“Networking events are a dime a dozen, and communicating to people who [they can expect to see] in the room is often the deciding factor.”
One of the defining traits of social media is how temporary it is – a tweet that goes viral on Monday is forgotten by Tuesday. But the flipside to that is how permanent it all is. Everything, all those fleeting individual moments, is accumulated into a vast archive of yourself that you can never truly scrub clean. How does this relate to convention planning? Eryne Sarabin, the owner of Tycoon Event Planning and Promotions in Calgary, has been working in the events and marketing industries for 12 years, and founded Tycoon when she felt there was a “natural bridge” between events and marketing. And she says understanding this paradox of social media – that it’s temporary and permanent – can be a huge asset. You have to be able to use social media to its fullest in all these individual moments before and during the event, she claims, but posterity is just as important. Let’s start with what you can do before your convention. Social media is crucial for understanding your audience. “Value is critical to me and my business, and every dollar I spend has to make sense,” Sarabin says. “So one of the things that’s important is understanding the value of people’s time – everyone wants to do something differently, but also, everything has been done before.” If you’re planning a trade show, for example, you need to look at how your audience communicates and how you can create value for them. By reading what your audience has to say, you can get a better sense of what kind of event would truly have value for them. Maybe you’re planning a trade show that would exhibit some of Alberta’s best craft breweries; diving into the craft-brewer Twittersphere might show you that the market for these kinds of trade shows is already over-saturated, but that there’s a market for a trade show for home-brewery equipment. Once your event is booked, Sarabin says, “social media is a great outlet for letting people know what to expect.” Social media requires you to be succinct and direct, which is actually an incredibly effective way to present information about your event. Just as Twitter forces you to carve your thoughts into a puny 140 characters, social media makes you refine how you sell your event. Think about what’s important to your guests: they need to know who the keynote is, but they also need to know what time it starts, how long they’ll have until dinner and other, similar details. This, too, is where knowing your audience comes in handy. Marketing has to be done in a “thoughtful, direct and creative way,” Sarabin says. If you’re aiming for an older demographic, maybe Twitter isn’t the best platform to advertise on, just like LinkedIn might not be best for a younger one. She adds that for networking events, in particular, the difference between a throwaway event and a crucial one can be communicated directly to your audience. “Networking events are a dime a dozen, and communicating to people who [they can expect to see] in the room is often the deciding factor,” she says. Now comes the fun part. You have plenty of options for how to use social media during your convention, but focus on quality over quantity. “Gone are the days of using the same old photo booth,” Sarabin says. “Everyone wants more of an individualized, customized experience.” She predicts that live tweet walls, for example – where a continuous series of tweets, connected with a hashtag, are broadcast to the room – likely won’t be as popular in the coming years. Hashtag mailboxes – where photos connected with the event’s hashtag are printed off like postcards – will probably rise in popularity. The key is understanding what type of social media your audience uses, and maximizing its potential. But there’s another trend in social media for events, too: companies like Tycoon used to provide on-site social media services, but since social media has become more integral to companies, in many cases they now have to work with the other companies’ marketing teams. This is a good thing: event planners “should advocate to work with the company,” Sarabin says, and get the best of both worlds. Your social media obligations don’t end there, however. “Social media is great for capturing moments and images, and it’s powerful for people who aren’t at the event to see what to expect next year,” Sarabin says. “Rather than focusing on just the here and now, think of what the story looks like for new, prospective guests.” Sure, that’s a lot to worry about, but the upside is huge. Since social media means nothing is permanent, but nothing is temporary, either, you might as well make it work for your convention.