Learnings from designing WooConf 2017

I joined Woo in July 2014 just a few month before we hosted the very first WooConf in San Francisco. Since then we have hosted two more — in Austin last April and most recently in Seattle.

Here are a couple of things I learnt designing WooConf 2017 which might be helpful for folks planning events or gatherings around WordPress (or other) products.

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The more focused your audience, the better

This seems obvious, I know!

For WooConf 2016 we aimed to serve both store owners and developers which meant two tracks and something of a divided focus. We wrestle with this ‘divide’ ongoingly over in WooCommerce, but recently have paid more attention to our core audience of store builders, so this was what we went with for WooConf 2017.

This year we focused on putting on a conference that would be awesome for store builders a.k.a. developers. This meant we didn’t have to shy away from more technical content or ask speakers to keep in mind those who might not be as interested in going ‘under the hood’.

Focus, as it turns out, is a freeing as we assume it to be.

Aiming to serve one specific group well made for better content and a more seamless experience. We can’t be all things at all times to all customers.

A theme gives everyone something to rally around

The theme for WooConf 2017 was open eCommerce. 

Last year the theme of WoConf was Learn. Develop. Sell. It worked, but was quite broad and matched the wider audience we were trying to serve. Also it was a theme that any other conference could have had, and wasn’t Woo-specific.

This time around we wanted a theme that was unique to us, and our community. Early on in the planning process we had a discussion around what our theme could be, and settled on open eCommerce.

It highlights the unique selling proposition of WooCommerce, which is its flexibility and openness. Choosing this theme gave us a good foundation for talks, marketing material, and the ‘feel’ of the event. It also gave our speakers something of a rallying cry to get behind.

On reflection, this tagline could be a lot more than a once-off conference theme 🙂

Delegate (but really, actually do)

The organising team for WooConf 2017 all worked on (many) other things during the ten or so months we were planning and pulling together the conference.

Can you pull off a conference for 250 people without anyone project managing fulltime? Yep. But you’ll need to be smart about delegation.

For the WooConf 2017 organising team, Aviva Pinchas set the tone really well. Her take on it was that a bunch of us fully own different areas rather than have a few really stressed people trying to own everything.

This required pushing back, gently passing balls back when they got thrown centrally, and encouraging individuals to run with things, and make decisions, without always deferring.

It worked!

Proper delegation requires trust from the delegators, and requires those getting involved to 110% own whatever they focus on.

It was awesome to see WooConf come together with talented people across Automattic leading different areas: Maria Scarpello on the WooCommerce Research Lab; Julia Amosova and Gareth Allison as emcees; Erica Kuschel and Anne Forbush handling onsite social media top to tail; and Patrick Rauland wrangling speaker selection and talk content. I was in charge of WooConf Marketing, no small task!

I have often wished we’d hire in some professional events people to wrangle the whole of WooConf for us, and maybe one day we will, but the way we did it for 2017 with a whole of lot of the Woo team stepping up resulted in a very authentic end product.

Plus we partenered with Team A2e for the third time running, who are awesome.

Authenticity from a company is good

Todd Wilkens, head of Woo, delivered our opening key note. Listening to him talk – whilst running around like a headless chicken trying to sort out a problem with live stream access – I felt a little bit emotional.

Why?

Maybe I’d just had too much coffee (in fact I definitely had) but actually I think it was because Todd chose to be really transparent and authentic in what he shared, including raising a couple of things the wider WooCommerce community had a hard time with this year (our pricing increase, included).

I like to think we’re all doing our best, all the time, but sometimes intent is lost in translation and it was pretty awesome hearing Todd bravely lean in to some things we were in the spotlight for this year, as well as address some things folks have seemed unsure on roadmap-wise.

The speaker ratings, and feedback on social media, show that others felt the same way I did about Todd’s keynote. Authenticity and honesty are good things, especially when they come from a company.

Finalising attendee emails in advance reduces errors

Another one that might seems obvious, but here we go.

Getting a little more practical and into the weeds: something I learnt the hard way during WooConf 2016 was that only executing marketing – specifically emails to attendees – as you need to ship them doesn’t work.

On both days of WooConf 2016 I was up really late pulling together attendee emails that ended up going out with errors because I didn’t leave enough time to get the right people to check them. Whoops.

This year I’m pleased to say WooConf attendee emails went pretty smoothly.

I planned better and got drafts of the mailers created in advance so that the right people could take a look and give input. This year we sent:

Planning the emails in advance surfaced all of the things we needed to prepare (like the pre-conference survey and FAQs). Thinking about what your attendees will need in the lead up and during your conference is a surefire way to plan communication.

Leveraging WooConf content opportunities

When you’re a remote company, a conference is a golden opportunity to connect with customers. Plus the rich talks delivered by speakers passionate about your product are blog posts waiting to happen!

We learnt from WooConf 2016 that these wonderful things don’t just happen without planning. Plus if you let too much time pass the window closes as the content loses relevancy.

This year I wanted to make sure we did a good job of leveraging the various content opportunities presented by WooConf, specifically in terms of customer stories and talks translated into blog posts.

On the videos front — we had a team of three roaming and interviewing attendees and singled out some customers beforehand for customer story videos. This footage will be reviewed, artfully pulled together around a couple of themes, and used to create some neat videos for use in our marketing in 2018.

On the blog post front — we had talks from so many wonderful speakers at WooConf and wanted to ensure this great content made it onto our blog and got shared with the world. Anyone who has edited content knows this takes a lot of time and chasing, for us this means hiring someone to edit and wrangle the posts. That’s an investment we consider well worth it considering the quality and relevance of the content to our audience.

Our goal is to publish all session videos within two weeks here, create at least one themed customer story video by end of year, and to have 12 guest posts from WooConf speakers published on the Woo blog.

Folks still love Lego!

Finally, in case you were wondering something I learnt during WooConf 2017 is that the love for Lego is as strong as ever.

Speaker gifts is a tough one. Something unique, personal, on-brand, and memorable that you can be bothered to take home in your suitcase? Tricky!

Patrick Rauland organised Lego mini-figs as a gift for all of our speakers and they loved ’em. Even better — the shop we bought them from runs on WooCommerce.

Thanks, Mini-me.co.za!

—–

That is just a few of the things I learnt this year designing WooConf 2017. Roll on next year!

 

 

 

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