Get an understanding as to whether your meeting attendees are ready to usearound your event. Do some listening and monitoring of various stakeholders who would be attending your meetings, whether they are customers, dealers/distributors, or other constituents. You’ll find out very quickly who is using public social sites like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn by doing a few keyword searches. It doesn’t matter if there are only a few people using it—you can still provide value by showing others how to use it.
Start by choosing one of the big three: Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. LinkedIn and Facebook can be really useful for organizing groups before and after a conference, but in our experience Twitter is by far the most popular social site for on-site engagement by virtue of its ease of use with mobile devices and its quick-fire, real-time communication method.
Another strategy is to choose a tool that lends itself especially well to the type of content you are capturing on site. If your members love photos, you might want to try Flickr. If your presenters love PowerPoint, Slideshare might be a good place to explore. If you are able to capture short videos of speakers, YouTube is a natural fit. All three of these tools are easy to share in blogs, or on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.
Consider adding staff or a contractor to help with your social media activity. For one meeting we hosted, we spent four to five hours per week leading up to the month before the conference. Then we spent six to eight hours per week and had one staff person on site whose job it was to live-blog and tweet at the event. We used all free tools. Choose one thing and do it well. Small and good can grow to large and good, while large and bad cannot be salvaged. Spend your resources on a thoughtful plan for connecting people and feeding the social space with content they can socialize around.
Let them tweet. Yes, some people will be on their computers or tweeting during the sessions—but that doesn’t mean they’re not listening. In fact, they may be deeply engaged in capturing the best of their session and sharing it with their network. The biggest risk in encouraging tweeting is not being prepared to listen and respond to the social interactions happening before, during, and after the meeting.
Be ready for some criticism. Attendees love to complain about the food, the boring speaker, the room temperature. Some of this might work its way into online conversations about meeting content.
Manage your expectations. Keep in mind that participation in online social spaces follows the 1:9:90 rule: 1 percent create content; 9 percent interact with that content through commenting, sharing, rating, or reviewing it; 90 percent are spectators. That’s normal. Measure the results. At first, measure what’s easy, like your number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers, and keep track of anecdotal evidence and feedback from attendees. You’ll get a sense for what’s working, based on the energy you see in your social spaces.
As you get more comfortable with social media and begin to understand more about what it can do for you, you can delve into more meaningful metrics. Align the metrics with your objectives and use that information to try different things, or to prioritize projects that are going really well.
For user groups, customer meetings, and wherever appropriate, use social media to keep an event going afterwards. Give the people who care enough about your technology or product to talk about it and share their experiences the tools to stay connected throughout the year. You’ll make it easier than ever for them to tell their colleagues why using your product and attending your meetings makes sense. And you are potentially creating a public record of the impact the event made with your fans. When other potential buyers/users search the Internet, they’ll find these opinions from the people in your community.
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