Using social media to enhance events might seem like a no-brainer, but many conferences — even social media ones — fail to take full advantage of the low-hanging fruit that social platforms offer, like ways for attendees to communicate with each other, broaden their participation, share information and have fun. If you’re planning a conference, here are some ways to incorporate social networking into your big day.
1. Help Attendees Connect With Each Other
An important part of any conference experience is connecting with other attendees. Whether for the purpose of making business connections, making friends or building brand exposure, conference networking is key.SXSW, the annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival, recognizes the value of connecting – so much so that it is launching SXsocial for its upcoming event. SXSW CTO Scott Wilcox reveals the event’s new platform.
“For 2011, SXSW is embarking on the creation of a new platform called SXsocial to help registrants network with each other by leveraging their social media relationships on networks and sites like Twitter, Flickr,Facebook, LinkedIn and others,” Wilcox says.
SXsocial will enhance how attendees already use social networking sites at conferences. “Registrants can build an extended profile including a photo, bio, links to their profiles on other networks, and tags of their interests both professional and personal. Users can search for other registrants based on this criteria and flag their favorites,” Wilcox says.
Helping attendees form relationships benefits both those buying tickets and the event organizers, SXSW has found. “Overall, SXSW aims to have a simple but smart way for registrants to connect with other registrants one-on-one before, during and after the event in a way that forms lasting relationships,” says Wilcox.
2. Broaden Participation
Social media platforms provide a unique, zero-cost marketing opportunity to expand conference participation beyond the confines of a venue. Twitter spokesperson Carolyn Penner says Twitter can get people who aren’t even at the event involved.
“When an event happens offline, whether a conference, sporting event or concert, the conversation around the event is happening online in real time on Twitter. This offers a unique opportunity not only for attendees, who can interact with each other and see what other attendees are saying, but also — and more interestingly — for people who aren’t there. They can become part of the event without actually being there — with hashtags, photos, videos, and other content being shared on Twitter. And, the new version of Twitter makes it even easier to follow the conversations and see media via the details pane,” Penner says.
Facebook’s live stream box can also be a powerful tool for broadening event participation. With more than 250 million people connecting on Facebook every day, it’s the perfect space to reach out to millions who may not be in attendance. Live streaming via Facebook gives anyone who has access to the Internet the ability to get involved.
The use of Facebook’s live stream box during President Obama’s inauguration is a perfect example of how effective this feature can be, according to Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s head of consumer marketing. Working with CNN, Facebook built a live stream box that resulted in unique status updates by more than 2 million people and 26 million live streams on CNN. During Obama’s inauguration, CNN saw half a billion viral updateslinking back to its site.
You can also broaden conference participation on social networks with commenting on the conference’s Facebook Page, answering questions posed by speakers, tagging pictures and encouraging attendees to vote by “liking” the best wall posts.
3. Encourage Attendees to Share Information
A great wealth of information can be garnered by using social media platforms during your conference. Attendees can leave and receive tips about particular speakers, share what they think about the venue, post pictures, find other attendees quickly and, of course, share the best places to eat. Organizers, in turn, can use these same social platforms to – almost immediately – address any concerns, enhance those things that are working and ultimately build an even better event.
“Setting up a Foursquare venue at a conference, event or trade show, and encouraging people to check in, lets the organizer see which areas of the event are most popular and lets attendees find each other and meet easily. There are a myriad of reasons and opportunities available to event organizers, and we try to make the system as easy as possible. You can get great feedback from people who come by, track stats and see the breakdown of your visitors, as well as reach out to people. Individuals can see who else is around them, as well as what events are ‘hot’ and see comments.”
But don’t limit yourself to just one social platform; each has unique abilities, and often attendees have a favorite network where they prefer to express themselves.
4. Provide Recreation
If you’ve ever attended a professional or academic conference, you’re probably well aware they can be made of long days and sometimes dry lectures. Use social media to create some recreational activities to increase the energy and ameliorate the tedium. Try creating games and contests that get attendees involved.
For instance, you can encourage participation by employing social media platforms that use rewards. Event organizers must be creative in this endeavor, though. Monetary prizes aren’t necessarily the most effective. Consider what might motivate the attendees of your particular conference. Face time with speakers or a celebrity at an event could be valuable to attendees. Try giving away what might be desirable collectables or memorabilia to your particular audience. For example, people attending a writers conference might value a signed book by a presenting author, and attendees of a social media conference love access to the newest technology.
5. Put It All Together
Blogworld takes advantage of a multitude of social networking platforms like, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare,Plancast, Sched.org, USTREAM and Plixi to amplify the conference experience. According to founder and CEO Rock Calvert, the company’s use of social media prior to, during and after the the world’s largest social media conference and trade show is “…light years ahead of other conferences.”
Prior to the conference, Calvert uses various social platforms to inform people about the event, accept speaker applications and make announcements. In addition, Blogworld allows attendees to socially pick sessions, as well as invite and tell people that they are attending.
During Blogworld’s three-day conference, social platforms help facilitate and encourage attendee participation. Facebook is used to create polls, allow for public comments and encourage suggestions from attendees on how to improve the event. Organizers also encourage attendees to micro blog, which gives readers the opportunity to experience the event from numerous vantage points. Calvert credits these tools with “keeping the Blogworld experience transparent.”
How does social media make Blogworld better? In 2009, Blogworld set a Guiness World Record for the distribution of the largest mass message through social media, with a #Beatcancer hashtag. The campaign also raised more than $70,000 for social good efforts. In addition, Calvert tells us, “Social media creates social attendee lists, starts conversations, encourages meet ups, [and] allows conference organizers to react to issues immediately…. Incorporating social into our conference simply makes the experience better.”
Whether customizing your conference on the fly to meet the needs of your audience, creating media buzz or engaging participants, one things is clear: social media has revolutionized events. If done right, your conference or event can become a global experience.
How have you used social media to enhance your own events? And, how have you used social media, as either an attendee or from home, to participate in an event? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Meaghan Edelstein has gained national media attention through her blog, I Kicked Cancer’s Ass, which she started to document her battle with end stage cancer. She is an attorney, the founder of the non-profit organization Spirit Jump, and works for the Real Time Marketing Group.