Building engagement through social media

When the 20th-century Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message,” he probably couldn’t have imagined that within a few short decades an array of social media (not to mention a veritable army of tiny electronic devices) would blast onto the scene, providing seemingly endless ways to communicate. Savvy meeting and event planners, meanwhile, have scrambled to leverage these new options in ever-changing ways.“Social media is now integral to all conferences and events I do—especially those for the public,” said Lizzy Caston, president of Portland, Ore.-based Caston Communications, a company that specializes in content planning and project management. “We use it for marketing, sales [and] to gain sponsors, as well as for overall community building.”

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“My favorite thing about social media is the instant response that it provides,” said Stuart Ruff-Lyon, vice president of events and education at RIMS, the Risk Management Society, in New York. “I love monitoring our hashtag and seeing what we’re doing that excites them.”

Indeed, social media—when used effectively—can help planners achieve a variety of goals.

Expanding an event beyond its physical space is a goal for Roni Weiss, the organizer of the New York Travel Festival, which attracts about 800 participants for a multiday tourism conference in New York every year.

“We’re a smaller event compared to The New York Times Travel Show, so the way we make up for that is that we’re not just about the physical attendees,” he explained. “We have a community that we work with throughout the year. We have global reach.”

Weiss stresses quality over quantity when it comes to social media engagement.

“It’s not just the number of people that engage but who engages,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, there are plenty of accounts that have more numbers than we do, but we have influential people in the media and across the landscape.”

Helpful PartnershipsOutside vendors, consultants and host venues can be valuable resources for planners looking to develop a social media strategy, according to Geoff Lawson, vice president and general manager at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Va.

“The National Conference Center often helps clients with their social media initiatives for their meetings at the property,” he said. “One in particular, NS2 Serves, which is a workforce-training program for ex-military, asked us to help get the word out about their training program that was taking place at The National last spring. We put together a social media fact sheet for the client, with sample tweets that we would use on Twitter, and how we would promote their event on our Facebook and LinkedIn.”

The National now offers social media help as part of its sales contract.

Qualified outside assistance is also crucial for Mindy L. Bomonti, a Seattle-based experiential marketing and events specialist who organizes the Microsoft presence at tradeshows and conferences. To keep the social media strategy intact once her events kick off, she has hired social media management consultants to oversee day-to-day engagement through various channels, and brought them on-site to post live from the show floor.

“With this, I am able to better manage the specific messages that we can plan [and] time for release, and they can provide the real-time engagement with posts and responses that drive followers to come to our booth for additional information and discussion,” she said.