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Social Media and the Live Event

June 27, 2017

In movie plots where disaster looms, you can rest assured that the hero will manage to somehow save the day. If our research is any indication, live events - including seminars, lunch-and-learns and road shows - might be in need of such a hero, as their budget dollars continue to shrink and their efficacy is called into greater question.

Putting people in seats has always been difficult given schedules and the perceived loss of productivity; recent travel restrictions and budget cuts have exacerbated the issue even further. Enter social media, which is increasingly being paired with these events to drive interest, attendance and post-event buzz. In this issue, we discuss why social media can provide such a shot in the arm for live events, as well as offer specific ways to align the two with one another.

Why and How

While initially emerging as a “commenting back channel” during live events, best practice organizations have found that social media can do much more if properly harnessed. The natural attraction isn’t surprising, as social media is far more cost-effective than engaging a telemarketing firm to drive event attendance; more personal than email; and certainly more viral than strict outbound marketing as current and potential attendees provide broader distribution of event-related messages to their networks.

Used properly, we see social media playing a worthwhile role throughout every stage of the live event process. Specifics include:

  • Before the event. A series of blog posts, podcasts and videos can be created to outline the key topics of interest that will be addressed at an event; offering a feedback mechanism can help further shape an agenda. By using LinkedIn’s event feature as well as Twitter and Facebook to spread event information, the universe of potential attendees and sponsors can be expanded; blog postings and tweets will help boost search rankings as long as relevant keywords are highlighted. Organizations that create mini-communities in their customer forums before an event help facilitate the sharing of information on show details and operations, allow attendees to discover who will be attending the show and even to schedule meetings with one another as well as sponsors. Encourage attendees to blog and tweet during the event with a series of messages prior to; share tags beforehand to ensure that they are used during the event (this also helps search efforts). Finally, use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to announce event speakers and guest presenters; post and tag photos of the venue and speakers to leverage other social media sites like YouTube and Flickr. Even if these efforts generate few hits, they will positively impact search-related efforts.
  • During the event. Monitor the social channel throughout an event to gauge attendee sentiment and to neutralize any issues raised while they can still be addressed. Twitter, Facebook and a discussion forum are all useful social mechanisms to get people engaged with each other during the event; they also help broaden awareness and offer content to those unable to attend. Some organizations project a Twitter feed at an event, although this can be risky as it will be impossible to filter the feed. Provide a designated area for attendees and invited influencers to blog, tweet, podcast, and shoot video, particularly if the main tent is not suitable for encouraging such participation due to technical constraints (e.g. no wireless access). The greater the type and number of influencers, the more your content will be exposed; consider inviting traditional analysts, journalists, new media influencers, customers, employees and partners to participate. Make sure any tags are publicized throughout the event (in presentations as well as announcements) as it will help people find posts on the same topics and broaden the reach of the event. Publicize the forum as an online meeting place for attendees to visit as a centralized information and content portal. Post any interviews or events that you or your attendees create on the forum, as well as on YouTube and photo galleries such as Flickr. As for countering sentiment that such social media participation takes away attention from the event itself, the point is that the amount of awareness and Web site traffic that can be driven by attendees pushing this content can be considerable - thus actually broadening the impact of the event and its ultimate value.
  • After the event. Once the event is over, the amount of social media chatter related to it will be a good indicator of the event’s true impact; does it die down in a few hours, a few days or a few weeks? The tags created become an easy way to track this influence. Social media also helps attendees keep connected and sponsors gathering information after the event, particularly if you’ve created a forum for them; if possible, get speakers to participate as well. The forum also can become the repository for archived event content as well. Post videos and podcasts created during the event, along with interviews and photos to drive interest for future events. Encourage participants to blog summaries of the event and vendors to tweet about their show experiences and any deals they may have closed. Use proprietary blogs and Twitter to promote links to this content and use it to seed discussions on the forum to encourage ongoing community interaction and demonstrate the benefit of event networking.

How do you determine if social media has benefited your events? Use custom links to track all who attended and add this participation to your customer and prospect records. We recommend a series of metrics as a starting point, including clickthroughs to event details, responses/registrations, conversion rates and ongoing responses for archived materials.

Regardless of the successes driven with social media as part of an events strategy, it should not be used at the expense of other essential tactics. For example, since there will still be several potential attendees not using social media, the best channel for promotion to and engagement with them will be traditional one-on-ones. To mix social and traditional approaches properly, have event planners profile an event’s typical attendees and how they prefer to receive information and interact with other attendees before, during and after an event.

The Sirius Decision

While events may continue to be in the budget crosshairs, one only needs to conduct a blog or Twitter search to see that the best events continue to be attended, and the reach of the content extensive. As the popularity of social media rapidly increases, you can be assured that attendees will be using it to communicate either their satisfaction with an event, or their disappointment. Rather than resisting this force, why not embrace it - and even harness it - during event planning, execution and followup?