You Are Invited: Maximize conferences and events to boost social media success

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Last week purePR had the extraordinary opportunity to lead, learn, and grow as part of the 2011 National Lutheran Education Association Convocation. This is a triennial event that gathers thousands of educators (teachers and administrators) from throughout the United States and the world.

2011 was the first Convocation where social media was more than a minority sport.

We were empowered to help LEA with its onsite social media stream (Facebook and Twitter) during the days of the event. The experience of providing content and cultivating interaction real time during a high traffic period taught us more than we could have hoped.

Discovering how to maximize conferences and events for social media success is relevant for ANY organization planning for ANY sized event. If you want to grow your social footprint, demonstrate your expertise in your content area, and really apply the artistry of conversation with your community of followers – get serious about your event specific social strategy. You won’t regret it.

First, a key word in our experience at LEA is empowered. LEA’s leadership recognized that the organization needed to maximize the event. Their Twitter presence was new, with a scant 30 followers. Their Facebook page was also low traffic.

Facing the opportunity of thousands of people gathered for their cause, it was an obvious thing to put some energy into the content stream to galvanize the fans and followers already engaged and to attract others. purePR was already planning to be at the event to lead a workshop, and we were called upon late in the game (read: 2 weeks out!) to help out with social as well.

Keys to the kingdom were handed over: passwords and access, a genuine, “do whatever you want” …  It was great.

Here’s what we learned:

Planning
(Duh, right?) You must prepare in advance to truly  leverage real world events to enhance your online presence. We had about 2 weeks of notice. This is not enough time.

Great planning that maximizes the opportunity of the event to grow your social relevance should include (among MANY other things …):

  • Clearly identify a small, expert team to manage the opportunity. It needs to be a high trust choice because you must give the team permission to carry out the strategy while also being nimble to respond to the natural pace inherent in an event.
  • Establish ground rules and clear goals; if possible, articulate measurable objectives (in the case of LEA, there was absolutely no benchmark and numbers were a bit of a rabbit-hat-trick, this will not be the case in three years). When you get to the end, you need to be able to point back and say, “this is what we did, and where we came from.”
  • Provide the necessary equipment (laptops, iPads, smartphone, Apps, Flip cameras, digital cameras) and access (passwords, wireless, codes) so that the team can move quickly, efficiently, and comprehensively to cover the event.
  • Spend time with the current fans and followers. Listen to the content that most engages them. Review the conference agenda, and ensure that your coverage provides content that they will enjoy, while also increasing your appeal and leveraging your insider info and expertise. Write an editorial schedule (hour-by-hour) and be prepared to stick to it while also being incredibly flexible.

Integration
Social media is a means not an end. When it comes to communications and your event, social is one part of your larger toolkit of tactics. Because of that, you need to weave together social tactics with all of your other communications, AND you need to equip all of the various participants (attendees, vendors, speakers, etc.) with useful information so that they can participate.

Here’s what that might include:

  • Tap the talent pool and amplify your social stream. Connect with speakers, exhibitors, and workshop leaders to line-up interviews, and also to request their social profile names and website information so that you can promote them and let them know where you will be posting content, what # you will be using in Twitter, etc. so that they can also promote you.
  • Pre-event, ensure that you’ve clearly established your presence and your plan for tagging and # in Twitter, and share this information in all of your materials so that attendees can get involved and participate easily.
  • Onsite continue to emphasize the information on plenary slides, facility screens, QR codes in the conference book and on signage throughout the event, mention the social spaces in your real world places and connect the on and off line experiences.

Crowd Build
During the event, closely monitoring the social stream is incredibly important. Here you learn about not only what topics, speakers and issues are connecting for your attendees (which is learning you can apply in infinite ways following the event), but you also learn about audio/tech glitches in breakouts and sessions, you help people recover lost items, you hear about the best restaurants in town or the convention hotel that has the best service (or lack thereof). How you respond to these bits of data in human, believable ways will directly influence your ability to attract more followers!

  • Ask for opinions, and appreciate them!
  • Listen to what people are asking for (whether it be possible to provide at the current event or not) and find answers for them. (Where will next year’s event be? Why isn’t there wifi in the Convention Center? Where is the best brunch? Does it have to be so cold? Where can I find … you get the drift)
  • Provide depth. We took time to unearth links, articles, and other relevant social objects that tied to what various keynoters and workshop leaders were discussing. We wanted to give people more to digest on their own time.
  • Tap the troops. We invited followers to share the best links, resources, book titles and more that they were hearing in their various sessions, which allowed them to become de facto members of the social media team. We went through and favorited these posts (in Twitter) for future reference (for the organization as well as for the participants)
  • Deal with alligators. There’s one (or more) in every crowd and you need to decide how you intend to manage negative voices, critics who refuse to be genuinely engaged and solution oriented, and just plain snarky people in the stream (we had a few, some who weren’t even at the event!) How you respond, ignore, engage these people is important because it does set a tone for the entire event stream and reflect on your larger brand.
  • Be a human. The BEST compliment we had at the end of the event was to be asked, “who are the humans behind #LEA2011”. We have an approach to social that is more about humanizing the brand as opposed to being human (thanks to @BrianSolis and his work on this subject in Engage), and we wanted to keep the stream believable and friendly. But it was really nice to be asked, “no really, we want to know who you are” and to have the chance to be real, not just social media droids.

I’ve spent many years planning events, from 20 to 35,000 participants and the experience at LEA was really great for purePR. Next time, we’d love a bit more lead time for pre and post planning, but honestly to be tossed into the opportunity onsite was remarkable and rewarding.

How have you found events to be of value in boosting your social strategy? We’d love to add your insights to the list.

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