Whether it’s Twitter’s new Project Lightening, Instagram’s Search & Explore, orSnapchat’s Our/My Story feature, lately every big network is scrambling for position as the leading link between live event experiences and social media shares.  As an event marketer, it’s critical you consider how your attendee audience engages on social, how cultivating FOMO can drive registrations, and how a shareable show story can drive viral impact for the overall perception of your event. And of course, how you can demonstrate the impact of investing in social from an ROI standpoint. Oftentimes, social media is added to the end of a long list of additional marketing responsibilities like managing email, direct mail, advertising, search and microsites. No wonder social is often perfunctorily “executed” as an afterthought. (Social media didn’t “work”? But you posted randomly, demanded favors of your limited network, and tapped the marketing expertise of an intern with no content strategy! Hmmmm…)

For many of today’s typical B2B attendees, being “social media savvy” probably consists of checking Facebook for personal updates and LinkedIn for professional knowledge. Now consider for a moment the future of your show growth, which lies in the hands of the attendee of tomorrow: your Snake Person Attendee. Now I’m as sick of hearing the “M” word as the next person- and I am one! Regardless, this content-consuming, due diligence-googling, thought leadership-seeking, advertising-immune, email-ignoring, social-sharing “M” word is checking their smartphone an average of 43 times per day. What are they absorbing about your event? And from whom?

Here’s a few questions to examine as you attack how to best leverage social media to increase registrations, enhance the attendee experience, and elongate the life span of your event:

1. What Does My Attendee Care About? 

Typically, event marketers are pushy. Now before you get offended, let me clarify. You are often “pushers” of messaging that maps back to your association’s agenda. Pushing calls to action for registration, pushing deadlines, pushing urgency for booth selection, pushing speaker announcements, pushing book this/buy this/do this/ SHOUTY AGGRESSIVE awful messaging. Those emails you are frantically sending? They’re being deleted or ignored. Those caps lock REGISTER NOW or Visit us/Stop By Booth #XYZ posts? I’m scrolling right on by. These are not things your attendee directly cares about, these are things that YOU care about. Your attendee cares about the issues that will be discussed on panels, the industry updates and education they can expect to gain, and the types of entertainment events they can attend to network. Basically, the WIIFM. (What’s in it for Me)

Your attendee cares about which hotels have the softest beds or best water pressure, which restaurants have the best burger/pizza/steak in the entire city, and how they can get around your event with the least amount of headache, lines and cost. Your attendee wants to know what the real value difference is between different pass levels, or maybe what you are looking for in a great speaker application. They want to know details about those 3-5 major event moments like keynotes, press conferences or game-changing product unveiling demos. They want to know who else will be there and what they can expect to learn from them. Once you align your content communication strategy to address what your attendees (not you) care about, the registrations and social shares will organically flood in without you having to annoy people about it via every marketing channel you can think of blasting.

2. What Is Our Event Story? 

Describing how you would like the press to talk about your event, what you would like your attendees to say about your event, and what your sponsors say to their bosses who ask why they are exhibiting at your show is an important exercise to undertake. The picture you and your show management team paint will direct the tone, tagline, hashtag, marketing materials, look and feel of your event. Events that neglect brand discovery and don’t commit to a storyline are the ones that do the same thing they did last year to get the same result they’ve always gotten. They don’t disrupt and grow, they just exist and hope not to evaporate into antiquity. Defining the story directs the content, and the content dictates the results. Dive in and paint the event story you want attendees to tell to their networks. Empower your attendees with highly shareable experiences that tell your event story clearly and openly. Is it a mantra, a call to action, a takeaway? What is the anchor story of the experience you are creating for your industry?

3. How Can We Leverage the Influencers? 

Devising a plan for utilizing your event’s influencers is imperative to your social strategy. From your speakers, to your sponsors, to even the press in attendance- discern who has pull and can impact perception of your event. You can create the most dynamic content in the world, but if it’s not getting into the feed of your target audience, it’s a tree falling in some very quiet woods. Post a teaser video previewing a speaker’s presentation, have an influencer crowdsource ideas for panel and session topics, interview sponsors to hint at what product they plan to unveil, work with press members to get them coverage- all of these promote your event naturally in a way that feels genuine. Often with B2B social media, your exhibitor or sponsor’s marketing teams will craft excellent content in the way of infographics, whitepapers, interviews, demo videos, etc.- but they don’t have the targeted following to serve it to. The sales reps of those exhibitors or sponsors (who have 500+ Linked In followers comprised of primarily the perfect target audience) don’t have the time, inclination or permission (usually) to develop great content at events. This is mainly because the reps are busy selling, demo-ing, networking, speaking, etc. If you can help connect the sponsor’s story with their business development team’s network- you’ve just created incredible value from your event (and possibly another revenue stream-hello new sponsorship). Equip sales reps with their companies official event story posts and make it very painless for them to share it to the right audience with the right links, hashtags, message and images. Your event is now not only delivering qualified traffic not to their booth, but also traffic to their brand.

 4. Where Are Conversations Going to Happen? 

Research which platforms are going to be most utilized by your audience, and focus on owning just two or three of them wholeheartedly. It’s important to still establish a presence on other secondary platforms for search reasons, just make it clear to those communities where they should go to follow real-time updates, breaking industry news, critical attendee information and show FAQ’s. For example, if Facebook is not a priority, update your profile with instructions for those few potential users to hop over to Instagram for all event-related information. For B2B audiences, a combination of a video platform like YouTube or Vimeo, a pre-show paid platform like Facebook or Linked In and a on-site news platform like Instagram or Twitter is usually a strong community solution. Depending on your attendees’ social adoption levels, live streaming sessions via Periscope or Meerkat, curating My Story posts on Snapchat or leveraging the retail power of Pinterest may also make good business sense.

5. What Does Social Success Look Like for Us? 

There are hundreds of social softwares that will generate all of kinds of reports on predictive posting data, sentiment analysis, influencer identification, keyword recommendations and more. You need to cut through the data dump and identify what matters to your event. Once you’ve surfaced those benchmarks, shelve everything else until next year, put on your distraction blinders and pursue those established goals relentlessly. Surface a few major quantitative and qualitative data points against which to measure social success. Your quantitative metrics might include an increase in clicks on content (including registration links), an increase in clicks to event attendee/sponsor/speaker/exhibitor webpages, and an increase in social following, shares and content engagement. Your qualitative metric might include surfacing key event insights from attendee comments, using socially sourced feedback to drive your event agenda and session topics, or increased positive press coverage.

6. How Can We Logistically Execute Our Social Strategy? 

This is the tricky part. To garner results from social, there are no shortcuts. It’s not like in the old days of advertising where you would set and forget a media buy. It’s more akin to the reality that if you want to lose weight, you have to eat salad and workout every day. There are no shortcuts. This is why it’s called EARNED (not free) media. Social media results are directly correlated to how much time, effort and budget you put into them. This is why social media is often a thorn in the side of most brands or events, because they can’t fathom investing that much energy into communicating with their customers 24/7. This is why they try to find shortcuts like scheduling canned responses, buying followers, or allowing entry level employees to represent their brands on the global stage. Inevitably, these shortcuts fail- and they blame it on social media just “not working for them.” On the other hand, to justify spending what it takes to execute a proper social strategy, you have to be able to anticipate or at least articulate a projected ROI before getting budget approved. Which is extremely difficult because you have no idea what that will look like until you plunge in and begin executing- which you haven’t done before! It’s like predicting exactly what will happen at a cocktail party, sales presentation or evenly matched football game- it’s virtually impossible.  At this stage, most associations will just throw social media management to a marketing team member who is also expected to manage SEO, SEM, email, direct mail, advertising buys, the website, and more.

The difference between social and those other marketing channels is that to leverage it in a way to will yield the viral sharing, the friends telling friends, the event advocacy, the audience engagement, and all of the other powerful results of social done right- is that it’s a 24/7 job. Other channels you can plan, deploy, and measure- but social is a whole other animal. Your in-house marketing manager will need to staff up on social media resources, even if just for the 90 days around your event, in order to be able to publish live tweeted sessions, show floor interviews, sponsor demos, speaker interviews, evening networking feedback, travel tips, and all of the other content creation social journalists crank out at a live event that actually garners sharing and engagement.

How have you approached developing your event’s social strategy? Do you disagree/agree with me?

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