Even before the conference starts, social media can be used to gather information from attendees on what types of content they want, as well as speaker suggestions and other programming selections. An easy way to do this would be to utilize something like Crowd Campaign
, which gives participants a way to suggest content, and for others to vote on it. Or, you could go even simpler and use Tweetpoll
As the meeting draws closer, social media can be used to encourage registration. This can be done by enticing potential attendees with snippets of content to peak their curiosity. Get your speakers to produce teaser content. An easy way to do this is to set up a blog on Tumblr (for free, in about 10 minutes) and have your speakers call the toll-free number and leave a voicemail. It will be automatically transcribed, and posted to the official event blog. They can also post on Facebook. Contests on Twitter or Facebook can offer free registration for those who follow. Those who don’t win might be intrigued enough from following to register.
Lauren Precker, Social Communications and Strategy Manager at ASAE, says that you have to be careful about focusing too much on the pre-conference register message. Precker says, “It can be a mistake to focus on the ‘Register’ messaging. You should obviously have calls to register, but that should not be the bulk of your messaging. If you keep pushing out a one-way conversation of ‘Register, Register, Register’ in every post, your audience will begin to tune you out. Focus on the content and value that your event will provide. Highlight learning and networking opportunities, and if you are going to a new city, share some highlights about what attendees can see/do after the event is done for the day.
“Social media is enhancing the conference experience because it allows us on the organizational side to not only push out up-to-the-minute conference details onsite, but it also creates one-on-one connections with attendees that can’t be done through other communication methods such as mailers and email.”
The number one principle you need to follow when using social media, according to Deborah Shepard, Sales and Marketing Consultant, destinationExcellence and ConventionPlanit.com Regional Director of Sales, is to know your audience. You need to know if they are comfortable with social media. Take time to do your research on where your attendees are active. Some effort upfront will ensure that you are all talking on the same channels.
Shepard says to make sure that the platforms you use are accessible. “It can be very frustrating if the bandwidth at your venue is inadequate or there are firewalls in the way.” You need to check with the venue and negotiate to make sure that the wifi is adequate for your social media needs.
“Have help desks to help attendees use social media,” says Shepard. There is no benefit to having Twitter feeds or Facebook pages if your attendees cannot engage.
Once the conference begins, the real fun with social media starts.
Create a conference hashtag. 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. You can also use hashtags to allow attendees to ask questions during sessions via Twitter. Questions can be displayed on screens or be seen just by the speakers. This can help to encourage shy attendees to ask questions and to temper those who may use question time for self promotion.
Social media can also help conference organizers. According to Precker, “Social media has also become another customer service outlet too. If attendees voice their complaints onsite about overcrowding in a session, problems with the event app, or even registration, then we can see it happening in real time and react quickly. Hopefully, it will help our attendees have positive experiences.”
As the conference winds down, social media can be used to take the conference content and spread it as widely as possible. Your goal is to get the doubters that didn’t come this year to view that content and decide to go the next year. Take every conference presentation, and instead of just putting them on your Web site or emailing links to attendees, release them on SlideShare (one per day for maximum impact). Provide Twitter transcripts to attendees, and also post it to your various event pages. Backupify has a new free service called Session Tweets where you can automatically make a PDF of all tweets using your event hashtag.
Social media is also a great way for organizations to obtain feedback and measurable data from attendees. Most social media platforms have analytical tools that help you gather information on everything from polls, to membership votes, to speaker reviews (and a great way to go green and ditch the paper evaluation forms). Having the ability to gather these metrics and to prolong the value of the content also shows that an organization is strong, what it has accomplished, and that the meeting still matters.
From start to finish, social media is a fabulous (and practically mandatory) way to entice, engage, and encourage attendees and to provide them with an exceptional experience.
Watch for Part 2 of this series, where members of the ConventionPlanit.com Meeting Professionals Advisory Council will talk about some of the social media success stories at their conferences and meetings.