On this episode of Map Talk, host Allison Williams sits down with Product Marketing Manager, Emily  James, to discuss this year’s annual M4 Users Conference, what to expect, and how we’re adapting to the new virtual landscape of 2020!

You can listen or read a copy of the transcript below!

Allison Williams: Thank you for joining me on today’s episode of Map Talk! Can you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your role here at Mapcom and your involvement with Users Conference?

Emily James:  Hey! Thanks for having me! My name is Emily James and I’m the Product Marketing Manager at Mapcom. So, in addition to your typical marketing campaigns and content and all that good stuff, one of the really fun parts of my job is getting to lead the planning and facilitation of our annual Users Conference.

AW: We’ve both been involved with UC for a few years now. What would you say is your favorite memory from previous Users Conferences that you’ve been a part of?

EJ: Oh, wow, there’s so, so many to choose from. UC is always just such a fun time because it feels kind of like a family reunion. People told me that before my first UC and I was a little skeptical, but it really is true. There’s just such a sense of camaraderie and connection. We’ll be sitting at check-in and watching attendees see each other, or someone that they work with at Mapcom, from across the lobby and just burst into these huge grins. It’s really infectious. So it’s not a specific memory, but watching friendships unfold is something that I look forward to every year!

AW: This will be our 19th annual Users Conference and it’s going to look a little bit different than the eighteen that have come before it. So, can you talk a little bit about what is going to be different about this year’s event and how it’s going to look for those will be attending?

EJ: Well 2020 has been an interesting year, especially for events. So I’m sure it’s no surprise to you or anyone listening that we’re going to go completely virtual for this UC. So, that’ll happen October 5– 8, our normal time slot for Users Conference, but just totally online instead of in-person here in Richmond.

Because this year has been so challenging, we’ve decided that our basic package is going to be free for all M4 users. If you’ve never been able to come to UC before because of budget or scheduling or some other factor, this is really your moment to jump in and get to watch some sessions and see what UC is like.

AW: One of the biggest value-adds for those who attend conference is that they get access to hands-on training while they’re [at conference]. Is training something that attendees will still be able to take advantage of this year and will that look a little bit different in the virtual format?

EJ: We know training is always popular and something that users want, especially our new users who are just getting their feet wet with M4. UC is absolutely the best time to participate in training. For starters, we have special rates that you can’t get any other time of year and this year we are also including a 10% discount for anyone who signs up for a training class by August 31st. So, unprecedented levels of savings this year for training.

Another really unique aspect of training at UC is that you’re learning alongside people from other companies. So, in addition to getting to learn about M4 from your instructor, you also get the benefit of learning from your peers too. This year that will look a little different in our virtual setting because we have an online experience. The classes are going to look a little more spaced out on the schedule. There’s some classes that are actually going to run the week after UC, so into that second week of October. We felt spacing them out like that was important so that we could limit any of the technical glitches that like to rear their head when you’re doing important things online, and also make sure that our attendees are still getting the hands-on experience and instructor attention that they expect to get from one of our in-person training classes.

Another thing to note is that our training classes do have limited seats and they tend to sell out. If you’re interested in a more popular course like Foundation or Fiber and you’re listening right now and have not signed up yet, hit pause and go register, because those classes most likely will sell out!

AW: I know we touched on this a little bit earlier when we were talking about your favorite moments of Users Conference, but individuals who attend conference rave about the opportunity to network with their peers in the industry as Mapcom’s staff themselves. So, as we adapt to our virtual platform, how will we continue to encourage social interactions from the computer screen?

EJ: You’re so right, networking is definitely one of the most valuable parts of Users Conference – of any event, really. So we knew we would only do a virtual event if we were able to include that kind of interaction. It won’t be exactly the same as it would be meeting face-to-face, but there’s going to be lots of ways for us to virtually connect with each other. The event platform [that] will be using has public chats, private messages, video calls, lots of ways to make sure that you still feel like you’re a part of a community and that you’re attending an event with your friends and peers. We’re really looking forward to still getting to interact with our clients because I think that is one of the things that not just I look forward to every year, but really everyone here at Mapcom loves getting everybody all in one room to just network with each other.

AW: I know another big piece of Users Conferences in the past has been the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with Mapcom employees during what we used to call one-on-ones and that we are updating those for the virtual platform as well. Do you want to speak to what that will look like for this year’s event?

EJ: Yeah, being in a virtual setting that’s going to look a little different as well. We are going to be launching a modified version of one-on-one meetings virtually. You’ll be able to schedule meetings with key Mapcom staff, a little shorter than one-on-ones have been in the past just to make sure that were being mindful of everyone’s time. We know a lot of our attendees are going to be squeezing Users Conference in with their normal day-to-day life and responsibilities at work, so we didn’t want to take up your whole day. Sometime in September we’ll be launching the registration for those. You’ll sign up for a slot ahead of time with the people at Mapcom that you want to talk to, and then you’ll be able to connect with them on a video call. You’ll still get to see their face, you’ll still get to have that nice personal moment, just through the computer screen since we all can’t be together this year.

AW: We are definitely not the first virtual event and we will probably not be the last for many folks, so can you talk about how our virtual experience will function and will look for those who are attending?

EJ: Of course! The good news is that virtual event technology is really booming right now. We’ve got the benefit of five or six months of new capabilities coming to life, so were in a much better place than virtual events that you may have attended in March or April of this year.

For anyone who’s been to UC in the last three or four years and used our mobile app, then the online experience is going to feel really familiar to you. It’s based on the same framework, the same platform, so you’ll be able to access all of the UC sessions all of the networking features whether you’re using a browser on your computer or the app on your smartphone or tablet. Once we get closer to UC and you’ve signed up, we will send you a link with some instructions on how to access the platform from any device. If you haven’t used our app before, you’ll need to create a quick profile. Its free, it’s easy, and shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes. Then you’ll be able to plan your own agenda, set reminders for those sessions you want to make sure that you don’t miss, and you’ll be able to drop by our virtual expo. You can chat with other attendees, download resources, [and] all of the stuff that you would expect to be able to do at UC.  

Like I mentioned earlier a lot of you will be attending UC while still trying to keep up with your normal day-to-day work, so we’re also going to be running most of our sessions multiple times so that you have some options in case you have meetings or important deadlines you need to hit. We’re also going to have all of the sessions available on-demand through the end of October – so like I said, if you’ve got meetings or deadlines or the time zone difference doesn’t line up for you, you won’t have to miss out on anything!

AW: As we close this up and wrap up [our conversation], is there any other details or fun facts you want to share about Users Conference for this year with those who are listening?

EJ: Yes! One thing that we do at UC every year is announce the winners of our Mapcom Excellence awards and this year is no different. Just like last year, there’s four categories, and you can read more about each category on the UC website, which is m4usersconference.com. Nominations are going to be due by September 4, 2020, so if your company or someone you know has been doing amazing things with M4 and getting great results out of using the software, go ahead and head on over to that website and fill out the nomination form so that we can consider you for one of the awards.

Just again, we want to remind everyone this is a great year to sign up your whole team [because] the Basic Registration is free – which gives you access to the breakout sessions, general sessions, networking [and] all of that on-demand content as well. Definitely don’t forget to sign up for your training classes early so you can get that 10% Early Bird discount by August 31st. Other than that, I just really hope we will see everybody online October 5th through the 8th!

What’s Next?

  • To get more information for this year’s event and to register for FREE, visit m4usersconference.com.
  • Nominate your company or a friend in the industry for one of our Mapcom Excellence awards here.
  • For any other questions or suggestions for episode topics, reach out to us at marketing@mapcom.com.