christopher founded Confluence conference, a lovingly curated blogging and creativity conference. Confluence features speakers from SMX, Altitude Summit and Pubcon, playing to a hometown Oklahoma City crowd for 10% of the ticket price.
David is a former journalist who worked as an Audience Development Executive for Telegraph.co.uk and wrote articles for English newspapers and magazines, including The Times, The Financial Times and Press Gazette. He blogs at www.davidmichaelchristopher.com.
He is currently OPUBCO’s Senior Inbound Marketing Manager, where he manages a team of search, social media and content marketing experts.
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share a bit about your journey from growing up on The Isle of Wight in England to becoming a huge supporter of Oklahoma’s top digital talent?
David: I was a struggling playwright in London who fell in love at first sight with a girl from Oklahoma. I needed to find a career that could support a family and decided to try to make a go of journalism. It was terrible timing, with journalists being laid off left and right. But through journalism I discovered search engine optimization, content marketing, blogging and social media marketing.
It turns out there are a lot of businesses that need these services and not a lot of quality agency solutions, especially for businesses looking to spend south of $1000 a month. I was providing these services internally for OPUBCO’s web properties, like NewsOK.com, and started to offer them to our advertisers. Over three years we’ve grown a very profitable digital marketing agency with $3 million in revenue.
Our biggest challenge is hiring and training. There’s fierce competition for the digital marketing skillset and it’s not something that’s widely taught in universities. With 30 team members, we just don’t have the budget to send everybody across the country to attend the big conferences, so I decided to start a digital conference here in Oklahoma City.
It turns out that even a mid-sized market like ours has a lot of national speaking talent – I just had to broaden the focus of the conference to accommodate it. That’s why Confluence is a “digital influencer” conference, rather than something more specific like a blogging or digital marketing conference. The one thing that unites all of the Confluence speakers is that they know how to reach a large audience online.
David Christopher presents “WTF is a Digital Influencer” talk at Confluence Conference Watch the “WTF is a Digital Influencer” talk that kicked off Confluence 2013.
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you talk us through the process of taking your concept for Confluence and turning it into a reality and any challenges that you encountered along the way?
David: For the first three months of planning the conference I was just trying to meet as many of Oklahoma’s digital influencers as I could. I met them all face-to-face and for at least an hour, usually over coffee or lunch, and I gently probed into what actionable tips and tactics they knew and how comfortable they were speaking in front of big audiences.
Every time I pitched the conference to a new potential speaker I got better at pitching it. Every time another influencer agreed to be involved, I incorporated them into my pitch. When it came time to build the website, create the brand and start marketing, I knew exactly what Confluence was and why someone would want to attend.
The conference cost $6,500 to put on, not including all of the time we put into it, so buy-in from the executive suite was crucial.
They’d just released a new mission statement with community service at its core. A local creativity conference like Confluence struck them as a perfect expression of that sentiment, and they agreed to back it, even though my intention was only ever to break even. They understood that the relationships we’d build and the prestige we’d gain by association would be our reward.
We also scored a great sponsor in Remington Park, a racing track and casino in the city. They helped us out with an amazing $1000 racing suite prize that we gave to the winner of our #bestracehorsename @remingtonpark Twitter competition.
The biggest resistance came from other marketing agencies. One social media marketer told me he didn’t trust the event, that he thought it was bound to be a sales stunt. I told him he was wrong and to come, that he stood to gain as much from the event as we did, with much less time and money spent. He didn’t show up.
I only met one other marketing agency employee in the audience, which was incredible considering we had speakers from national events like SMX, State of Search, Pubcon and Altitude Summit speaking, and for 10% of the ticket price.
It actually couldn’t have worked out better: we exceeded our year 1 attendance goal by 40%, without also helping to train our competitors.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s one marketing strategy that’s worked really well for you?
David: Our attendee survey suggests that people found out about the conference through newspaper articles, a local NPR affiliate, posters, speaker referrals and social media. The most effective of these by far was social media – it’s a digital influencer conference, after all.
In the two months running up to the conference, our brand new website for a brand new conference had 5,742 visits. Over a third of these visits came from social media. Visits from social media were three times more likely to result in the sale of a ticket than from any other source.
This blog post was a particularly successful piece of content marketing. In it I used a tool called Followerwonk to find everybody who followed 4 or more of our conference speakers on Twitter. That turned out to be nearly 300 people. I did a lot of highly targeted outreach to those people, knowing that they would likely be very interested in the conference.
That was our first big success. It drove nearly 300 page views in a day and was the first exposure a lot of the attendees got to our brand.
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you talk about the significance of holding Oklahoma’s first digital influencer conference and what that milestone meant to you? How do you plan to keep the momentum going?
David: After three years with my head down, scaling the operations of our digital marketing agency, putting on this conference felt like standing up, stretching my back and taking a deep breath, like coming up for air.
I love people, and it gave me an excuse to get out there and meet people, to create relationships. But also to talk about what I do. For a long time I didn’t want to talk about that on an Oklahoma stage because there weren’t many people here who knew much about search and digital marketing. We’re beyond that now. The cat is out of the bag. We can no longer be the only agency in town – now we just have to be the best.
On a personal level, putting on this conference has been about filling a hole left inside me when I emigrated from England. I left a lot of friends there, and am always looking for ways to make sense of what it means to belong here in Oklahoma.
We already have plenty of momentum going into year two. I have half of a speaker roster already lined up and am planning on attending some conferences across the region to pull in some non-Oklahoman talent.
We’ve certainly proven there’s demand [for this kind of event]. 100% of our surveyed attendees said they would recommend the event to a friend, so I’m hopeful they will!
BusinessInterviews.com: What are some trends in the digital space that you’re excited about or think that our readers should be paying attention to?
David: Search engines and social networks are still the main drivers of traffic to most websites, and that won’t change. What’s changing is their level of sophistication.
Google has gone all-in on Google+ – not just as a social network, but as a way to validate the authority of an individual. Through Google Authorship, they know what websites I write for, what I write well about, and the content I put out there [that] people visit and share. When I write about a topic [on which] Google rates me as an authority, even if it’s on a website that isn’t an authority on that topic, Google will take that content seriously and allow the website to rank well for that topic.
All of which to say, I think that the digital space is looking more and more like the real world. The game is to position your website and yourself as a credible authority in your niche. If you can do that, you can’t lose in search or in social.
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share some tips with our readers for getting the most out of attending a conference?
*Arrive early and leave late.
*Talk to everybody for a while but not for too long, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or get a coffee, make a mental note of who you’d like to talk with some more and circle back with them later.
*Ask questions of your fellow attendees and listen carefully to their answers. It’s rare you get to be surrounded by people with your interests: use that time as an opportunity to find out how other people are operating and innovating in your space.
That’s especially important in a space like digital marketing where agencies are essentially closed shops. I learn more about what’s happening on the ground from other attendees than I do from the speakers. That’s why attending the evening events is especially important.
*If you want to know who’s attending a conference beforehand, but there isn’t an attendees list, put the conference website into the Twitter search bar and you’ll see who’s tweeting the website.
*If there’s a hashtag, tweet using it before, during and after the event. The organizers will love you for it. It can also help your follower count and lead to some interesting chats that you can take offline later. Twitter is the best way to keep up with conference attendees after you’ve all gone home. You can see a tag board of #confluencecon here – it really captures the spirit of the event.
*And finally: if you can, speak. Speaking at Confluence has led to other opportunities for me, including an upcoming Digital Sherpa webinar on SEO for Small Businesses.