Attempting to stay connected, show planners are often finding themselves at the mercy of new tactics to help drive tradeshow registration numbers and increase awareness. And however daunting a task it may seem, incorporating social media into a tradeshow’s registration process has proven beneficial.
In fact, just a quick Twitter search of the hashtag “#tradeshows” will yield endless tweets from industry professionals who are planning, attending or exhibiting at a tradeshow, which demonstrates the reach and impact social media can have on an expo.
Last year, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) released a white paper establishing the value of social media to the events industry. According to the survey, 32 percent of respondents believe that social media has “limitless” potential in the context of event marketing.
The summary also stated that “social media represents a tremendous opportunity for companies to enhance and promote events. The key is to develop relationships with potential and confirmed attendees and engage them before, during and after the show.”
So before people even reach the show floor, there should be a form of communication in the social realm about the fact that they’re attending a particular tradeshow.
“We use social media as an option for attendees to enhance their own social network, rather than create a network around the tradeshow,” said Ivan Lazarev, president of ITN International, an information management company for event marketers. “For example, when you attend or register, we can auto-post to your Facebook wall that you’ve registered or you’re at the show. It’s up to the show to get people to the registration page, but we get involved at the end. We might even include a question like, ‘Would you like to invite other people to register?’”
Other registration companies use simpler social media tactics like “Tweet this” or “Post to my Facebook” options, so that as an attendee completes their registration, they have the ability to inform their network of upcoming tradeshow plans.
“Organizations are constantly coming up with new ways to integrate their efforts,” said Meghan MacLeod, account executive at EPIC, a full-service tradeshow registration and lead management company. “Organizers are always working to increase their social mediafollowing, and doing so during registration is beneficial because attendees are excited about the event and want to learn more.”
As IAEE’s white paper states, the influence of social media goes way beyond returning attendees. Another benefit of online marketing is the chance to attract first timers who have never been to a particular show floor and don’t quite know what to expect.
“Instead of ‘pushing’ information, it ‘pulls’ a customer into a two-way conversation with clear benefits for both parties,” writes John Buchanan in a recent article in The Meeting Magazines. “Technologies such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have enabled networking on a scale never before imagined. As a result, the very definition of a well-defined, industry-captive audience has changed.”
He then goes on to describe a successful social media marketing campaign by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, who wanted to attract the attention of international attendees. In response, medical organizations around the world have taken to the online initiative and proven that social media is an excellent way to reach a global audience.
“It works as an inexpensive marketing tool to reach the target audience and drive additional traffic,” said Mark Murphy, vice president of Showcare, an integrated event data solutions provider. “Social media works best if tools are provided to continue engaging attendees onsite and beyond. This allows the participants to interact with other and extend the life of the event 365 degrees.”
In fact, interacting with the tradeshow throughout all aspects of the process is slowly becoming the norm. Large tradeshows like International CES, for example, have tens of thousands of followers on both Twitter and Facebook, and the social media aspect of registration takes on a life of its own.
“What makes social networking powerful is that it’s driven by the user,” said Lazarev. “When we do a show, we know that the accounts are only going to be used by 10 percent of the population. But at a show of 5,000 attendees, that 10 percent is still a lot.”
Part of including social media avenues alongside registration is understanding which users will be using which options and how to include them effectively.
“With social media, there is no secret formula, but it is important to start with a clear understanding of goals,” said Murphy. “Learn which tools and services can help you achieve them through continued participation. Each event has a different audience with different needs.”
However, the hardest part of getting involved with social media is just getting started and creating accounts. Many in the tradeshow industry are still apprehensive to extend their marketing efforts online.
“The industry needs to educate themselves on the fact that it’s no different than direct marketing,” said Lazarev. “You don’t really have a choice. If you don’t do it, you’re going to be left out.”