The business benefits of running a corporate event has been understood for a long time. But events are changing. Various technologies are disrupting how we attend, interact with and even experience events in incredible and unprecedented ways. Amongst the numerous technological revolutions that are changing the face of the events industry, social media must surely rank as one the most seismic shifts.
In this article I want to explore how event managers can leverage the power and reach of social media to promote their events, as well as enhancing the event experience itself. I’ve broken this down into pre, during and post event.
But first a bit about social media’s relationship with the events industry.
Social Media: Threat or Tool?
One of the draws of attending a live event is the chance to network with people in your industry and discover what others are talking about. Of course, the same goes for social media, only on a much larger scale and without the physical or geographical confines of a physical space. Many people in the event industry have therefore made the mistake of regarding social media networks as an alternative, even a direct competitor, to the live event.
Of course to see social media as a threat to event marketing, is to underestimate the universal appeal of real face to face human interaction and real world experiences. In fact despite the inexorable rise of social media, the UK events industry has gone from strength to strength despite economic woes (it’s currently worth £42.3bn and accounts for 35% of the UK visitor economy). This dispels the notion that social media has created an alternative platform to the live event. On the contrary, it may have breathed new life into it.
Social Media Tips – Pre Event
Although primarily designed for Twitter, hashtags have become a universal means of bringing people together around a single subject or theme across platforms. For event marketers it’s essential you create a memorable hashtag for your event and then put it on all your marketing materials to encourage usage. Hashtags need to be memorable and although it might seem obvious, it’s also important to check that your hashtag isn’t already being used by anyone else before you adopt it and plaster it over all your marketing material.
Most social media platforms have paid advertising options, whether it’s promoted posts or pay per click banner ads. Investment in this area can give your event huge exposure and there is often the option to target very specific demographics and industry groups. Tools like Facebook’s Custom Audience lists allow you to target specific segments of your existing customers and then target ads specifically to those groups and other similar people.
In many ways it helps to think of social media networking not as an alternative to the networking that goes on at live events but as an ongoing conversation that will both inform and be informed by live events. By networking effectively on social and maintaining a strong presence, you have the potential to attract attendees who may not be on your traditional marketing database or email list. If you haven’t done so already, you should start by encouraging all your existing customers and partners to connect with you on social media and to repost materials about your event. You can encourage social followers by including social media page buttons on your emails, website and blog.
Your social following is your greatest asset when it comes to social media marketing. It’s easy to think in terms of growing a large following but quality really does trump quantity when all is said and done. If you can bag a couple of influential followers then your ability to attract new followers will increase overnight because so will your potential reach. Remember though; it’s one thing to bag an influential follower, it’s another to have them share posts about your event to their legions of highly engaged followers (and potential attendees). Try a more considered and direct approach by reaching out to influencers and offering them something in return like a free ticket (if they’re worth it).
Get Influential Stakeholders to Promote your Event
If you have expert speakers talking at your event then at the very least you should be encouraging them to talk about their upcoming talk at your event to their own followers. Ideally though you should try to get them involved in your social media strategy by asking them to share your content, take part in live webinars you are organising and even do some guest blogging on your site. This is all about reciprocity. Your speaker is able to promote themselves or their company to your followers, whilst bigging up your event to theirs. The same goes for sponsors and any other influential attendees at your event.
Social Media Tips – Onsite
Event hashtags can also be utilised during your event to allow people to tweet their experiences as and when they happen on Twitter. Some event organisers even choose to put up a live Twitter feed via a digital display, creating a real talking point (just be wary that without constant monitoring this is unedited commentary that everyone at your event can see).
Videos and Images
Videos and images tend to gain considerably more attention on social feeds, so make sure you are keeping it visual by posting plenty of photos and videos during the event. Video testimonials from happy attendees will also help you to promote future events and behind the scenes footage and images will help you create a sense of build up pre-event amongst ticket holders.
Live Video Streaming
Live video streaming has the potential to really grow in popularity across the event sector. There are a few apps that integrate live video streams into social media but by far the biggest player in town now is Periscope. Logan Gunasingham, Creative Director at REZtron, is unequivocal in her enthusiasm for the app’s potential to transform people’s ability to experience events whilst not being present. “Periscoping, Periscoping…and more Periscoping!! This is the only one trend I’m predicting that will take over in a huge way for live events,” she told EventBrite at the start of 2016.
I have already talked about the power of real human interactions over virtual ones. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with combining the two if the technology allows it. Having virtual speakers at your events talking to an audience live, not only allows you to widen your net when it comes to sourcing international speakers but it will also cut down on the costs of flying or coaching that speaker to your event and then hosting them for the night. You can even run Q&A’s via a video link.
QR Codes and Competitions
QR codes allow your attendees to interact with the real world environment around them while attending the event. This allows you to bring the online and offline together by creating interactive environments that encourage attendees towards certain booths. You could also run competitions and giveaways that encourage attendees to create so-called scavenger hunts by seeking out QR codes or posting photos of themselves at your event on social media, further raising your event’s online profile.
Social Media Tips – Post Event
One of the great advantages of using digital marketing platforms is their ability to produce tons of useful data and help you ascertain campaign success or failure. Make sure you set your understand the relative impact on your KPIs of reach (impressions), engagement (clicks) and purchases / form submissions (conversions). By constantly relating these analytics back to your objectives you can tweak or even abandon your strategy accordingly.
With any luck after your event you will have accumulated a lot of media in the form of images, videos, Tweets, Facebook posts and comments, as well as other content. By curating this content on your website, you can give people a broad overview of your event. Try not to be too haphazard in this. Content curation is as much about consistency of message and theme as it is about variety of content. So you could try using an app like Storify to collect and publish all your Tweets and present them in a timeline on your website. Similarly you could curate all the best videos from the day and put them up in a blog post. Once you start exploring the options, the potential to create new content from old is endless.
Reposting Old Content
Social media marketing is all about creating a buzz by giving people content that they want to share with their peers, colleagues and friends. But social media also represents a timeline of all that has come before and in that sense it’s the perfect platform for looking back at what has come before. Posing old videos and images can reignite excitement amongst attendees about a previous event, which can be one of the best ways of kick-starting the buzz about your next event.