Building Reciprocity to Maximize the Value of Developer Conferences

September 10, 2018

Jessica Everett

Jessica Everett is an associate partner at global consultancy Prophet, based in the firm’s Atlanta office. She counsels clients on developing and successfully activating brand and growth strategies and can be reached at

This post was co-written by Jessica Everett and Jorge Aguilar, a partner at Prophet Consulting. 

Staying up-to-date with the latest technology is vital, and as a result, developer conferences abound.  Microsoft Ignite, Apple WWDC, Facebook F8, and Google I/O have become a standard way for developers to learn about emerging trends, hone their skills, expand their knowledge, network with other professionals, and learn about the newest products coming down the pipeline.

While each of these events is slightly different, they all share common ground in the form of the huge investments behind them: months of planning, dozens of speakers, countless flights and hotels, a tsunami of logistics, not to mention hundreds of people detouring from their work for 2 or 3 days.  With such large investments being made, the C-suite is increasingly questioning the value of these conferences — and with good reason.

Traditionally, success at these events has been measured through a handful of metrics that include registrations, attendance, engagement, satisfaction, total cost per attendee, number of qualified sales leads, and in some cases, revenue.  But we believe that there is a broader, more strategic perspective to consider in order to maximize the value of these investments.  It comes down to one simple, but powerful concept: reciprocity: a two-way exchange that creates significantly more value for both participants and hosts, and extends well beyond the 2-3 days of the event.

Outside of technology, companies like Chick-fil-A have embraced the concept of reciprocity to maximize the value of their event investments.  Each year they bring the entire organization together in an event called NEXT, to recognize each other’s accomplishments, honor their heritage and purpose, strengthen their already powerful community and network, gain new hope for what the future holds, and learn from one another. Restaurant operators leave the event with renewed energy and hope, as well as a set of tools to take their business and personal life to the next level. Chick-fil-A, as an organization and brand, benefits by fueling the long-time support, passion and commitment that each operator brings to their restaurants.

So how can other organizations use reciprocity to maximize the value of their investments in events? Here’s our perspective: 

A Strong Cause Creates a Powerful Connection

People rally around an important cause.  When an event inspires its participants around a shared set of goals or challenges to overcome, it not only creates alignment, but also sparks hope for a better future, and instills a powerful and lasting connection between attendees, the organization, and its efforts.

Example: Burning Man creates a powerful connection among participants through 10 guiding principles. These principles, which include “radical inclusion” and “communal effort” are published before, during, and after the event. They build cohesion and provide structure among its participants to remind them of why they are a part of this community.

Consider this: How much of the message and experience of your event focuses on painting a compelling picture of where the organization is headed? Is your event talking at participants or inviting them in on the journey, and helping them understand their individual and collective role in achieving your vision?

A Sense of Feeling Cared For Leads to More Commitment

When people recognize the investment that is being made in their growth and wellbeing, their loyalty to the organization grows exponentially.

Example: Salesforce's Dreamforce publishes “Pro-Tips” for conference goers covering topics relating to how to prepare for the conference, get the most out of the conference, and take conference tips back to their daily lives. Pro-Tip topics include what to do while you’re waiting in line at the conference, how to stay healthy at the conference, presenting skills, and agenda management.

Consider this: What aspects of the program or experience provide solutions for the unique developmental or personal wellbeing needs of key segments of participants? How explicit are these investments so that participants realize and reap the benefits? Are there moments to surprise and delight participants to show how much your organization truly cares?

A Close Community Drives More Collaboration

When people realize they are “in business for themselves, but not by themselves”, the level of collaboration to learn from one another and pursue new opportunities grows. A truly valuable event capitalizes on the key ingredient for building relationships and collaboration – the exchange between people.

Example: The C2 conference in Montreal curates small group collaboration sessions called “Braindates”. The conference app allows conference attendees to suggest topics for these collaboration sessions or to join a “Braindate” of a topic suggested by another attendee. The app also arranges mutually convenient meetup times in a designated location.

Consider this: What opportunities is your event creating to match expertise to challenge and spark robust collaboration? How can your event effectively support this community and collaboration well beyond the 3 days?

A Celebration of Success Sparks Competitive Drive

People work harder if they know their efforts are appreciated.  Recognition in front of peers not only motivates those being celebrated, but also creates a competitive drive those who may not get recognized that year.  It’s this competitive spirit that leads to breakthrough results.

Example: The Game Developers Conference (GDC) includes two award ceremonies recognizing top-performing developers and games. The Game Developers Choice Awards is a peer-based video games awards show, and the Independent Games Festival celebrates the most innovative players in indie game development.

Consider this: Are you celebrating the individual and collective successes of your community enough? How creatively are you recognizing the contributions and performance of your participants?

A Challenge to Act Equips Agents of Change

One of the most important measures of success for an event is how much of a change in behaviors it creates and sustains over time.  Inspiration and information alone are not enough to drive change in behaviors. Changes in behavior require tools to help make change happen, and accountability to ensure it happens.

Example: At Google’s I/O, they have four unique forums which allow developers to explore Google products, practice applying the technology, receive one-on-one support, and socialize and build relationships. These four distinct platforms ensure that developers leave the conference with all the tools, resources, and relationships they need to incorporate more Google products into their work.

Consider this: How much of your event is inspiration and information, versus tools and ongoing support for participants to apply new perspectives in their work and lives?  Are you striking the right balance given participant needs and your own business objectives?

As you plan your next developer conference or event, consider a broader perspective in defining success.  Are you creating a reciprocal experience that drives a greater return for your investment?

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Partner Voices

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