Forty percent of exhibitors use online social media to promote their exhibits, according to a new study by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

Personal social networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, are the most popular online tools among exhibitors. Roughly 41 percent of survey respondents say they use these networks for promotional purposes, while 36 percent use videos, and 34 percent use blogs, according to the paper, entitled “Effective Methods of Visitor Promotion, Part II: Exhibitors.” The use of these three tools is expected to rise in the next three years, especially the use of blogs. In three years, 44 percent of the 218 exhibitor respondents anticipate using blogs to promote exhibits.

Approximately 26 percent of respondents use virtual events, while 23 percent use microblogs, like Twitter. These percentages are anticipated to rise to 31 percent and 30 percent, respectively, in three years.

Further, the study revealed that exhibitors, on average, spend about $32,200 in pre- and post-show promotion for their largest event each year. Exhibitors in the industrial sector spend the most ($47,400), while government/nonprofits the least ($4,700). Roughly 57 percent expect their marketing budgets to remain the same in 2010, while 36 percent expect a decrease.

Six out of 10 respondents use multiple promotional vehicles. Handouts (62 percent), giveaways (61 percent), e-mail (58 percent), print advertising (51 percent), online advertising (49 percent), direct mail (49 percent), and show signage (49 percent) are the most popular.

Interestingly, some of the least employed methods were considered to be the most effective. For example, hospitality/entertainment for groups had the highest effectiveness rating, with 67 percent calling it an effective means of promotion. Further, 62 percent said guerilla marketing was effective, while 55 percent ranked social networking as effective. Coupons (54 percent), and giveaways (54 percent) were also high on the list.

Overall, 84 percent of those surveyed say they would like a preregistered list of attendees from the exhibition organizer.

Around 90 percent of exhibitors measure the return on investment of exhibiting, but not all measure success the same way. The most important measure, they say, is qualified leads, followed by brand awareness and potential sales.

Go to CEIR’s Web site for more information or to obtain the study.