KahenaCon conference 370.
(photo credit: Niv Elis)
It seems only right that Kahena, a small, Israeli digital- marketing company,
would harness the power of the Internet to promote its second annual KahenaCon
But not even the company expected that a stealth advertising
campaign through Facebook would increase its attendance from the previous year
“It was mind-blowing,” said Ari Nahmani, the CEO of Kahena
(pronounced kah- HEE-nah). The first conference produced good word of mouth, he
said, based on intimate sessions that provided useful technical advice for the
industry crowd. When it came time for round two, Kahena marketed it as an
“intimate, collegiate” event, expecting only moderately higher
“I thought we were going to have 125 people, but we were sold
out a week before the event,” Nahmani said, adding that he had to start running
new ads with a “sold out” banner and eventually pulled all the
An early adopter, Nahmani had worked with Facebook ads since
college and figured that social promotion would be perfect for the tight-knit
community he wanted at the conference.
The advantage of Facebook as an
advertising platform is that it can target highly specific audiences and add a
social element, reaching out to people whose Facebook friends also interact with
When a Facebook user indicated that she was attending
KahenaCon, an ad would show up in her friends’ news feeds. As more people
clicked over time, the ads would reappear saying “4 of your friends” or “7 of
your friends” were planning on going, giving users the repeated impression that
KahenaCon was the hot ticket in town.
The “secret sauce,” Nahmani said,
was that the communities he wanted to attract already existed. Israel is already
pretty small and interwoven, but the English-speaking and the digital- marketing
communities are even more intertwined.
“I think when you have a
hyper-local market and a natural community, whether they physically meet or just
naturally exists, it can be extremely potent,” Nahmani said.
survey of the crowd at the conference reaffirmed his observations.
on Facebook that one of my friends was coming,” said attendee Golan Caspi, who
heads the digital-marketing company K/Logic. His colleague, who was next in the
chain, said, “I saw on my feed that [Caspi] was going there, and then I looked
and saw that a friend of mine was speaking, so that made me want to
When asked how he first heard about the conference, Dan Perach, a
manager at PPCPROZ, said, “It must’ve been Facebook.”
response, which ended up attracting nearly 250 people, required the organizers
to rethink the venue and add special times for networking and breakout sessions
to maintain the “intimate, collegiate” vibes that made the first year’s
conference so successful.
“That ‘fear of missing out’ factor is so
strong, that I knew we would get the right people if we advertised socially,”
Nahmani said. Reinforcing the social ads with Google ads targeted at people who
had already visited the Web page made the conference appear ubiquitous. Only
people who would care about issues like “search engine optimization” and
expected changes in Google’s algorithm were subjected to the ads.
sudden rise of KahenaCon mirrors the growth of SMX Israel, a competing
conference for Internet marketers that has grown from just over 100 to about 600
participants over the past five years. But it had advantages Kahena lacked. Tied
to a well-known international brand, SMX (Search Market Expo) gained steam
through posts by its founder Barry Schwartz, whose Search Engine Roundtable blog
already had a devoted following. Without the use of specific online ads, the
conference gained traction through the years as its participants posted about it
on social media “the old-fashioned” way, Schwartz said.
“Other people are
going because their friends are going; they don’t want to miss out on it,” he
said, adding that SMX Israel goes to great lengths to try and make the event
personable despite its size.
With a flourishing IT crowd in Israel, it
seems there is enough demand for both conferences.
As one returning
KahenaCon participant said, the gathering filled a niche.
social advertising proved that the community existed, she said, it still
hungered for forums in which it could get together, interact and exchange