Strategic use of social media and market research are the major marketing concerns facing association meeting planners and exhibition organizers in gaining attendees, according to a survey conducted for the Attendee Acquisition Roundtable. Ironically, they are two functions that most trade show organizers do not outsource.

“Event producers haven’t found the key to social media marketing,” said Sam Lippman, president, Integrated Show Management and Marketing, Arlington, Va., who produced the AAR, held March 24 in Washington, D.C. About 60 percent of respondents said it was among their top-three attendee acquisition challenges, with 12 percent saying it was their No. 1 concern. “Many best practices have been established, but they change daily—along with the underlying technologies,” added Lippman, who also produces the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum. The study was conducted for AAR by Jacobs, Jenner & Kent, Baltimore.

About 55 percent of respondents listed market research among their top three challenges with 27 percent calling it their top challenge.

The two biggest challenges, social media and market research, were mostly handled in-house. Just 10 percent outsourced social media marketing, while 26 percent hired third parties for marketing research. Conversely, 90 percent outsourced housing, 84 percent outsourced registration, 45 percent hired outside telemarketers, and 42 percent hired copywriting/graphic design services.

Overall, 55 percent spent less than 10 percent of their budget on attendee acquisition, while 18 percent spent 10 percent to 20 percent, and 27 percent spent more than 20 percent trying to boost attendance.

The survey, which polled 100 association and for-profit show executives who run exhibitions with more than 125,000 square feet of booth space, also found that 56 percent have changed their promotional tactics in the past two years. Further, 44 percent said they have changed registration fees and 44 percent have altered education programs. (Respondents could give more than one answer). Also, just 22 percent have offered virtual and/or hybrid events. Only 13 percent have altered show hours or show days.