Event Marketing Meets Social Media

Events, conferences, and trade shows are an established means to help employees learn from area experts, build personal networks; meet with customers, suppliers, and distributors; generate new business; and see new products. But with the current economic climate, escalating travel costs, and reduced headcount, businesses are cutting back on conference attendance. Event marketers are having a tough time maintaining attendance levels and augmenting revenues. One way they can overcome these challenges is by adding social media to their marketing mix.

Social media is a natural for achieving event marketers’ major objectives. It can:

  • Build your house file by attracting new prospects, generating leads for later business development, and reactivating former customers.

  • Drive revenues by converting prospects to paying customers, bringing in exhibitors, attracting sponsorships, and creating or cross-selling related products.

When using social media to achieve these goals, consider event marketing’s three phases. Here are some recommendations for each aspect of your event:

  • Before the event. Event marketers need to focus on expanding their universe of prospective attendees while attracting exhibitors, sponsors, and other types of show-related advertisers. Social media can help build interest with video, podcast, and blog interviews, as well as social communities. With these formats, exhibitors and sponsors can share information without being directly sales-driven.

  • During the event. Social media can broaden the conference’s engagement for attendees and those who are unable to attend in-person through the use of community forums and Webcasts. Provide a special area during events for bloggers, videocasters, and podcasters, and allow them to use PR facilities to interview show speakers and attendees. Create a show blog to build excitement around the event and to provide a transcript. Microblogging formats like Twitter allow attendees to comment on the proceedings as they occur. Ask attendees to post to your photo galleries, either on your site or on public forums like Flickr. Provide Wi-Fi and public computers at the show to aid this process.
  • After the event. Social media enables event marketers to remain connected to attendees, extend the impact of exhibitors and advertisers, and market other products including future events. Post Webcasts, videocasts, podcasts, and photos on your site to attract a broader audience for the content and to help build a house file for future events. Also, leverage other types of information, such as forums, to continue to engage attendees.

Five Other Event Marketing Considerations

As an event marketer, you must remember that social media doesn’t exist by itself. Here are five factors that can have a big impact on your performance:

  • Invite a wide range of content creators to participate. Everyone your show comes in contact with has the potential to contribute new material. This includes employees, exhibitors, sponsors, attendees, customers, speakers, and the press. Remember, they may not all share your perspective!

  • Integrate your marketing efforts across channels. Expand your social media reach by promoting social media via your offline collateral and during the event. For example, some event marketers have screens showing online forums during sessions.
  • Exploit social media’s search friendliness. Social media can aid search results and enable you to reach a broader audience. Make sure content is optimized for the words your audience uses when they search.
  • Encourage participation in a variety of formats. Since events often focus on a broad audience, invite contributors to use the media of their choice to connect with your event — blogs, videos, podcasts, social networks, forums, photos, and microblogs.
  • Allow for activity that doesn’t occur on your Web site. Consider that content creators may use public forums, such as YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as their personal or company sites to distribute their content.

Measuring Social Media’s Impact

Social media can broaden your event marketing and help you reach your business objectives. To this end, the following metrics are important to track:

  • People. Specifically, monitor the following:

    • Prospects are potential attendees or leads for later business development. They can be further segmented by source and whether they’ve attended an event in the past.

    • Attendees are people who actually show up at your event. If it’s a paid event, track the number of paying customers.
    • Social media participants are people who create or read event-related social media content. Depending on the type of show, there may other elements to monitor to help you market future events.
    • Reactivated former customers are attendees who have participated in the past but may not have been at the most recent event.

  • Revenues. These are a critical factor in determining your event success. Since a number of elements may drive total sales, monitor trends in all your revenue streams. People interested in your event may not attend but can still add to your revenue. Types of revenue to track:
    • Conference fees. These are the sales from ticket sales and related events, such as special dinners. Also consider fees from online events, such as a live stream or Webcast.

    • Show-related advertising and sponsorships. Many conferences make money from sponsors and exhibitors. Develop revenues from added benefits delivered to sponsors through advertising and sponsorships related to social media, such as online podcasts and videos.
    • Related products. These can include other products that your company produces, such as magazines or session DVDs.

  • Costs. Marketing expenses encompass the offline and online promotional costs.

Also track social media’s buzz impact on your event. This includes a range of factors, such as the number of people who contribute content, the number of visitors who view or listen to this content, and its impact on search results.

Social media can extend your event’s impact. Think about how you can use it to further your specific business goals. Social media can do a lot to increase your audience and your awareness. It’s all about building and tapping into a community.

What’s your favorite marketing tool or service? Which one made your campaign a success? We want to know! Nominate your choice in the 2008 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards. Nominations are open until August 14. Nominate now!

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