Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake

I’m just back from sunny Orlando, where I was speaking on the topic of social selling at the International Builders Show. While the acronym (IBS) is unfortunate, the event was anything but! I had the pleasure of meeting members of the marvelous NAHB staff, connecting with some really interesting attendees, and getting to know some of the other speakers.

IBS 2017Walking around the convention center, people were buzzing with conversations around smart home, security and design technologies. Online, there were hundreds of conversations happening on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (and a handful on Snapchat) but regrettably in fragmented streams across four different hashtags. This was an unfortunate missed opportunity for NAHB because the size of their attendance meant a large volume of online chatter, which should have been a layup for them to trend on Twitter. The IBS show staff designated the official hashtag #IBSOrlando, and had it posted here and there, so why wasn’t it able to anchor the digital discussion on social?
Palm HarborSecuring a headquarters for all live event social media chatter to happen sounds like such a simple component of a conference’s marketing strategy, right? Not necessarily. In my experience running social communications for dozens of trade shows, only about 1 in 5 events get their official hashtag right in terms of designation and promotion.

Even though social media and live events intersect impeccably, in many legacy industries, social is still regarded as an afterthought in the planning process. Instead of leading with social and mobile first-critical digital initiatives EXPECTED by the modern attendee-many times they are the last to be considered with whatever budget is left after “everything else”. This still boggles my mind as the first thing you see in these exhibit halls, keynotes, and parties are people with their phones out uploading how cool your event is! All these earned media beacons advocating the awesomeness of your show-and no home for them to unify their shared experiences. Emoticon sad face.


Sohow can trade shows, conferences and events do a better job ensuring the cornerstone of a smart social media strategy- the official hashtag- is in place?



Here’s two ways:

1) Designate the most intuitive, “attendee’s choice” tag. IBS is apparently the acronym for another event, although one that was not happening simultaneously. The thinking was that the marketing team would try to get everyone to use #IBSOrlando so they would have distinction from other conversations archived from the other IBS event later. The problem was that the majority of conference attendees are so accustomed to using the acronym plus the date at most events, so the majority of social conversations used #IBS2017 or #IBS17. Some people just used #IBS. Many people did also use the official hashtag, #IBSOrlando. Despite this, sadly, with four hashtags in use-the whole point of an official hashtag has been defeated with four segmented conversation streams on Twitter and Instagram.

When planning your hashtag strategy, aim to select a simple-stupid, easy to spell, easy to remember, ultra-intuitive, short hashtag. Ideally, select one that people are already using organically on their own. It’s critical to not re-create the wheel here. Social media is all about creativity – but not when it comes to event hashtag designation. Brand hashtags can be super fun. Event hashtags-not so much. Even if it’s super tongue-in-cheek clever, like a double entendre, event attendees will still more than likely default to “event initials plus date.” Not entertaining, but practical. Forcing everyone to use #IBSOrlando-although not visceral to an attendee- might have been a stronger conversation anchor if it would have been promoted like crazy. It was listed at the bottom footer of the website, and here and there, but not in the Twitter bio description, and on the badges, and on the signage (at least not that I saw) and in the presentation theaters, and on speaker slides, and at the parties, and and and …. which leads me to tip #2.

NAHB IBS Show Homepage2) Promote your hashtag prominently (slash psychotically). This is the event planning stage where my clients roll their eyes behind my back and get SUPER annoyed, because I become the crazy hashtag promotion nutcase. Is it on the badges? Is it in the bios of all social profiles? Is it at the top of the website in huge writing? Is it part of the logo? Is it at the top of all email communication? Is there a massive hashtag structure or sign of some kind that people can take photos in front of? Is it projected onto the walls of the presentation rooms? Is it there a huge monitor with each speakers name, company, social handle and the hashtag present the whole time people are presenting to encourage ease of live tweeting, streaming and sharing? Is it on poll result slides? Is it on chatchkeys, bags and giveaways? Is it on event apparel like hats and shirts? Is it on show dailies? Is it on signage at the airport, hotels, cabs, restaurants, receptions?


In your bathroom?


Did you know that 40% of Americans admit to using social media while on the toilet?





Can we say back-of-the-toilet-stall-door hashtag sign? Hashtag sign on the outside of the bathroom door? Maybe an encouraging hashtag sign next to the sinks? This sounds like overkill- but it’s the most effective way to ensure everyone’s online conversations thrive in one centralized location. Without psychotic promotion, attendees will not know what the hashtag is, and WILL make up their own. Event planners will say that no one used the hashtag, so no one is using social media, so social media “doesn’t work.” The reality is most events don’t do a strong enough job educating attendees as to where the designated social dialogue will live. It’s the digital equivalent of not assigning a room number for a panel! And not putting that room number on signage, emails, apps, printouts, websites, etc. etc.

Think about when you attend a conference. You are meeting with people, focused on your game plan, looking at your phone, you aren’t reading every single sign. In order to ensure attendees see your official hashtag at least 3 times, it’s imperative there are at least 10+ opportunities for them to do so.

Obviously it’s not just where your event conversation is happening, but how you are igniting the conversation that also matters. I still see the majority of event social media contact being salesy, surfacey and shallow. Followers crave substance! Most event social posts are showing that something is happening from the high level, but they aren’t conveying specific topics, opinions, theories, trends and quotes. They aren’t rich enough to inspire anything more than a low-commitment “Like” (maybe) from your event followers. But more on improving that in a future post- let’s just nail the #basics first.

How do you ensure your official hashtag is highly visible and properly utilized?

-Erin Gargan, Founder, Socialite Agency– The only social media firm specializing in trade shows, conferences and events. @eringargan

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