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Real-time social media engagement the next big thing at tradeshows

May 31, 2010

In the past two years I have attended or was involved in the event planning process for several major tradeshows particularly in the mail and print industry. I’ve also paid attention to the growing trend of utilizing social media channels for event activation starting with Print 09 and most recently IPEX 2010. I  also summarized best practices for social media for event activation after a World Innovation Forum event in 2009.

@PrintersLounge tweet recognizing brands using social media at IPEX

IPEX 2010, a huge one week long global tradeshow for printing and graphics industry that recently took place in Birmingham, UK was a great example of what used to be a growing trend now becoming a mainstream occurrence. Using social media to drive tradeshow participants to your booth might still be the primary goal of social media engagement, but there is so much more: providing interactive content (video, images, audio) to virtual tradeshow audience, engaging influencers, using social channels for contests and give-aways and on and on.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Your industry tradeshow might still be the surest way to gather a large amount of sales leads, but your tradeshow presence is a very expensive proposition that shows up as a major line item in your marketing budget. Considering today’s economic climate you must do everything to get the most out of your participation. How? Compared to tradeshow sponsorships an advertising social media engagement is still relatively inexpensive and might be the silver bullet that will distinguish you from all the other exhibitors at your next event.

Here are some pointers to help you get started.


What I witnessed at IPEX was quite incredible… brands were utilizing their social media channels very effectively and efficiently with new content (incl. images and videos) being uploaded to multiple channels in near real-time. It reminded me of a well oiled machine. Of course this does not happen by accident. It requires pre-event preparation focused on minimizing on-site tactical activities and freeing your crew to record and post content.

What can you do ahead of time?

  • Research your audience
    • Figure out who is coming to the event and what their social media consumption habits are. What channels do they congregate at? Are they lurkers or active posters? Will they actively respond to your messages? What will make them take action incl. visiting your booth?
    • Find out who the influencers are. What are their favorite SM channels? Can you engage with them ahead of time? Can you set up sponsorships?
  • Set up an online engagement dashboard.
    Depending on what tools you use to monitor your social media channels (I use TweetDeck) you should

    • Set up search queries that include the event’s hashtag and other popular industry keywords ahead of time
    • Set up a twitter list of all influencers AND a separate private twitter list of your competitors so that you can easily monitor what they are talking about/doing at the event.

Part of the social media dashboard for #WIF

  • Prepare messaging.
    I am not talking about writing volumes, but preparing bite-size content pieces that reinforce your main tradeshow messages. Make sure to prepare a list of online resources you will be driving traffic to. You might event shorten the links and have them ready to include in your messages (I use shortener).
  • Study the event calendar (your booth’s event calendar as well as the tradeshow calendar). Chances are that you will be too busy to send messages at the right time while on the tradeshow floor. Make sure your time sensitive messages are scheduled ahead of time to go out exactly when you want them to go live. Consider pre-scheduling some of the announcements using services such as HootSuite or Tweetdeck (the most recent version).
  • Get your hi-tech gear in order. There are certain must-have’s when you attend an event or tradeshow. You must bring a laptop (or iPad) with a reliable internet connection (check w/ event organizers or bring an air card for reliable internet connectivity), a point-and-shoot photo camera and a video camera that does not require PhD to operate along with a basic video editing program for basic post production work. Don’t’ forget chargers and USB connectors).
    In addition to the gear make sure you have access to all social media channels to post to. That includes knowing all the passwords and being familiar with settings to get content online quickly.

    Depending on how fancy you are planning on getting you might consider hiring a video crew to shoot video footage for you. Remember though that you want your interactive content pushed online as quickly as possible so you and/or your crew need to work quickly and be perfectly synchronized.

  • Tell others what you are doing
    Don’t be an island. Let others at the booth know what you are doing and how they can help.


From Kodak's Ipex 2010 blog post

  • Content, content, content
    The booth is rocking and crowded. There are equipment demos going on everywhere. This is a perfect opportunity for you to generate great interactive content. Start small with short text updates using social media channels you are familiar with, include pictures (TwitPic works great for Twitter), capture the booth atmosphere on video via 12 seconds (posted to your social media channels directly from your phone). Consider interviewing your customers or recording a sales demo of your product. Yes, it will be noisy and the camera might shake a bit (although you should use a monopod), but that’s part of the fun.

Xerox real-time video content at IPEX

OCE TV crew on site at IPEX

  • Don’t make it all about marketing.
    Remember you must be social in order for social media to work for you at an event or any other time. This means participating in conversations in real time and connecting with influencers. I know this can get pretty overwhelming particularly if you are juggling a lot of tasks at the booth. Social media monitoring during an event can be done by one of your co-workers at the office as long as you are in synch and coordinated.


  • Compile a report.
    Don’t procrastinate with preparing a report that highlights what you’ve done at the event while everything is still fresh in your head. Include

    • attention metrics (# of messages, # of referrers to your website)
    • engagement metrics (# of interactions incl. RTs, comments, likes, etc.)
    • influence metrics (# of leads secured through SM, # of mentions by influencers, etc.).

Don’t just concentrate on quantitative metrics, include qualitative data and verbatims. Don’t forget to describe what your competition did at the event in social media.

  • Continue the engagement long after your tradeshow booth is dismantled.
    Did you connect to customers, prospects, influencers? Keep the relationship going through periodic engagement incl. comments on blogs, retweets, etc.

Have you tried using social media for event activation? What worked and what did not? Please share your best practices in comments.

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