7 ways event organisers can use social media

The traditional way to promote events is to own a media channel, or acquire a media partner, and use editorial, inserts, ads and email marketing to reach their readers.  But if your target audience don’t neatly fit into an existing publication’s profile, how else can you market your event?  Social media is now sufficently widespread to be a viable additional channel to promote events, and neatly taps into the motivation for attending a live event in the first place, namely networking with people who share the same interest or profession.  I’ve experienced this first hand by using Linked-in and twitter to promote the Specialist Media Show.  Here I share seven ways event organisers can use social media to market their events:

1. Pre-event research

Well before your event, look on twitter for potential experts – as advisors or speakers.  Monitor discussions among your target group on Linked-in or facebook to spot the hot topics; even posing your own questions on groups or forums.  Check out the social profile of competing shows and overseas equivalents.

2. Database building

Start at least 6 months before the event; ideally 12.  Begin with building the personal networks of the event team.  Then create a Linked-in group or facebook page with a benefit for members: ie relevant content.  Encourage participants to sign-up for email newsletters.  This taps into the network effect; people with a professional interest or a specific hobby tend to know others within their niche community, so word of mouth will spread.

3. Community and networking

Invite your current customer database to your presence on Linked-in or Facebook.  Take care to post good content, either original or supplied by reputable third parties.  Follow visitors and exhibitors on twitter.  Make some introductions; do this publicly.  Publicise your attendee list.  And don’t stop once the event’s taken place: this is a 365 days a year commitment, I’m afraid!

4. Visitor promotion

Use your social channels to preview event content: video trailers of exhibitors or speakers, run surveys, start debates on featured topics, encourage people to submit questions for speakers or invite their friends and contacts to attend.

5. Extend beyond the event

Use a twitter hashtag before the event to encourage attendee meetups – and keep absent friends in touch with what’s going on.  Invite real-time bloggers and tweeters to tell those who can’t attend about the event.  And create post-event content for the show site and publicise using social channels: video, blogs, reports, articles, galleries, audio or copies of conference presentations…

6. Commercial opportunities

Once your social communities are established, they provide added value for show sponsors and exhibitors.  Describe features they sponsor, or new research or products they will unveil.  Invite sponsors and exhibitors to join your groups; but coach them on how to behave:  a series of pitches and “visit us on stand b3” will switch people off.

7. Customer service

Linked-in, twitter and facebook are a good place to answer registration queries, practical info such as transport, and describe show features in the run-up to the event.  Be aware that all queries and answers are public; as you are on show it pays to answer queries and especially complaints quickly.  Also use your social channels to encourage people to provide feedback or complete a post-event survey.

Common pitfalls for organisers include  dropping their social channels after the event, or leaving them to junior marketing staff who lack the subject expertise.  Beware also of allowing exhibitors to hijack groups for sales pitches.  If you’ve seen any outstanding examples of social promotion for events, please comment below, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked in, where over 650 specialist media professionals swap ideas and tips.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan runs the Specialist Media Show, a conference, exhibition and workshop programme for niche publishers and event organisers, and a website which is an all year round resource for .  Check out the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in, or follow the show on twitter @specmediashow, or on facebook.

Carolyn also runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising niche specialist media owners on winning digital strategies.  If you’d like advice on your digital media or publishing strategy, please contact us for an initial discussion.