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How to Really Build Loyalty

There are a lot of big conferences for bloggers and online business owners...but I'm not at those. I'm at the Successful Online Business Conference -- better known as SOBCon -- in Chicago right now.

SOBCon is an exclusive event limited to 150 participants, quite a few of who are heavy-hitters in the blogging world. Among them are a trio of guys named Chris -- Trust Agents author and Entrepreneur contributor Chris Brogan; online marketing and business maven Chris Garrett and world traveler Chris Guillebeau of the hit blog The Art of Nonconformity

For me, it's a chance to learn from some of the best and make some personal connections in a more intimate setting than a BlogWorld-type event typically offers. It also costs $900 to register, and that price tag means SOBCon attracts people who're dead-serious about building their business. The theme for this year's event: Leadership and Loyalty.

 SOBCon kicked off last night with an evening of drinks, noshes and networking hosted by the Social Media Club Chicago at the old-school, glamorous Drake Hotel where I managed to check off meeting two of the three Chrises -- Brogan and Garrett, both of whom are friendly and approachable. This isn't the kind of convention where they're hiding the big guns behind a curtain until they make their presentation...which makes it my kind of event. It was also a chance to meet some of my social-media friends in the flesh for the first time, including Entrepreneur Equation author Carol Roth, conversion expert Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, and the Franchise King, Joel Libava.

SOBCon co-founders and social-media thought leaders Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker introduced the group to some of the speakers who'll be presenting in the next couple of days, including Brogan, Roth and Today We Are Rich author Tim Sanders.

A couple of tidbits that stuck with me from this first session:

Leaders get into that position in part by getting to know their audience, Brogan said. "I'm not here to talk at you," he told the crowd. "I'm here to listen to you and get ideas." See if you can guess how loyal the SOBConners were feeling after that introduction.

Carol Roth waved a loyalty card at the audience, and warned that "buy nine get the tenth one free" cards build customer loyalty -- to your loyalty program, not your brand. She'll be talking on Saturday about how to wed customers to your brand instead with better loyalty-building programs.

The bulk of the conference sessions take place Friday and Saturday, so I'll be back Monday with another post about the big takeaways from the rest of the conference. You can check out what's happening as it happens at the Twitter hashtag #SOBCON.

What business conferences will you attend this year? Let us know where you're going, why you chose that event, and what you hope to learn there.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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