I saw a question on a list about promoting conferences. Rather than keep that reply private, here it is:
- user groups – your most concentrated and geographically interesting source of potential attendees. Beyond your local groups, track down appropriate Google groups, LinkedIn groups, and Meetups within a short drive? I find physically traveling to a user group and doing a short spiel or a talk is a great way to make a personal connection with people (and it’s fun!). Every year I try to hit 2-3 regional cities for stuff like this and I bake the costs of that into my promotion budget.
- speakers that are authors – most of the major tech publishers have author event calendars. If one of your speakers has a book coming out, often publishers are willing to send an email blast, include your event in newsletters, etc etc. Win/win/win for you, publisher, and speaker.
- sponsors - most companies have a regular mailing list. Will they include your event in it? It’s a great way to market to new people in tandem with someone else with skin in the game.
- ads – I tried Facebook and LinkedIn ads when I was getting started. They are nice in that you can spend a few bucks a day and target the ads very specifically to geographic areas, job categories, etc. If you have a Facebook page/group/whatever, you can target ads to *friends* of people who are already interested/attending your conference. The ad shows not just your text but a list of which of your friends are going. Those ads can be pretty powerful. YMMV – I definitely found it to be a good way to have more people hear about the conference.
- groups – I find a big chunk of my tickets come from group sales. What are the big software companies in the region? Ask them if they’re interested in sending a group at a discount. If you see in your attendee list one person from a company that likely has more, send them an email and offer them some promotional text they can post internally. In year 2+, go back to prior group companies and ask them if they plan to send a group this year (I find this to be incredibly successful).
- unique content – create a source of interesting content. My first year I did text interviews with speakers, just 5-8 questions, wrote them up nicely, and put them on the blog. Then post each entry to link sites (HN, Reddit, etc). This year we started a podcast. Way more work and it’s been hard to get going regularly but it’s a unique opportunity to create content new people might connect with. And way more fun and useful than stupid ads.
- funny videos – see JavaZone that does amazing stuff, or see the videos at http://lessconf.lesseverything.com/ for really funny, short examples. LessFilms is actively looking to work with confs on stuff like this.
- event calendars – Lanyrd or other press rags as well (SD Times, etc)
- email list – this is longer range but I did not have a way to just sign up for a mailing list for my first couple years. Stupid stupid. You can do this for free with MailChimp and you won’t find a more qualified list of interested people than the people that sign up for your mailing list.