By Mikkel Plæhn

October 29th, 2015

It was 7.00 am. I was tired, thirsty and slightly anxious as I queued to board my flight.

After having waited for some time, the flight attendant spoke with a distressed voice on the PA system: “We’re sorry, but the flight will be delayed by 3 hours.” You could sense the tension as the crowd became anxious, realizing they were in for a long day.

I noticed that the passengers in business attire suddenly took the same action: They hurried away while making calls, desperately tried to find a new flight or move their important meetings. I, instead, strolled to a coffee shop, sat down, and opened my laptop.

After working for a little while, I eventually allowed myself a little procrastination on Twitter. I decided to take a look at the hashtag of the event and noticed how much exposure we were getting. It made me calm knowing that since we already completed the critical tasks, showing up was merely a formality at this point.

Where social ties into events
I always found it peculiar how months of work would culminate in the duration of 1-2 days. There’s an enormous pressure on reaping the fruits of all that hard labor. In the last weeks leading up to an event, I often reflect on what actions we could have taken to drive our KPIs even further.

Before social media became a common event practice, companies would pay extra to increase their footprint by sponsoring lanyards, banners, tote bags, and more. Social now commands more attention than any printed piece of swag, and it deserves more of your event budget. As an effective way to establish a relationship with your audience before, during, and after the event, social delivers even more value for your marketing efforts.

Companies usage of social media before, during and after events. Traditional tactics can work pre-event while social works throughout.

  • 79%

    use social pre-event

  • 91%

    use social during an event

  • 52%

    use social post-event

As an event manager, I am by nature very focused on the planning process. When planning, I usually consider events in three stages: Before, during, and after. If you want to implement social media marketing to drive further value within your events, using the same framework is very beneficial. This method of thinking enables better resource allocation as you create a clear picture of what needs to happen when.

Pre-event: Connect, listen & schedule

To succeed with your social media marketing campaign, you need to invest the majority of your time and resources before the event starts. Depending on the nature of the event, there’s a lot to gain by engaging with your audience before the doors open. I recommend considering these three tactics:

  1. Connect with speakers
  2. Listen to the chatter
  3. Schedule your content

Connect with speakers
The speaker list represents a unique opportunity to connect with influencers before the event. Look for quality conversations, and even better – actions taken. Can you get them to request a meeting with you, sign up for your newsletter, or download a handbook? If yes, you’re able to prove clear value from your efforts. In addition, the relationship you create can lead to them sharing your content during the conference.

To ensure quality in your outreach, match your content to the subjects covered during their presentations. I recommend mapping the speakers, their Twitter handles, and their themes against your contextually relevant content. In doing so, you’re able to have a structured and documented approach for your 1:1 outreach.

Listen to the chatter
In the weeks leading up to the conference, the event hashtag (or hashtags) begins to buzz with interesting conversations. Listening tools can surface these conversations and enable your social team to jump into them. Sparking meaningful conversation with the audience before the event will put you at the top of their mind.

social media marketing for events

Remember, at events there’s a lot happening – there’s multiple sessions to attend, professionals to network with, and a lot of booths to visit. If people have an emotional connection with you before the event, engaging in a conversation with you directly at the event will seem less intimidating.

Bonus tip: Consider how other brands use real-time marketing during major events such as the Super Bowl. Their efforts can be a great source of inspiration if you’re planning to piggyback on an event where you don’t already have a large footprint.

Schedule your content
We usually run several angles to make our event presence known. One easy approach is to highlight the staff you’ll have there – to further build a human connection. Imagine you are queuing for a cup of coffee and you recognize someone you’ve seen or spoken with on Twitter standing in line with you. Chances are good you’ll say hello. The same dynamic comes into place here.

Letting people know where you are and what your staff looks like makes a difference

Letting people know where you are and what your staff looks like makes a difference

In addition to being present, our team members often give presentations, and we love to bring our “Wheel of Fortune” and hand out prizes. All these experiential elements are worth communicating as it makes us more attractive during the event. They also allow us to schedule different messages across all three phases. To that end, creating an editorial calendar is a highly effective way to understand what is planned and ensure all key elements are covered.

An editorial calendar for social media enables efficient planning of content during the conference.

An editorial calendar for social media enables efficient planning of content during the conference.

These tactics can establish a strong position before the event, but you also need to consider how to make a big impact during the event.

During the event: Live engagement & coverage

There are two highly effective things you can do during the event to empower your social team to execute a successful social media event marketing campaign.

  1. Live coverage
  2. 1:1 Engagement

Live coverage
Covering a live event is one of the best ways to build your audience and grow your influence as a thought leader. Ride the hashtag and share the insights from speakers, while occasionally weighing in with your own thoughts and opinions, and you’ll demonstrate that you’ve got your finger on the pulse of your industry.

Being relevant and insightful will increase awareness about your presence.

Being relevant and insightful will increase awareness about your presence.

In most cases, you won’t be able to send social media managers to all events, and, therefore, you’ll need to feed the social team with insights. Regardless of who you have on-site to carry this task, there needs to be a clear process. The person will most likely be disrupted by slow wi-fi, bad connectivity, and lots of networking. If there’s no clear agreement or process for feeding information back to the social team, chances are nothing will happen.

In my experience, you need to agree on:

  • Which sessions to attend
  • What to look for in those sessions
  • Format of information delivered
  • Direction, quantity, and quality of pictures, if needed
  • How all of the above is delivered

Our process includes a shared Dropbox folder where multiple images become available as they are taken. Having a shared folder makes it easy for both parties to manage the process. Our internal process is even more streamlined, as our social media management platform is integrated with Dropbox.

Another important tool is live streaming. I’ve learned that most presentations move fast – if you’re losing focus at the cost of writing a tweet, you’ll miss out on some great content. Fortunately, tools such as Periscope and Meerkat enable you to set up a private live streaming session where the social staff can join in and extract quotes, allowing you to get the most out of each session. Live streaming requires a little planning beforehand to ensure that the person streaming has enough data available on their mobile subscription, or a solid wifi connection, and knows how to operate the app.

1:1 engagement with the audience
Besides publishing content from live presentations, we’ve also seen good results when engaging with the audience at the conference. The audience can be considered in three segments:

  • Sponsors/exhibitors
  • Speakers
  • Attendees

For sponsors, there’s great opportunity to forge a relationship as you’re in the same boat during the conference. However, it requires quality in the outreach to have an impact.

Be different and creative in your outreach to make an impact

Be different and creative in your outreach to make an impact

The attention of both speakers and attendees can be grabbed by joining the online conversation around presentations. To facilitate quality engagement, we map our content in the context of the programming. In practical terms, this means finding the intersection between the presentations at the event and your blog posts or handbooks. When it comes down to 1:1 engagement, the social team is able to engage quickly with relevant content and add value to the conversation.

Bonus tip #1: Facilitate speed
A key enabler of speed is pre-constructing as much as possible. Before the event, we decide which sessions to attend, and then create a template for each speaker with room for a quote.

Consider which creative elements can be constructed beforehand

Consider which creative elements can be constructed beforehand

Bonus tip #2: Don’t forget your friends
While you are tapping into new audiences, don’t forget about your existing ones. You already have an emotional connection with them, and you should take the opportunity to reinforce it. What better way than meeting with them in person, bringing the digital relationship into the physical realm?

Post event: Reinforcing connections

After the event, most sponsors and exhibitors miss the same opportunity: following up. While this is often done over the phone or via email, social represents a third channel which is often neglected. One of the most effective ways to follow up is with relevant content using wrap-up blog posts.

Wrapping up with content
The insights you gained at the event can be turned into a valuable blog post, providing another avenue to reinforce the emotional connection you’ve developed with all the people you engaged with.

In essence, you’re curating the best content from the conference and delivering it in an easily consumable form. Picking the right sessions to cover in a blog post is often based on a gut feeling, but if you’ve used a listening tool during the conference, you’ll able to identify the most interesting and popular sessions.

The blog post creates a compounding effect as any presenters mentioned will be more prone to share your content. In turn, their sharing adds validity to your content and increase your reach into their audience as well.

Proving the value of social
The most engaging content we’ve put out originated from event efforts. We’ve effectively tapped into a large audience using relevant content, and that adds clear value. To ensure that we learn and establish an understanding of the importance of social, we consider social in the context of reporting. We add transparency to stakeholders and ensure that the team delivering the campaign understands the impact their work has.

While most marketers tend to focus on vanity metrics such as reach and new followers, we try to take it a step deeper. We want to understand how many contacts we acquired and how much traffic we drove to the booth. This requires a clear process that ensures that it’s possible to measure the source of conversion. As a result, we use our URL builder to create shortlinks with tracking parameters to identify exactly that.

As social media has become an integral part of live engagement during events, it’s essential to include it in your planning and execution. It’s important that you consider this in the context of three phases – pre, during, and after the event. While there are no silver bullets, all the tips shared here should give you a starting point to test what works for you.

Your turn: Have you tried implementing a social campaign in your event mix? If so, what were the key takeaways? Are you facing any challenges implementing social engagement within events? Share your thoughts.

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