Jeffrey Barnhart is president and CEO of CMA Association Management (CMA), a full-service, award-winning association management firm with a strategic marketing and integrated communications division that has been successfully elevating membership, conference attendance, governance, reputation and visibility for 30 years. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 800-852-4269.
One in three professionals uses LinkedIn, according to statistics compiled by Hootsuite. Facebook has 1.09 billion active daily users, and 6,000 tweets are sent every second on Twitter, according to the report.
With so many individuals active on different social media sites for different reasons, social media has become a way to interact with event attendees like never before.
Facebook is a place people go to relax and be entertained, so it is a great way to show off photos and videos of your last event to promote the next one. LinkedIn company pages serve as an overview for an association, so the channel is likely to be more serious and contain thought leadership, industry news and accomplishments. Twitter is a place for timely news, which can be shared instantly.
The “instant” nature of social media makes it an essential tool to document the value of an event to members by virtually bringing them to it.
Bottom line, social media can keep conference attendees engaged before, during and after the event.
Most important, use social media to promote your event. For example, set up an event page on Facebook for attendees to meet each other and share information about the conference to get the excitement going. Post industry news relevant to topics that will be covered at the event.
Looking for another way to drive engagement? Share industry articles on Twitter and LinkedIn that complement and promote topics that will be discussed by the industry expert at your event and link back to your event’s webpage.
Tie all conversations together with the use of a hashtag. Do your research and select a new hashtag that can be exclusively yours. It is recommended that a reusable hashtag is selected so the buzz can be connected year after year and event after event, and it becomes an online scrapbook when searched.
By using social media to generate engagement, the International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA) increased annual conference registrations by 16.4 percent and increased annual conference exhibitors by 47.7 percent.
To achieve this growth, ICMA used compelling posts tailored to each channel’s audience, researched strategic hashtags and continually updated artwork on each of the brand’s five channels. Content featured in social media posts ranged from recognition programs, new member welcomes, event promotion, breaking industry news and media placements. All posts featured key elements including a URL, an image and hashtag, as well as concise wording, and “check-ins” when posting from venues. (Also, don’t forget to tag companies and individuals when featuring photos in posts.)
The Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) runs a trivia contest and virtual scavenger hunt before and during its annual conference. Pre-event questions encourage attendees to learn about the location, such as historical trivia, famous people or movies made at the location. The pre-event questions get attendees excited about sights to see while they are at the destination. Interacting before the event helps the attendees get to know each other and anticipate meeting each other in person.
Running a social media contest keeps attendees engaged and interacting on a different level.
Onsite, the virtual fun continues as ESPA members are encouraged to share a photo of someone they just met, find an award winner and share favorite moments online using a special hashtag (#ESPAConference). All of the questions are designed to get attendees interacting and talking to each other while they are there. Participating in the social media-driven contest also gives members an easy ice-breaker to approach each other and network because it gives them an excuse to socialize. There is a prize for the first person who completes the entire hunt, which encourages more participation.
For ESPA members, social media activity skyrockets in the time period surrounding the conference, as designed. Compared to the rest of the year, online activity doubles with hundreds of Twitter posts from members before, during and after the conference that promote the event in a fun way and drum up excitement.
This is an example of gamification. It takes an ordinary task, such as meeting new people, and turns it into a fun, slightly competitive activity for everyone.
Social media also can be used for interaction during presentations for polls, opinions and to underscore the top takeaways.
Social media allows you to reach your members like never before. It becomes a way to communicate with members. For example, the next speaker is coming up, and if someone is lost, they can instantly communicate with you.
It also provides for instant feedback. You can craft a post after a session and ask for feedback about the speaker or top takeaways. It also can be leveraged to showcase the value of an event by asking people to post about their favorite session or their favorite meal.
Social media also allows you to reach members who were unable to attend the event by livestreaming some of the content. For the New Jersey State Nurses Association, sharing some of their annual conference content live on their Facebook page for the first time generated an organic reach of 10,902 in less than 48 hours, which is equivalent to 18 percent of that month’s impressions. All conference content on Facebook had a combined organic reach of 14,186 during the two-day event. The month of the conference had one of the highest numbers of impressions of the year, due to buzz that was generated from the live conference pieces.
Because of Facebook’s algorithm, the live content is valued more, so it is shown higher in people’s newsfeeds, and more likely viewed.
After the event, keep the social media excitement going with channel-exclusive content, such as videos of the presentations. Past years’ social media content can be used as a marketing tool to drive attendance at future events by resharing photos and videos to remind members of the valuable information that was presented. Showing what someone missed is a great way to encourage more attendees at the next event.
In all, social media is a marketing tactic that can help an association grow attendance at an event and encourage member engagement to develop deeper relationships. AC&F