Prognosticators at the beginning of this century predicted that the communications revolution and increasing use of digital media would slowly diminish participation in face-to-face events such as trade shows and conferences. The difficult world economy was to have hastened this decline.
In fact, the opposite seems to be true. We noted, for example, that the annual CES conference in Las Vegas set an attendance record last month. Many CMOs recognize that in-person events are an important marketing channel; and as a result, they have increased such investments as the economy improves. One could argue, quite convincingly, that social networking and digital content actually motivates people to congregate and enhance online relationships. Savvy decision-makers with scarce resources may be more likely to allocate money and time for participation in such events.
All of us understand there is no substitute to looking someone in the eye, shaking hands, reading body language and observing other behavioral clues. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to say that making such connections is an important part of drip marketing and building sustained relationships with prospects. Events requiring a physical presence are of course more expensive than creating content and sending emails, but the benefits can be huge.
We offer some practical suggestions on how to use social media to enhance the effectiveness of in-person events:
- Use social channels to share registration offers, event highlights and teasers about agendas, speakers, topics, etc. LinkedIn is a great tool for this.
- Identify prospective attendees based on the social content (e.g., biographical or demographic information). Send them personal invitations to join the event.
- Seek out registrants who are particularly active in social forums. Invite them to be part of the event’s “social team” so that they can spread the word to others before and during the event.
- Tweet frequently using the official event hashtag. Publish and communicate the hashtag everywhere; then designate a person (or a team of people) on your staff to share highlights, retweet others and generally keep the Twitter conversation hopping.
- Create and claim your booth for the event on Foursquare. Allow participants to “check in” each day. Provide a rotating set of special offers.
- Record each event (or, for greater impact, stream it live) and share the content via links on your blog and social channels. Or, post the videos on YouTube.
- Build a future prospect list by identifying people who participated online, tweeted, retweeted, joined the Twitter handle, or joined the event’s Facebook or LinkedIn pages.
- Use QR codes liberally in booths, programs and other materials. The codes can link to polished materials or encourage attendees to use gamification tools.
- Provide an SMS number to event participants to confirm attendance at post-event parties.