Of all the ways to market your events — via email, direct mail or word of mouth — social media has proven its effectiveness as a valuable, cost-effective way to “get the word out” about your events. You may already be using social media to network with friends and relatives, or to re-connect with former colleagues on social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. But are you using the right social media networks to best market your next event? Many of us don’t really know. You’re not alone. Here, we’ll take a look at how people spend their time on both their desktop and mobile platforms in order to gain insight into understanding better how time is spent in the U.S. on the top social networks.
According to the 2014 U.S. Digital Future in Focus Report on www.comscoredatamine.com, it says that desktop usage for people over 18 years old has largely remained flat over the past year for top web properties, while mobile usage has continued to surge over desktop usage.
LinkedIn has had the highest desktop usage at 74%, while Snapchat has had the highest mobile usage at 100%. The following graph shows a comparison of the top eight social sites and how the U.S. spends their time on these social networks using their desktop and mobile platforms.
Interestingly, several social networks have demonstrated impressive monetization of their content through advertising – most notably Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Given that social media usage continues to surge on mobile devices and that a user’s news feed is the mobile experience, this seamless integration is critical for effectively delivering advertising for your event.
As more and more consumer and business-to-business event planners are discovering the power of social networking, it has added fuel-to-the-fire for an interactive “friend-to-friend” approach. You really need to understand your target market; therefore, knowing the geographics, demographics and psychographics of your target market will help you make better marketing and event planning decisions like which social networks and platforms you ought to use.
The Payoffs for Event Organizers
For many years, most organizers simply displayed static information on different websites about their event details which might include exhibit floor photos and a “Click here to register” button. These sites were little more than electronic “brochurewares.” Today’s conference and event websites are more dynamic, allowing attendees and speakers to talk with each other about issues, ideas and the event itself.
It makes good sense to tap into these new technologies. After all, events and conferences are essentially huge social gatherings where people share common ideas, get together with friends or colleagues and connect with people who can help them in their personal and professional lives. Social networking allows your attendees to build stronger personal relationships with others who have similar interests and issues, and helps them build their personal networks, before, during and after your event.
But you already knew that…so how do you market your event better using the social networks where your attendees have a much richer experience and perceive the value of your event as exceedingly valuable where they are more likely to come back year after year to renew their relationship with you and your organization?
Social networking allows you to identify your audience’s interests and issues more specifically, and target your message tightly to a specific group attending the conference or event, rather than broadcasting a general message to anyone who attends. Here are some key benefits that will aid you in developing your social media marketing strategy for your event.
- Low to nonexistent costs. Online social networking is significantly cheaper than traditional advertising or direct mail. With social networking, the built-in feedback loop makes it easier to learn your prospects likes and dislikes.
- A more personal relationship. The personal “touch points” you get from building a relationship are more valuable than the response you get from impersonal print or direct mail advertising. As a result, you can turn more suspects to prospects and ultimately, into attendees.
- Message control. Social networking offers a great opportunity to create slightly different messaging and content — perhaps more edgy or creative — than what’s on your website. Think of it as an ongoing conversation, and ask for content suggestions, feedback and comments. That will engage prospective attendees and enhance the conversation. The key is engagement!
- Credibility and trust. A rule of thumb is to offer ideas, expertise or help, and referrals — before asking for anything in return. That will build credibility and trust with your clientele. If you encourage feedback, you can learn what’s on your attendees’ minds on a regular basis, gauge their preferences and even make changes to your event “on the fly” so it is more relevant to their immediate needs. Social Media allows you to listen in on the chatter about your event in real time with social sites like Twitter.
- Easier access to decision-makers. The “six degrees of separation” rule applies. To meet the president or CEO of a large company, start by talking to the executive’s friends. (LinkedIn is fantastic for this.) You can eventually meet people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise. But remember that social networking relationships need to benefit both parties. Be ready to reciprocate if a contact introduces you to a prospect.
- Faster communication — to more people. Social media enables faster information sharing. Traditional media, such as magazines or newspapers, have long lead times. A PR news release promoting your event may take days or weeks to reach the end consumer — if it doesn’t get “bumped” along the way. Social media, on the other hand, allow for instantaneous dissemination of not just news, but images, audio, video and other multimedia content. And because releases geared toward social media outlets contain key highlights, pertinent facts and hyperlinks to related statistics and quotes, bloggers and other online journalists can immediately pick up the information they contain.
A Word of Caution
If there is a downside, it’s the time and research involved to learn how social networking works and how best to utilize it for your particular event. Fortunately, creating a successful social network takes some basic online knowledge and there are plenty of how-to websites online that guide you on the fundamentals of social media advertising and the proper rules to follow for each social site, but the simplest way is going to each social site’s advertising instructional page and related blog feeds.
Also, beware of information overload, in other words, you don’t want to post too much information on your social site where your event is being over-advertised. You’d be surprised how quickly you can turn off attendees and visitors to your site. What you want to do is to provide relevant information associated about your event where you stay current. You’re facilitating a two-way targeted discussion, rather than a one-way bombardment of promotional messages. Remember, you want your social site page to provide value to your site visitors and relevant, targeted content wins hands-down.
It’s also important to continue doing what has worked well for you and to not completely abandon press releases, direct mail and printed collateral. After all, this is a gradual process, and not everyone is on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Make sure to have realistic expectations: It may take time to see measurable results. Social networking is not a magic bullet or a quick fix — you must integrate it into the overall marketing plan for the long haul.
How to Get Started
If you’ve already used Facebook or LinkedIn for personal use, you’re off to a good start. If not, don’t worry — just set aside some time to determine how best to take that first step into the social media landscape. Here’s a three step approach:
- Investigate. With so many social media sites out there, you may want to do some investigative work to find out where your best customers are. Keep an eye out for social networking events and webinars. Major conferences dedicated to social networking happen throughout the year. Find those best suited to your needs.
- Join. Once you’re comfortable, dive in and register. But it may not be best to make a sales pitch for your event right from the start. Find a site that fits. For example, events on Facebook offer a great opportunity to build brand awareness. As users indicate they’re attending an event, the news spreads exponentially across their network, even showing up in each user’s news feed and social walls. This serves as a passive but personal recommendation of the event.Websites like YouTube and Vine can also build event awareness. You can put cameras and camera-phones in the audience to good use to document the ins and outs of a show. This can enhance the show experience for attendees and can create interest in others to make the trip the next time around. You can even create your own YouTube channel that features all of the videos and speaker sessions from your event.
- Get Involved. Invite current clients and colleagues to join in — let them know you’re out there, share with them what you do and, eventually, let them know about your exciting events coming up.
Put Your Event on the Radar
The social networking rules are not fully defined, and it’s difficult to know which sites will flourish. Will mobile social networking be the next big thing? Whether it is or not, social networking continues to grow at an astounding rate, and you ignore its potential at your own risk.
Although there are many directions you can choose from, the effort it takes to open an account and establish your presence is minimal, if not, always free. Over time, establishing awareness through these channels will pay off in the form of increased name recognition, growth in attendance or membership and a growing pool of people waiting to hear about your next event.
If done right and you follow the methodologies listed above, for little to no cost, you will get these end results:
- Raise the profile of your institution.
- Maximize your promotional and fundraising efforts.
- Increased opportunities to easily network with both prospects and colleagues in the event planning industry.
Above all, social networking gets people talking about your event and will offer even more exciting opportunities in the coming months and years.