In the wake of the presentation I gave last week at the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association Access 2010 conference, I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about what it takes to build community.
In the event industry, it’s my opinion that social media is an extremely useful tool to promote shows, create and connect with communities, and foster deeper connections while attending shows.
It seems that in one sense the social media world is just getting started with connecting at events. But with each new story, I sense that the ‘connecting’ is getting more involved and the ‘connectors’ are becoming more adept at the connecting.
And then this morning Paul Castain’s timely blog post on ‘How to Build an Online Community!’ shows up. Paul is a terrific connector and has built a large online community, and in this exquisitely useful post he shares what has worked for him.
If you’re looking to build a community around a specific event, there are some slight adjustments I’d make to his overall plan (which has a lot of great ideas).
If you’re attending a tradeshow, one suggestion might be to create a specific ‘virtual tradeshow website’ just for that show. It’s an approach that would make sense for those larger expo shows you attend, but likely wouldn’t be worth the investment of time or money for small, local or regional shows. Derek Mehraban of InGenex Digital Marketing shares his story in a recent TradeshowGuy Blog podcast.
If you choose not to create a virtual tradeshow website, make sure that you’re online with a variety of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. If you have a good presence on LinkedIn, include that as well.
Don’t forget the media: connect with industry bloggers and trade publications ahead of time. Let them know what new products or services you’ll be unveiling at the show. The press are attracted to new and shiny objects, so if you can offer something new you have a much better chance of getting some press mentions.
In the run-up to the show, collect your in-house list of clients, friends, acquaintances and prospects. Send out an e-mail blast a couple of months ahead of time asking people to ‘like’ your Facebook page, and follow you on Twitter and YouTube (if you have a YouTube channel).
With the show a month or so away, send another email reminder asking people to connect with you online. At this point, it would be appropriate to include a link to a short video about what they might expect at the show or a blog post promoting your appearance. Remember, you’ll get more response if you slant the article or video to ‘what’s in it for THEM’ and try not to make it so much about YOU.
Keep publishing: videos, blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates/photos, etc. During your planning, be sure to use a tool such as Hootsuite.com that allows you to schedule posts ahead of time. This will free up your show time to focus on the actual show, interacting with folks and sending out real-time tweets or posts (“just met @clientXYS at the show!”). Make a point of mentioning people by name or Twitter handle so they’ll feel loved.
With a couple of weeks to go, invite people to your booth (if you’re exhibiting), or to connect with you at a Tweet-up or other meeting. Find opportunities to connect face-to-face.
During these face-to-face meetings, collect business cards or other contact info. Schmooze! It’s fun!
During the show, try and shoot some timely videos, such as testimonials, customer or visitor interviews and post a few of them. Hold back a few for posting after the show.
Once the show is over, do a wrap-up or two. Post a few videos. Send out a thank-you e-mail with links back to your show follow-ups. Send physical thank you notes to those folks that you felt you made a great connection with – and those that you’d like to make a better connection with. A cool tool for card follow-ups is SendOutCards.com (yes, that’s an affiliate link).
As Paul points out, it’s great to have all of those online platforms, but the key is to keep engaged. INTERACT with those folks in your community. Respond to their questions. Reach out with an offline thank-you or phone call. Give content away with no strings attached. Find out what your community’s ‘pain points’ are and work to resolve them. Work to move those online connections to an offline relationship or friendship.
When it comes to building a community around a tradeshow, keep in mind that those folks you’re connecting with will become more active during show time. Work to leverage those folks to stay connected with you via Facebook or your newsletter.
You’ll find that the first show will likely fall short of your expectations. Don’t worry. Social media connections take time. Keep at it. From my observation, as exhibitors and organizers keep at it, each show becomes more successful than the last and the connections get deeper and wider.
With social media connections, you’re in for the long haul. Or you’re likely not in at all.
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography