In today’s highly competitive meetings and events environment, where planners are vying for attendees’ attention and interest, industry professionals are looking for ways to create efficiencies, streamline an event’s marketing operations and expand their community outreach. To achieve this, many are turning to social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and other platforms to connect with potential meetings and events attendees, and evolve the very nature of event promotion.
Today’s social media is equivalent to yesterday’s town square, water cooler or neighborhood block party, where interests and news are shared. But, the immediacy of today’s information sharing via social media is unlike anything we’ve experienced, whereby thousands — or even millions — of individuals are exchanging information about events, companies and services across the globe. And organizations, including associations, are using this portal to establish communities among their constituents. In the area of association meetings and events, social posts can act as social proof, creating buzz and driving attendance. Social media can also remind people of how much fun your event was, play on the fear of missing out and get people excited for the next event.
Mandi Graziano, vice president of global accounts for HPN Global, is a hospitality expert with more than 20 years of experience as a conference consultant and a skilled hotel contracts negotiator. Graziano is also an expert on social media strategies that work best when organizing and promoting meetings and events. She says today’s meetings and events environment is all about engagement. Face-to-face and virtual meetings connect and bring people together. Social media enhances that experience before, during and after, and social media adds a layer of continuity to the programming that involves attendees that may not otherwise interact. At its core, social media boosts the existing high-engaging attendees to even higher levels of engagement. “Planners must be nimble and flexible. They are busy redesigning their meetings and conferences with social media and social distancing in mind,” Graziano says. “They must anticipate what might go wrong and quickly find solutions. Often, that kind of rapid communications means making use of social media.”
Abbey Hudetz, founder & creative director of Oyster Creative, left her role in hospitality digital marketing and created her business to help those within the hospitality industry with their social media needs. Hudetz says social media is a critical tool for meetings and events planners to use because they sell high-consideration services. “Since the client journey is so meandering, social media is a key tool to keep contact throughout,” Hudetz says. “Social media is a tool for creating brand value, awareness and engagement.”
Rather than being built around content, today’s internet is being rebuilt around people. Quite simply, people are spending less time interacting with content and more time communicating with each other. And because these social interactions are digital, they can be mapped and measured. “Social media is about community — meetings and events planners need to continue the connection online,” Hudetz says. “Engage your community online by tagging vendors and partners, locations and clients. Continue the conversation, not just to nurture relationships, but because the engagement activity feeds social media algorithms. Events are being planned, managed, documented, and in some cases, executed online. Social media is a key component of this process because that is where all the action is anyway. To not participate would be to be left out of the conversation.”
Social media, or the rise of social networks has impacted the meetings and events industry in exciting ways. While nearly every association has a Facebook page and Twitter account, many simply aren’t using them to their fullest potential — especially as it relates to upcoming meetings, conventions and events. So, what are the best ways to make these social media platforms effective within the meetings and events realm?
And contrary to traditional marketing channels, outreach on social channels is a two-way street. Associations and organizations can address their community and their community can respond. Therefore, it’s important to think of social media more as a channel for conversation than marketing.
Graziano says another imperative step is to give the meeting a hashtag. And introduce it early so people are sharing it within their social media channels to get people excited about the upcoming event. You should also pair it with other hashtags relevant to the meetings, such as #eventprofs, #meetingsandevents, #meetingsmeanbusiness or #livemeetings. “Use social media to announce speakers. And ask the speakers to share the social media template on their social media channels,” Graziano says. “I’ve been a speaker at some events recently with SITE SoCal, Greater Miami Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Hospitality Strategy Group powered by ACCESS. They each did a great job announcing the speakers one by one on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram — posts and stories — and then asked each of us to share with our networks. Some folks registered as a result of those announcements.”
Graziano says it’s also important to pay attention to the comments. Engage with the comments. And share, share, share. “Something common that I wish more people would do is to have social media moments at the actual event. I was recently at a conference where they had a ‘wish wall’ for 2021. They had a stand with instructions: grab a luggage tag, write down 2021 wishes and loop onto the wall. Take a pic in front of the wall or of the wall with your wish. They gave hashtags to add to your post. This experience was in a highly visible foyer set up between two large meeting spaces.”
Another important way to use social media for a hybrid meeting is to engage the people at home. When everyone is in a room face to face, the energy is engaging, but don’t forget the “at home” audience. Have the speakers on the screen, but during the Q&A, take questions from the live audience and at home audience. Use Facebook Live or Instagram to involve people during the meetings.
One common mistake Mastrobattista sees frequently being made is social media being an afterthought. The date is locked in, the guest list is set, and the invites have gone out, but the client will say, “We need a hashtag!” “Your event may not flop, but with a strategy like this, your social media sure will,” Mastrobattista says. “Consider how you can incorporate social media into every step of the planning process.”
For Graziano, the biggest mistake is once a planner uses some social media, not evolving with it and expanding on it. “You’re going to be clunky with it at first; that’s OK. Myself and other planners were guilty of this for a long time, and felt like if it’s not perfect, don’t do it. If it won’t be executed just right, don’t do it. That’s a big mistake,” Graziano says. “This is a young medium for all of us still. We all have so much to learn. Just do it; try it. You don’t have to do everything at once. Start small with one platform. People are visual. Use Instagram. Post pics of your event. Add a hashtag; call it a day. Then, follow other people and see what they do and how they do it. You’ll learn as you go and, eventually, be an expert in your own way.”
Hudetz also sees meetings and events planners failing to code-switch between platforms. Be sure you know how to optimize your content for the social media app. “Don’t dump the same post across all platforms, and do take advantage of the unique features of each,” Hudetz says.
The most important thing to remember as you embark on a social media marketing campaign is the word “social.” It’s all about socializing with people, so keep that in mind no matter which platform(s) on which you decide to focus. The beauty of social media is that it creates in-depth messaging about a meeting or event as compared to the traditional media message. However, each social channel has a unique demographic and unique functionality. Some are more conducive to photo-sharing, while others are subject to character limits. It’s important that your message is tailored to the appropriate platform.
“It’s important to have a great website or landing page,” Mastrobattista says. “Your webpage will serve as a hub for all content related to the event, including agendas, speaker’s bios, blogs, videos, a list of companies in attendance, sponsors, virtual sessions and more. Digital and social ads promoting the conference will link to the microsite creating a seamless user experience.”
And it is vital to learn the nuances of each of the social media sites. Graziano recommends the following:
Mastrobattista recommends creating a social ad campaign on the channels most relevant to your audience. As far as paid social media avenues, if you’re planning a meeting for professionals, consider LinkedIn Ads. If you’re planning a festival, TikTok or Snapchat Ads could be the way to go. “Be sure that your ads have a clear call-to-action and drive users to your website to RSVP. Much like every other media channel, it’s a myth that social media is free,” Mastrobattista says. “Unless you have a rare viral gimmick, most likely, you will have to spend a few dollars to reach new people. Build social media into your event budget.”
Use social media to announce and hype your meeting; use social media at your meeting to show meeting sets, food and beverage, philanthropy and unique content; “and use social media to continue the conversation after the event,” Graziano says. “What are the top five things people learned? What are the takeaways? Favorite pics? Favorite faux pas? Share it all and keep the conversations and connections going.” | AC&F |