Engagement + Marketing

Finding Your Deadheads

Does your organization have its own Deadheads -- devoted members and other industry professionals who will show up at your events no matter what or where? If so, what are you doing to share the love with them? And how are you luring new Deadheads to the long strange trip of your meetings experience?

A few issues ago, our Point/Counterpoint department considered the question of how accessible you should make your meeting content to people who don’t physically attend. One of our contributors, Wired magazine Editor in Chief Chris Anderson, used the TED conference as an example of a successful model for letting everyone and anyone see your content for free. He wrote:

Streaming content online isn’t the same as being there. Watching the presentations is only part of the experience; an equal part is mingling with other attendees, who are often of the same caliber as those on stage. Come for the talks, stay for the hallway conversations.

But TED isn’t the first group to figure this out. According to an article in the current issue of The Atlantic, the Grateful Dead — yes, that Grateful Dead — had a surprisingly sophisticated sense of how to create demand and how to grow a loyal fanbase:
In the late 1980s, Rebecca G. Adams, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who studies friendships formed across distances, noticed deep bonds between Deadheads. The bonds seemed to belie the idea, then popular among leading social thinkers, that communities based on common interest, whose members do not live near each other, lack emotional and moral depth — that Deadheads might belong to what sociologists call a “lifestyle enclave,” but couldn’t possibly form meaningful relationships. …
… Without intending to — while intending, in fact, to do just the opposite — the band pioneered ideas and practices that were subsequently embraced by corporate America. One was to focus intensely on its most loyal fans. It established a telephone hotline to alert them to its touring schedule ahead of any public announcement, reserved for them some of the best seats in the house, and capped the price of tickets, which the band distributed through its own mail-order house. … They famously permitted fans to tape their shows, ceding a major revenue source in potential record sales. According to [Nova Southeastern University business professor Barry] Barnes, the decision was not entirely selfless: it reflected a shrewd assessment that tape sharing would widen their audience, a ban would be unenforceable, and anyone inclined to tape a show would probably spend money elsewhere, such as on merchandise or tickets.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.