imagesAs the fall conference season approaches for the automotive industry, many vendors miss opportunities for exposure. Owning a public relations agency, my job is to maximize my client’s exposure to their audience. Conferences offer more potential customers for my clients, concentrated in a single place at a single time, than just about any other marketing opportunity. However, many vendors neglect opportunities to not only reach clients attending the conference but those who aren’t.

Vendors do all sorts of marketing and invest tons of money to have a presence at these conferences: from sponsorships, to booths and lavish parties designed to attract dealers. Most of them, however, neglect one no cost or low cost activity they should be engaging in: social media.

Even vendors who do participate in social media tend to focus solely on salesy type messages ineffectively designed to drive traffic to their booths. If you’ve ever watched a twitter feed for a conference, a high percentage of tweets from vendors tend to be to the effect of “Come to our booth and win an iPad”… over and over, the same message is broadcast. There is no “social” involved in this. It’s simply broadcasting. Most vendors know that the continuous posting of sales messages via social media is bad practice yet, for some reason, it becomes acceptable at conferences.

So how do you successfully use social media in a conference? Here are some tips.

  1. Have a Presence – I’m always amazed at the number of vendors that have booths or speaking sessions that have virtually no social media presence at conferences whatsoever. And this even includes some social media companies. Having a presence on social media is just as mandatory as having signage at your booth. You wouldn’t just set-up a table with a couple folding chairs, right? Learn what hashtags the conference is using and make sure to include them in all of your tweets.
  2. Be Proactive – Many vendors wait until the week prior to the conference, or even the beginning of the actual conference to start having a presence on social media. The fact is that the audience you want to reach is having conversations on social media up to a month or more before the conference. They’re talking about sessions they’re looking forward to, scheduling meet-ups with their peers, and generally being excited. At this point in time, there is very little noise by vendors and it’s easy to have your message heard, if done correctly.
  3. Engage – Don’t simply broadcast a message. Join conversations. Talk to attendees on social media. I don’t mean invite them to your booth. I mean welcome them, tell them how you’re also excited. Talk about sessions you’d like to see or things you’re looking forward to. Not only does this create a more personal connection to the audience, but it gives your company an online personality and may present opportunities for you to actually make friends. We all know this is a relationship business, so why not start by trying to create relationships?
  4. Content – Both attendees and non-attendees watch social media for content. Yes, they see your “come to our booth” message; but I guarantee you that they scroll right past that. Many conferences offer multiple sessions within the same block of time that forces attendees to choose. This choice means they may be missing content from a concurrent session. In addition, dealers who didn’t have the opportunity to attend are also watching. These conferences are designed as learning opportunities and even though a dealer may not be there, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn. Attend some sessions and actually tweet content from the speaker. If your company actually has a speaker, you certainly want to be in those rooms tweeting the content. You don’t have to limit yourself to one session, however. I guarantee you that if your company is tweeting actual session content, people will be paying attention to what you’re saying. That’s what they want to hear. Why wouldn’t you want to be the one they’re listening to?
  5. Avoid repetition – Have a plan in place prior to the conference for social media coverage throughout. It’s ok to announce events going on at your booth (like the iPad giveaway.) However, repeating that message continuously not only makes people less likely to listen to you, but can also have the opposite effect to the one that you want. Attendees may get annoyed and want to avoid you altogether.
  6. Balance Your Content – In addition to your sales messages, (which, again, should be the minority of your content,) there’s a plethora of content available to you. Take photos of your booth, employees, and customers. Tweet actual conference content (i.e. Session content). Take general conference pictures or the exhibit hall, networking events, parties, etc. Attendees love this. As will people who wanted to attend but couldn’t be there.
  7. Join the Fun – My best advice is to use social media at a conference as if you were an attendee not a vendor. The fact that you’re using it from a company Twitter account will provide you exposure to attendees and begin to build relationships with them. They will appreciate you and pay attention to what you’re saying. The conference itself will appreciate your efforts and you may get additional exposure through retweets and other shares from the conference itself.

Social media is an invaluable way to gain exposure to not only attendees, but also potential clients that are not in attendance. However, that is only if done correctly. With appropriate involvement in any conferences social media activity, you’ll gain more exposure, build relationships and generate goodwill amongst the very people you want to… and isn’t that exactly what you’re trying to accomplish?

Sara Callahan | Carter West Public Relations