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Five Ways to Stimulate Tradeshow Chatter with Social Media

November 3, 2011

Remember what conferences were like before social media?

If you’re like me, you arrived on the scene to register, glanced over the 20-page session grid, and started off on the [what seemed like] two-mile trek to your first session –alone.

With the instant connections that the use of social media provides today, there’s no excuse for making that lonely trek without willing companions.  That is, unless you haven’t converted to a social tradeshow experience.

Tradeshows are, by nature, designed for social interaction.  However, the awkwardness of attending alone mixed with the cold convention center air, heavy food, and unflattering lighting, not to mention the informational overload of packed session schedules, inhibits our ability to maximize the networking opportunities.  Plus, with limited opportunities in the day to actively engage with other attendees, you’re more likely to bond over a crabcake than a keynote.

Social media as a whole has its proponents and its detractors, but for tradeshow planners and marketers, there is no superior medium for introducing attendees, cultivating speakers, igniting conversation, and keeping post-show interest high.  The following tips will help you enact a smart strategy to keep your attendees talking.

1. Start the conversation early

Don’t worry if you didn’t start a year in advance, but develop a plan as early as possible.  Use networks like LinkedIn to create groups, and cultivate your followers to join the group and post discussions.  Cultivate early registrants or past speakers as moderators (that is, if you trust ‘em) to help with the staffing.  The purpose is to gain a reasonable number of followers that will not only listen to you, but to each other.  Help them create connections before the show that will enable them to meet up at the event – because many times, they will judge your show by both the content and the people they met.

2. Publicize hashtags

Decide on hashtags early!  A conference hashtag is an excellent tool for non-attendees to monitor what’s happening (and get them excited to attend in the future).  More importantly, though, is providing session-specific hashtags.  Providing a hashtag for attendees to use during a session allows your attendees to monitor other sessions they may not be able to attend (without getting up mid-session to switch) and quickly search and organize the “stream of consciousness” which participants’ tweets will create.  What comes out is a compilation of

3. Organize resources

Make it easy for attendees to find both social media resources and participants by including links and identities on all of your material.  On your Web site, make sure links are available to your primary social media accounts, groups, and pages – and consider linking to staff accounts as well (along with their roles).  That way, if an attendee has a question, they don’t have to go marching around the show to find someone with an answer.  They can quickly find your account, or follow staff before the event, so that they’ve got your handle handy.

4. Be responsive

Engage staff so that they feel empowered and authorized to respond to participant questions.  Promote their accounts to make your show (or company, or association) feel human.  This really adds to the conversational nature of your show AND it provides a way for communication to occur.  Monitor hashtags, replies, and messages – and respond quickly.  By empowering multiple staff to respond, you’ll also benefit from quicker response time and cultivate the idea that your talent pool is deep.  Your attendees will feel connected, and respect you for being responsive to their questions – even if you don’t always have the answer.

5. Follow up

One of the greatest reasons to heavily utilize social media is for everything that happens after the show.  Now that you’ve acquired followers, friends, and connections – engage them further.  No need for constant spamming here – but you can continue to drive home the value of the show experience by highlighting important points that happened, or reposting updates that were particularly relevant.  Of course, you now have many more ears to hear what you post, so you need to be more careful than usual about your ratio of educational content vs. marketing material – so if you’ve thought about hosting virtual shows or webinars between physical shows, now’s the time to give that a try!

Effective use of social media can take your show from good to amazing quickly – and the raves that follow may be just the jump your advertising needed for a sell-out show next year.

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