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The future of social media at tradeshows

ecn 20th badge_flatHate it or love it, social media has become a mainstay in the tradeshow industry – and it seems poised to grow even more in the future.

It’s hard to imagine tradeshows without social media, but there was a time when the industry relied on the slow spread of word-of-mouth. It’s doubtful anyone wants to go back to those days after becoming accustomed to the instantaneous impact of Facebook and Twitter.

Exhibitors use social media to market themselves before, during and after a show. Marketers follow a similar path when promoting tradeshows. Attendees enjoy the interaction social media brings.

For each of the main groups associated with tradeshows, certain types of social media are more useful than others. The type of environment – meetings, tradeshows, conventions, festivals, etc. — also plays a major role in determining which type of social media will be used. Currently, Facebook and Twitter represent the go-to social media at tradeshows.

“Twitter is No. 1 because it’s a conversational platform that makes it easy to connect with people in real-time. People can search Twitter for the show hashtag and easily join conversations people are already having,” said Casey Ayars, director of marketing, Victory Marketing Agency. “Facebook is a great platform for posting updates, sharing photos and running ads before the show, but it’s not the best platform for engaging with attendees at the show.”

ECN 20th_The future of social media at tradeshows - The Conversation PrismWhile it may not be the best for engagement, Facebook does have its uses on the show floor. It is often included as part of booth traffic builder contests in which attendees use the platform to share photos while at the exhibit.

Twitter and Facebook have matured and become so wide-ranging that some people see them as traditional forms of social media, and with the old, comes the new.

Increasingly growing every day are newer forms of social media, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Tumblr, etc. Many of these platforms are rarely or never used in association with tradeshows. Will they ever get their time to shine on the show floor?

According to Ayars, only a few event attendees are using these newer platforms.

“It really depends on the demographic of the attendees. Vine, Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr, statistically, have a much younger user base than Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest,” he added. “You’re more likely to see Vine or Snapchat being used at an event like SXSW [South by Southwest] or Comic-Con because the crowd is generally younger and more tech-savvy. I expect to see Instagram and LinkedIn being used more in the future.”

There are also limitations exhibitors and marketers must overcome before they could potentially use newer social media for marketing.

“Most companies exhibiting don’t have a solid fan base on Vine, Snapchat and Tumblr. Second, most companies don’t understand how to market on those social networks yet. A lot of tradeshow marketers are just now getting a solid understanding of Twitter and Facebook marketing,” explained Ayars.

But let’s not forget – Although it just had its 10th birthday, Facebook started as a platform primarily used by young college students. The newer forms of social media could follow the path of Facebook, especially since the company seems driven to buy as many of its competitors as possible.

While these new platforms can’t beat Facebook’s 1 billion users and Twitter’s 240 million active users, they have grown quickly in a short time. Released in 2011, Snapchat already has 26 million users and, in 2013, turned down a $3 billion deal to be acquired by Facebook. Its main rival, Instagram, launched in 2010 and now has 100 million users. Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion.

With the potential to grow as large and as quickly as Facebook and Twitter, newer social media, in the future, could become widely used at tradeshows that have a major social media component.

Now, many may be thinking – every show these days has a social media component!

“Think about it – when was the last time you attended a tradeshow that didn’t use a hashtag for curating social media posts for attendees?” added Ayars.

True enough, but shows like Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), International CES, InfoComm and South by Southwest have a heavier social media component than others.

“Get 100,000-plus tech-savvy people together at the same time and you can guarantee lots of social media chatter,” stated Ayars.

These same tech-savvy attendees could help drive the usage of newer social media at tradeshows. Once exhibitors and marketers discover how to optimize these platforms, they could have more avenues to raise brand recognition, sales and reputation.

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