So you’re planning a conference. Of the myriad things you have to worry about, successfully integrating social media strategies for conferences shouldn’t be one of them. Executing one isn’t difficult; it just requires a little extra planning and the right tools. Many conference organizers forget this important piece of running a successful event, or, more often, they leave social until the last minute, inventing a hashtag and vaguely hoping people use it. This is a pity, because approached correctly social media can become your best tool for promoting your conference, engaging attendees in conversation, and running a high-visibility event.
The question conference organizers should be asking is: What does a well-executed social media strategy for conferences look like?
At Tint, we’ve seen how conferences with a strong social media strategy use social hubs to generate conversation, engage conference attendees, make trade booths more exciting, and run flawless Q & A sessions. Here are the five ways your conference can (and should) take advantage of social hub technology:
1. Engage Attendees with #Hashtag Walls
You may have already thought about a dedicated hashtag for your conference. But how will you encourage conference attendees to use it? And what purpose does it serve?
A dedicated conference hashtag can serve several purposes, but most often it provides a way for conference attendees to engage in virtual conversation with other attendees, whether that’s about the speakers that excited them, the ideas they want to discuss, or the delicious lunch they just had. And where will that conversation take place? Not on Twitter.
TechCrunch Disrupt uses a social media hub to pull in their dedicated hashtag #TCDisrupt. Conference attendees can see posts from other attendees on the enormous jumbotrons overhead. Every time someone tweets, posts to Facebook, or shares an image on instagram and uses #TCDisrupt, their post can be displayed for everyone to see:
This offers a concrete place where social conversations take place. It takes the digital conversation and places it firmly in the physical conference. Conference attendees are more likely respond to the tweets they see on jumbotrons, and they’re more likely to tweet independently with the dedicated hashtag, when they see what using that hashtag can do. After all, doesn’t everyone want to see his or her thoughts on the big screen?
One TEDx event aggregated #TEDxFiDiWomen. Screens at their event scrolled through live social posts, including images shared by conference attendees and tweets.
2. Allow Q&A audience members to ask questions via Twitter
The traditional Q&A model involves brave audience members lining up to ask questions via microphone. Variations on the theme involve ushers passing the mic throughout the audience. This presents a couple problems – it discourages shy audience members from asking questions, and there is no way to moderate the questions. Those who are brave enough to belly up to the mic can be more interested in promoting themselves than asking a thoughtful and serious question.
Some organizers try to work around this by pre-approving those who ask questions, or having audience members write questions on notecards in advance. Don’t do this! Instead, use a social media aggregator and a specialized hashtag to collect questions from audience members via Twitter in real time. A moderator can select the most engaging and appropriate questions, and display them one-at-a-time. This makes asking a question less daunting for audience members, allows organizers to select the best questions, and has the added bonus of helping speakers stay on track, answering the question displayed.
Here you can see how Business Summit 2014 used Tint’s Q&A theme to sort through questions submitted by audience members:
3. Thanks Sponsors with recurring in-line advertising and valuable banner space
Once you turn your social hub display into a central place for engaging in conversation, it creates valuable “advertising space” you can use to recognize sponsors. Forget those old-fashioned canvas banners full of sponsor logos. With a social media hub, you have new and more valuable real estate to thank your sponsors with. There are two easy ways to give your sponsors recognition using social hubs, and they both take advantage of the enormous screens you will no doubt employ:
Recognize Sponsors in your Banner
Above the waterfall of social posts, many event organizers take the opportunity to advertise their #hashtag with a digital banner. Whose logo is included in this banner? Top tier sponsors can enjoy a high level of recognition on this most valuable real estate.
Offer in-line advertising
Consumers are increasingly wary of advertisements. But with a social hub, “ads” can be disguised as social posts, mixed in with the stream of user-generated content. Here at Tint, we’ve seen users take advantage of our “Add a Post” feature by selling a post as in-line advertising space that recurs every 30 posts (for example).
4. Make trade show booths more engaging
Pulling in hashtagged pictures or comments and displaying them in real time has become an indispensable tool for engaging booth visitors in person and on social media. As a conference organizer, you could offer Tint as one of the perks that come with a booth signup, or you could resell it to your tradeshow booths at a special, reduced price.
Companies with booths will be appreciative of gaining access to this great engagement tool, and your conference will be able to boast innovative and interesting booths.
5. Don’t forget the before and after
It can be easy to forget about social media strategy before and after your event, but executing a strong social media campaign requires that you ramp up before your event and follow up afterwards.
Emails and dedicated online “forums” are some of the methods that conference organizers use to generate conversation or excitement prior to the event. But there’s an easier way. Embedding Tint on the conference website, and encouraging conference attendees to tweet before hand is a doubly effective tactic: you can create chatter on social media and get attendees engaged on your website.
Paul Mitchell used Tint to generate excitement surrounding their conference, both in person, and online, using the hashtag #PMGathering.
#PMGathering used an online social hub to engage attendees before and after:
During the event, live social walls pulling #PMGathering encouraged enthusiastic texts and group selfies:
Incentivizing hashtag use is a great way to make sure this is successful. In the weeks leading up to the event, you could offer a behind-the-scenes chat with one of your speakers, front row seats, or “VIP access” as a sweepstakes prize for those who use the hashtag.
Remember, social media is your friend as you plan your conference. Take a minute to think about your goals, and how social media can help you achieve them. Framed this way, you’ll be headed in the right direction to have an engaging and impactful event, both online and off.