This is a post about telesummits. But really, it’s a post about bad marketing and what you need to consider to avoid bad marketing either damaging your reputation as a business owner or wasting your time.
In case you’re not familiar with the telesummit concept, the outward appearance is similar to an in-person summit or conference: 15-30 expert speakers share their story and expertise on a particular topic with the audience.
You’ve likely signed up for one of these virtual events in the past.
What you might not realize is what often happens with these events in the organizational phase. Nearly every day, my assistant or I receive a pitch to speak at one of these events. The email often looks something like this (an actual email I recently received but with all identifying details changed):
I am pleased to invite you to serve as a guest speaker in our next online summit: “Live Your Best Life and Build a Super Successful Business.”
This online summit will feature over 25 Bold Life Experts, who will be sharing their inspirational guidance in pre-recorded video interviews. We invite you to share your story in one of these eye-opening 30 minute pieces.
Our incredible host Joy Coachperson is a sought-after Leadership Coach who teaches clients how to thrive in their personal and professional lives, regardless of their current circumstances. As a mother of four young children, a wife, an entrepreneur, and a coach, Joy knows firsthand how to support women and couples as they maneuver through life’s many challenges. Through her knowledge and experience, Joy has provided hundreds of individuals with the tools to become stronger, happier and more successful than ever! Joy’s mission is to get people out of the destructive habit of “just getting by”, and to teach them actionable ways to manifest prosperous home and business lives with ease.
The intention and focus of this summit is to guide individuals in discovering the foundation of their Bold Life, in the face of life’s many internal and external challenges. We are looking for practical and actionable advice that guides viewers in establishing their daily success rhythm by following proven formulas, and retaining the tools needed to stay on track when problems arise.
Topics to be Discussed:
● Personal Leadership
● Thriving as a Choice
● Support Systems
● Habits and Scheduling
● Success Strategies
● Staying Committed
● Creating A Legacy
Is this Online Summit a good fit for you? We’re looking for:
● Passionate speakers who currently serve or would like to expand their audience of small business owners, authors, entrepreneurs, and individuals looking to pursue their passion and desired legacy
● Presenters who have a mailing list audience above 5k.
● Individuals committed to publicizing this life-changing event with at least one solo email and one newsletter blurb
Ready to help us change lives? If this Online Summit sounds like something you’d enjoy being part of, please respond to me at your earliest convenience, as spaces fill up quickly!
Director of Marketing & Events
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THIS
Notice a few things: the summit has no clear or measurable objective, no clear angle or point of view to differentiate this from any other event, and the host has no fact-checkable credentials. I’ll explain why this is all highly problematic no matter what type of marketing you’re doing.
But first, notice a few more things:
1) There is a check to make sure I’m a good fit for the conference—meaning they haven’t properly vetted me as a speaker in the first place. They’re using a spray and pray method of recruiting partners.
2) Speakers are only qualified if their lists are already over 5,000 subscribers meaning that the organizers care more about reach than quality content. Melissa Dinwiddie recently wrote about this.
3) Speakers are required to promote the event to their list in both an exclusive email and a mention (2 emails total) meaning that the event organizer isn’t sure that the event merits promotion without obligating the participants. More on this in a bit.
All of these things are red flags for a marketer. Yet, these invitations persist. So I’m going to break down exactly what is problematic about each of them so that you can either green light your own telesummit or create your own marketing system and avoid the problems.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR OWN MARKETING FIRST
Always have a clear & measurable objective.
The bar you set for product development should be the same bar you set for marketing—especially content marketing. People should know what they can expect from engaging your content and how it will help them transform something about their life or business.
This cannot be vague. It cannot be hyperbolic. If you want it to be effective (you do), it needs to be incredibly specific and measurable. People need to be able to know when the objective is reached.
A promise to help you live your dream life or “crush it” in business is not a promise that can be kept. It’s not a good value proposition. It cannot be measured. And, it’s not believable because no set of 25 speakers can help you go from “getting by” to thriving.
For any content marketing you create, make a list of specific things that people will be able to do or change because of what you’re creating. Make them as tangible as possible. Be careful with anything that has to do with beliefs or personal identity because people don’t believe those things can be changed overnight and it damages your value proposition.
Always have a clear and differentiated angle.
As I said, I receive nearly identical pitches almost every day. There is no way for me to know why I should do this event instead of countless others promising the same thing.
Before you create any marketing, ask yourself how you will use that piece of marketing to differentiate yourself and connect with the specific people you want to serve. It could be a matter of style or attitude (for instance, I could have an entirely Tina Fey-themed event). Or, it could be a matter of your objective, specific niche, or customer base.
But give us something to sink our teeth into!
Tell us something real about you as the creator.
You can absolutely market your business effectively even if you’re just starting out or don’t have much visibility in the marketplace. All you need to do is tell us something real.
Sure, it’s fairly easy to establish credibility if your business has been featured in Fast Company and Inc. But you can also establish credibility through a well-told personal story, meaty client testimonial, or previous background/experience. You don’t need to exaggerate or mislead, just tell show us a piece of who you really are.
Taking these 3 things into account will improve any kind of marketing you do for your business, whether it’s a telesummit, podcast, blog, or webinar.
HOW IS THIS GOOD FOR ME AGAIN?
Yet, there’s more I want to unpack on this issue.
I decided to write this post after I received the above pitch and posted on Facebook that I was ready to start replying to these pitches with my speaking fee instead of a flat “no.” (Many of these pitches come via my speaking contact form which requests that you share your budget for the event.)
The post caught fire and I heard from people on all sides on the “telesummit debate,” though most of my circle shared my frustration and encouraged me to follow-through with requesting a speaking fee.
You see, I have never—to the best of my knowledge—received a paying customer from one of these events. Never once has someone said to me, “I found you through so-and-so’s virtual summit!”
However, 2 of my top client sources have quite a bit in common with telesummits.
My top client source is speaking at conferences. It’s one of the reasons I’m on the road so much (I’m writing this from an airplane–I’ll be on another tomorrow). While I used to speak free of charge, with few exceptions, I no longer do. I charge a significant fee that aligns with the value I provide to the event experience, the promotion that’s expected of me (although that’s usually not much), and the time it will take in my schedule.
I get paid and I get clients. That’s good for business.
Another top client source for me is podcast interviews. I’m generally happy to give anyone an interview as long as time permits. I don’t care much about audience size, angle, or experience. I like the conversations and it’s easy.
I’m also happy to share these interviews with my audience because they don’t have to do anything more than click a button to listen. Though promotion is rarely encouraged.
I have had clients come directly from podcast interviews because they allow me to speak directly to a particular audience and share a different side of my message.
THE ENERGY DIFFERENTIAL
As Elizabeth Potts Weinstein put it on my original Facebook post, the energy differential between these 3 things is incredibly different despite them essentially offering the same thing: access to experts, their stories, and their information.
Conferences require a few days of travel and time off work. But I’m front and center on stage and I’m compensated fairly well. Plus, my company gets clients.
Podcasts require nothing more than about an hour of my time. I get a nice asset to share directly with my audience and all they have to do is click to hear it.
But with a telesummit, the event organizers often want 30 minutes of my time to pitch the event to me on the phone, an hour of my time to record the interview, guaranteed social media promotion, and emails to my community. They often want me to write my own interview questions or prepare a talk.
THE OPPORTUNITY DIFFERENTIAL
The energetic differential is not the only thing that separates these different methods for delivering a similar product. There is also an opportunity differential.
For me, a speaking gig at an in-person conference almost always results in a top-level client (without selling from the stage—which I never do). That means my speaking fee can easily be matched or 10x-ed in terms of return on investment. All I have to do is literally show up, deliver my talk, and meet with people for whom it resonated. Plus, I often get a credibility boost from the conference itself (I’m speaking at Digital Commerce Summit—from the folks behind Copyblogger—this Fall and I know I’m going to see a bump from that).
That’s a lot of opportunity. It’s great marketing.
With podcasts, it’s completely hit or miss. Sometimes a podcaster has a super engaged audience that is just perfect for my work. Other times, they don’t. The opportunity doesn’t always pan out, but I haven’t squandered any opportunity either. I’d say I come out on top most of the time and I’ve never regretted doing a podcast interview. Plus, podcast interviews are where I hone new messaging and work on my talking points. They’ve been a huge boost to my personal skill set.
It’s often good marketing. It’s never bad marketing.
With a telesummit, as I said, I’ve never connected with anyone in such a way that I’ve earned a new client. If it happens with podcasts and not with telesummits, that tells me something about the very nature of those events (as opposed to something going on with me).
WHY REQUIRED EMAIL PROMOTION IS BAD FOR YOUR BUSINESS—EVEN IF IT FEELS GOOD
The reason for this, as I see it, is that the required email promotion creates a cycle of low-quality audience churn. In other words, the very nature of the required email promotion means that once you’re on one telesummit list as a subscriber, you get notified of more and more telesummits. That means those subscribers are being bombarded with 20-30 hours of free or low-cost content, probably on a monthly or bimonthly basis.
People who realize that’s not valuable to them unsubscribe. Those who do don’t have the time or capacity to purchase a program or product. They feel ashamed of themselves for not living up to the hyperbolic promises of event organizers and they wait to actually invest in quality help until they’ve “implemented” what they think they’ve learned.
This is not a good prospect.
Those prospects are getting recycled around the telesummit circuit and sold a bill of goods.
The email lists of organizers (and I’m sure some guests) get inflated with leads that will probably never convert. A smaller, high-quality set of leads will earn more revenue than an inflated email list full of low-quality prospects any day (ask my bookkeepers).
Every time a business owner emails her list about a telesummit, that’s an opportunity where she could have shared a valuable offer to people who already know, like, and trust her. More than that, it’s potentially squandering a hard-won reputation and replacing it with fluff.
THE REAL MAGIC OF INFLUENCE MARKETING
Required email promotion also fails to take into account the real magic of influence marketing. In fact, it highlights the very difference between true marketing and just promotion. Influence marketing is earned. To have an influencer champion you, you need to earn it.
Sometimes that happens without you knowing it because they’re reading and loving your blog or listening intently to your podcast. Other times it happens because you’ve offered them something of great value, probably multiple times. When someone champions you, your message, or your company it comes with deep respect and trust. It doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen because of a clause in a speaking agreement.
Requiring someone to promote your event is hollow. I receive requests for telesummits with required promotion from people I do not know or have never heard of. They might be amazing—but how would I know? One quick information phone call isn’t going to give me the peace of mind that I need to trust them with my list. Even a good interview isn’t enough for me to know that the rest of what they have to offer is high-quality.
As business owners, we all need people to champion us. We need a network of folks who are willing to share our work with people who trust them. But you have to work hard to earn it.
OKAY, SAVE YOUR NASTY EMAILS. I DON’T MEAN EVERYBODY.
Now, I don’t mean to throw every telesummit or virtual event under the bus. I’ve participated in some truly excellent ones where this is absolutely not the case. One such event was Natalie MacNeil’s Conquer Summit. Social Media Examiner puts on an excellent event. One of my clients, Shawn Tuttle, put on a quality event at the end of last year, as did Monique Head.
The businesses generating massive amounts of revenue from virtual events are not following the blueprint that’s being sold to thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs. And the ones that are are the ones selling that blueprint (quite literally).
Businesses that host high-quality events and profit from them create good marketing and follow the points I listed above. They choose speakers specifically for the message they’ll bring and the way they’ll improve the experience of the event. They treat those speakers like valued members of the team—not a commodity to be traded. They consider their participants and how they can make the event as useful and easy to engage as possible.
Creating massive events that generate low-quality leads for the purpose of growing your list by thousands is bad marketing. It’s not good for the event organizer (you could get a higher ROI on something else). It’s not good for the guests (they lose out on energy and opportunity). It’s not good for the participants (they’re sold a vague promise and unpredictable quality).
THE PERSISTENT SEDUCTION OF THE TELESUMMIT MODEL
Now, I would like to finish this screed with a bit of reflection on why I see telesummits (and much bad marketing) as so seductive.
Telesummits are seductive because they promise an easy path to the veneer of success. Look at me with these fancy guests. Look how I can afford to give this all to you for free. Look at my giant email list. No one actually says this (thank goodness) but it’s implied by the very nature of the event whether the organizer realizes it or not.
There is a massive disconnect between what makes many business owners feel good about themselves (famous speakers, loads of subscribers) and what actually makes a business work (paying customers or clients who get results). Telesummits prioritize vanity metrics over true metrics and that never ever pays off.
Yes, knowing internet famous people, being generous with content, and having a big list is all great.
Only if it leads to real results. And by real results, I do mean money in the bank. I also mean lives transformed.
I believe that most people embark on these events because they think that a network, generosity, and tons of emails lead directly to that true business success. They don’t. There are loads of systems that need to be in place (from sales to product development, to customer support, to business model, to project management) to make that happen.
If you really want to avoid bad marketing (and you should, you need to know what metrics actually lead to results for you. If it’s list size, make sure you’re tracking earnings per lead too so that you know if the quality of your leads goes down. If it’s your network, make sure you know the people you count as being part of it would actually answer the phone if you called. If it’s generosity, make sure that people are actually using what you give them and getting results from it.
You can’t be seduced by vanity metrics for too long if you keep your eye on your real metrics. You’ll know your actions (whether it’s speaking at a telesummit, spending tons of time on Facebook to get more likes, or refreshing your page views) are paying off or not.
Finally, telesummits are seductive because they have the specter of community and collaboration. Much of what is attractive to business for so many is building what they do not have: a group of people who care about the same thing as them and working together to bring more of that into the world.
Telesummits are successful with that on some level. However, in most cases, it’s fleeting, shallow, and unproductive. Except when great care is given (and when people throw away the blueprint), the audience isn’t a community, it’s a bunch of email addresses in a CSV file. The speakers aren’t a collaborative network, they’re a disjointed smattering of pseudo-experts who were chosen for promotional purposes.
By all means, find ways to create community and collaboration in your business but make sure it’s deep, real, and truly valuable. Be generous and specific with what you have to offer. Court influencers and earn their respect. Treat your audience as you would want to be treated. Tie all of that to real metrics.
If what you decide to create is a telesummit, that’ll be good marketing.