Effective Social Media for Exhibitor Marketing
About The Author:Kaitlin Pike is a veteran event marketer and content producer. She's worked with a range of clients from Fortune 50 companies to bootstrapped startups on their large and small-scale events as well as print and digital media. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @kcpike.
Pitching yourself to possible leads at large expo events isn’t what it used to be. It’s gone digital. It’s more social. And it’s also much more effective.
Yes, the gimmicky schwag, large signs, and dazzling attention-getters still work to a certain extent and are in full-force. But we’re firmly in the social media age. Much of the expo model we’re used to is being amplified through the use of Twitter, Facebook, exclusive online content and – above all else – simply listening to the online conversations about events and your brand. Effective exhibitor marketers integrate the old with the new.
To be frank, if you haven’t employed social in your event strategy, you’re leaving money on the table. As many a wise marketer has noted, not having a social media presence today is like not having a website 12 years ago. Your customers expect it of you, and your competitors are certainly already there.
Getting Started: Where to be Online for an Event and Why
Running an effective social media strategy before, during, and after an event means you don’t have to rely on traditional media to write a story or create a TV show about what you’re doing. With social, you’re in the driver’s seat, and you can help steer the conversation about your brand.
That online social presence can also drive significantly more traffic to your booth: One exhibitor at an event I worked on managed a 750% increase in lead gen when they includeda social media strategy compared to previous shows. See the case study below for details.
But with dozens of new social sites popping up every day, where should you be?
Joshua Ross of Fleishman Hillard recently told me that several top brands have abandoned literally dozens of failed social sites since social media came into vogue. On a recent project, he found that a client had close to 150 Facebook pages, over 65 YouTube channels, and 100 Twitter feeds. You should avoid this mess at all costs.
Instead of wasting time creating half-used accounts across the web, focus on a select few that work for you. I always recommend a hearty Twitter account as it’s the best way to quickly communicate with customers while on site at an event, but you also should consider a Facebook Fan Page (only if you’re going to keep up with it, however), a Flickr account for all those event pics, possibly a YouTube account if you have event videos and testimonials, and the old favorite, a blog. Linkedin is another great way to connect. Of course, Pinterest is increasingly (exponentially) popular with savvy digital marketers, and there are limitless ways to creatively interact with customers through the site. And don’t forget foursquare; many exhibitors set up their booths as places where attendees can check-in. At CES a few years back, Kodak offered a special prize to whichever attendee became Mayor of their booth.
More important than selecting a few sites versus many is creating a central hub for your potential customers. Make it easy for them to find your video content or pictures in just one click. A blog or Facebook Fan Page is one such way of curating your content. Additionally, you can check out sites that help you curate social stories such as Storify.com, one of my colleague’s favorites.
The secret here isn’t to be everywhere – which is impossible and a stressful waste of time. The smart strategy is to be where your customers are and finding ways of bringing them back to your hub.
Generate Buzz Pre-Event and Collect Leads Long After
Look at the expo as just one point in a stretched timeline of event marketing. Think of it this way: Many brands already engage in direct mail encouraging contacts to see them at an upcoming tradeshow. Using that same behavior online can be even more powerful.
Take Cloud Connect Santa Clara, a show I worked on this past spring. In the weeks leading up to the event dozens of exhibitors used the event hashtag - #ccevent – to keep track of what attendees were saying and looking forward to. These brands were able to directly communicate with possible leads they knew were coming to the show and encourage them to stop by their booth. They also told people how to find them during the show whether it was in the expo hall or at the after dark parties.
Exhibitors can also use Twitter and other social sites to give out teasers of what they’ll have at an event. If you’re making a big announcement at an upcoming conference, you can Tweet about it using the event’s hashtag. This message is in turn seen by anyone following the hashtag, specifically the interested attendees.
Remember: This one-on-one communication pre-event was nearly impossible just a few years ago, or would have cost a sponsor a significant amount of money to access the attendee list. Talking directly to customers via social media allows you to build great relationships even before you meet a contact in person. Take advantage of this pre-game strategy; your competitors likely are already.
#Sweettweets and How to Win Social Exhibitor Marketing
At a Web 2.0 Expo event a couple years back, IBM brought a genius marketing idea into life.
At the front of their booth, they had a decked out bar of candy options. By simply promising to tweet out about IBM’s booth using the #sweettweetshashtag and Web 2.0 Expo official hashtag (#w2e), attendees could get a bag of their choosing. From this delicious idea they got 1,500 qualified leads when they were only expecting 200.
How did they do this? It wasn’t just the candy, I assure you. They took a common expo schwag item (candy) and melded it with social media. I should also note the intelligence of what happened post-candy bag: Once attracted to the booth by candy, the lead was asked if they’d like to see a live demo in exchange for getting a USB stick full of free white papers and downloads. This two-step process brought in fringe leads (those who might be too shy to stop by the booth) and then weeded down this larger pool to customers who got involved with the product.
But the real magic here was how they got leads to market IBM to other attendees. The #w2e hashtag was bombarded with happy tweets about IBM and #sweettweets. This smart social strategy caused a rush to IBM’s booth.
Central to this example, however, IBM’s three-pronged social strategy: They promoted their booth and the #sweettweets candy bar before the expo event opened using the #w2e hashtag. (They also, wisely, asked colleagues to tweet about it, retweet it, and help generate some buzz.) They paid attention to what was happening during the event in the Twitter backchannel by tweeting at attendees who used #w2e. And they followed up with the digital contacts post event.
As I said before – your social media event strategy should be a stretched timeline where the actually event is only one dot. Pumping up buzz before the event and staying engaged in the weeks after is crucial. Customers expect your social media communications to be more involved over time, not just one hit wonders.
One final thought on this stretched out strategy: You can use these social media channels to reach out to people who didn’t even attend the event. Anyone who follows customers who post about you can immediately see what’s going on. You can easily reach out to these people just as you would an actually attendee. Once again, check the hashtag and monitor conversations online to see who’s talking about you, and be sure to engage them.