How to Take any Event by Storm with Social Media

In March 2011, HootSuite was named one of the TOP 5 most talked about brands at SXSW Interactive Festival. I wish I could take credit for that, but I wasn't actually on the ground with the team. I was managing social media outreach from the headquarters and helping the team make the most impact.

Over the years, I've developed a bullet-proof approach to attending events, either on behalf of a company or as a professional.  No matter what business you're in, at some point in your life you will be holding tickets to a conference or a trade show in your hands, and I hope that this guide will help you out. Let's dive in!

Before the Event

1. Start with research.

Go to the event's site and find as much information as you can. Many events (or their organizers) will have social media accounts that you can follow. Do that.

Also write down the name of the event in all of its variations. Is there an abbreviated version? Does the event have an official hashtag? You will need all this for the third step.

2. Set up a Twitter list.

The foundation for social media listening are Twitter lists. They allow you to track conversations about the event and get acquainted with the attendees beforehand.

Setting up Twitter Lists

Create a new public list dedicated to the event and add the official accounts and yourself to it. Then look up everyone who's attending (their Twitter handles) and add them to the list as well. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Event organizers
  • Sponsors and partners
  • Attending companies
  • Speakers
  • People you know who are coming
  • Your employees who are attending

Make a point of creating the most complete list possible. It always proves to be worth it.

3. Set up social listening.

Use one of the social media dashboards to set up search streams for the event. I recommend HootSuite, but others such as TweetDeck will work just fine.

Remember the information you got from Step 1? Search for the name of the event in all variations and filter results until you reach a sweet spot.

HootSuite Event Search

Try using geolocated searches too; they are particularly useful if the event happens in many cities on the same day (e.g. Social Media Day).

Don't forget to set up searches for the event's hashtag. If you couldn't find an official one, check your Twitter list for alternatives. No luck? Then come up with a hashtag yourself! Keep it simple and short, yet descriptive. Then use it for all relevant tweets, and others will follow.

HootSuite Event Search Stream

Goes without saying that everyone you find in your search streams should be followed and listed up.

 4. Announce that you're attending.

If you have a blog, write a post about the upcoming event. Then promote it through your social media channels. Here are some tips on how to make it rock:

  • Add value. Don't just write about yourself, but share resources that are helpful to the other attendees. In the SXSW example, we collected articles about the conference, tips on how to survive it, and schedules.
  • Giveaways. These are great for getting attention for your event appearance. Promise to give away cool things to anyone you meet at the event and tell people how to find you.
  • Contact info. Let people know how to get in touch with you prior and during the event. Mention your Twitter handles and share that massive list you worked on building.

5. Volunteer to help out.

Reach out to the event's organizers and ask if there's anything you can do to help with the event. Don't sign up for a full-time position, but find small things you can take care of. For example, many non-techy trade shows need help with media coverage or even simply taking photos. I'm talking from experience.

Goes without saying that you should NOT ask for money or any other kind of reciprocity. You goal is to befriend the organizers and genuinely help. But trust me, they will be grateful, and your input won't go unnoticed.

6. Reach out to your list.

Now is a good time to touch base with everyone on your list. Write them a @mention note and send them a link to your list. It should go something like this:

@bob hey! We've noticed you're going to #BestEventEver. Here'a list of other people who're coming: //ow.ly/6uRg3R5

BE CAUTIOUS! You don't want to spam people. Word your tweets differently and send them in small batches over the course of a couple of days. Don't direct people to your blog post because it will be considered self-promotional.

Most of the people will be grateful as you have just given them something of value. They will follow you, thank you, and retweet your message. However, if you get an occasional hater, don't get discouraged.

Again, this is not about you promoting yourself. It's about giving something to the community.

7. Schedule updates in advance.

Live tweeting and facebooking during any event is tough. Make it easier on yourself and schedule some of the updates before you head out.

Business Calendar & Schedule

For example, you can share the link to your list or other useful resources. If you are a speaker, let people know when you're going to be on stage. If you have a booth, tell them where they can find you.

During The Event

Preparations are important, but what about the actual event? How do you not get overwhelmed by all the tweets? What should you be sharing and how often? How can you make the most impact?

Find answers to these and other questions in Part Two! Meanwhile, post your event stories in the comments below and share this page with friends and colleagues!

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