By Mike Thimmesch, Published October 22, 2013
Perhaps you are an exhibit marketer who has yet to send your first Tweet, write your first blog post, or record your first YouTube video. Or maybe social media has already become a regular part of your trade show promotions. Either way, what’s next?
Whether you are a social media rookie, a digital native, or somewhere in between, there is a progression of tactics you can follow to expand your reach, influence, relationships, and results.
Here are the 7 levels of social media, for business to business marketers, and especially trade show marketers:
Level 1: Listen To Your Audience
The most basic thing you can do on social media is simply to listen to what your target audience is saying and doing on popular social media sites. Listening doesn’t even require setting up any accounts. Just go to the search pages for Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, and blogs, and do searches on your industry keywords, such as product names, job titles, and industry buzzwords. Find out what people are talking about — their issues, their joys, and their dreams. This is the first, simplest step, but it’s too often skipped.
For exhibitors, search on the names of the trade shows you exhibit at, to find out what attendees are saying about the show. Find your show’s Facebook page and Twitter account as a shortcut, and learn Twitter hashtags for your main shows to find even more messages people are sending about the shows.
Level 2: Share Content To Engage With Your Audience
The next level of social media is to share good content you’ve found with your target audience. Share content you think they will value, content that will help them with their jobs, content that will entertain and connect. Most of all, share content that echoes your viewpoint, and add your opinion to messages as you send them. The fancy term for this is “content curation.” To share content, you’ll have to set up accounts on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You may want to start with one site first, and then expand when you’ve got the hang of the first one. By sharing content, you can also join in the great conversations taking place all over social media, and start to build relationships with people online.
Sharing content as a trade show marketer can be as simple as retweeting interesting Tweets about your main show, or liking on Facebook about new products being introduced at your upcoming trade show, or sharing blog posts and YouTube videos produced to highlight what will be new and interesting at the show.
Level 3: Create Your Own Content
After listening and sharing, it’s time to step up to the next level — creating your own content to share on social media sites. This is not for the faint of heart. It takes a commitment, because once you start, you have to sustain your pace of content, or else you’ll look worse off than if you had never started. Write a blog, create videos for YouTube, and have regular ideas from your own perspective to share via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Hint: It’s a lot easier to have a blog, and then share your content in bite-sized chunks via Twitter and Facebook, than to create lots of little content just for Twitter and Facebook. Content that will get shared and build your brand is the same as content others produce that you’ve been sharing — useful, entertaining, funny, and newsworthy. But now it’s from you and your company, so you are even more actively building your reputation with the millions of people online.
Content you create as a trade show marketer can be a pre-show or post-show video you post on YouTube and Facebook, pre-show Tweets about all the great things you are giving away in your trade show displays, or a blog post post-show recapping the new product you introduced at the show.
Level 4: Engage With The Influencers
Now that you have a created a solid footprint online, it’s time to up your game and start networking with the hubs of the network. Brian Solis has said that when you engage with the influencers within your niche on social media sites, it’s like you are engaging with an audience of audiences. These are the connectors and the thought leaders who can help share your content with a much broader audience, and help you build relationships with other influencers in your industry. These are the people with high Klout scores, thousands of followers/friends/connections, and a well-read blog. Many are also influential offline, too. They can also be some of the best friends you will make online, as they are as passionate and insightful on your industry as you aspire to be. On Twitter, follow them, retweet their best tweets with a comment, and get a dialog going over time. Comment on their blog posts, and like their content on your Facebook account.
Trade show marketers can engage with influencers by searching on the show’s hashtag on Twitter, and see who’s Tweets are getting the most retweeting. Search on Google blog search with the names of your top shows, and find out which bloggers write about your show, and then comment on their blog posts, and even invite them to your trade show exhibit to see what’s new. Find out if there is a Tweetup (a live meeting of Twitter friends) at your show, so you can meet face-to-face with these online influencers who are more likely to attend it.
Level 5: Create “Wow” Events To Provoke Sharing
The next level is to invest creative energy and money into making events that are so cool, so awesome, that people who see it or participate in it will whip out their smartphones, take pictures, and share what they’re seeing with all their social media contacts. Business-to-consumer brands do this a lot, when they are more focused on building brand awareness to millions. Brands that do this are seen as cooler and more fun.
For trade show marketers, it means creating an activity in your trade show booth that excites your target audience so much, that they will stop walking down the trade show aisle, watch, participate, and share. You can create moments in your booth where attendees will want to have their photo taken, and then design a backdrop that includes your logo repeated on it, so your brand is seen when the share the photo (or even video) across their social media accounts.
Level 6: Create A Community
For most of us, we can draft off of the efforts of others who have brought together our target audience within a part or niche of a larger social media network. For the truly dedicated, the next level is to launch your own community on social media. That may be your own group on LinkedIn or Facebook that you administer, or a Tweet Chat (a regularly scheduled chat on Twitter) that you host. The effort is greater, but by taking a leadership role you boost your reputation and instill gratitude among your target audience. You gain relationships with the very people your company serves, who can give you valuable feedback about their needs and their problems. Some companies go so far as to set up their own private social network to have these conversations away from their competitors’ eyes.
For trade show marketers, creating a community specific to a show is probably not necessary, because the show owner will have the best list to start from in creating the show’s online community, and most likely already has started one that you can interact with. But if you have set up your own community, you can lead discussions about what will be happening at your upcoming industry shows, and be sure to mention what your company will be offering there, and reach out to the members who say they will coming to the show.
Level 7: Expand Your Social Media Footprint
Now that you have a viable, consistent presence on all the main social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and blogs, you can expand in many directions. You can create more content on the main networks – such as doubling the number of videos you post on YouTube or increasing your blog posts per month. You can add more accounts on the main networks, training more people in your company to use Twitter or to help everyone build or improve their LinkedIn accounts. You can refine your social media activities by creating content specific to your best vertical markets or market segments. And you can go wider by starting and continuing accounts on other social media networks, such as Google+, Pinterest, Quora, StumbledUpon, Tumbler, Instagram, and more. You can also be the first in your industry to dive into new social media networks as they emerge. This highest level of social media is never fully accomplished – it’s a question of how far you can go before your extra efforts are not worth it.
For trade show marketers, this means increasing your social media activities before, during, and after the show. Pre-show you can have multiple people talking up with their social networks what your company will be doing at your upcoming show, or ask all booth staffers to send a LinkedIn update that they will be booth staffing there. At show, it could mean bringing a dedicated team of social media savvy people to booth staff, where they are constantly sharing on your social media accounts what is happening in your booth, including photos and videos of interactions within your exhibit and at the show’s networking events and educational sessions. And post-show, it’s producing and posting lots of content about what happened in your booth and at the show that is newsworthy to your industry, be it in blog posts or YouTube videos.
No matter where you are in your social media and trade show marketing program, there is always room for growth. I hope this article inspires you to raise your to the next level.
If a company signs up to be an exhibitor at a trade show, and they have not developed a trade show business plan, they are just attendee with a booth. Trade Shows are expensive. If a company intends to invest $15K to $250K or more in a major trade show they need to have a plan that will articulate what they intend to accomplish, how many qualified leads, based on their pre-show effort, they expect to obtain and their return On Investment (ROI) in the trade show. Besides the ROI at a trade show, an exhibitor should be looking at their Return on Objectives (ROO). Some exhibitors may not be focused primarily on generating opportunities, but on increasing their sphere of influence, on being noticed, on being consider a major technical resource for a particular industry. Both the ROI and ROO have to be taken into consideration when developing a marketing plan for a trade show.
There should be an overall trade show plan that takes into consideration all of the trade shows where the company will exhibit for the year. Then each trade show should be able to develop its own marketing plan for trade show success. The reason that each show should be unique is that the time of the year, the competition and industry are always in continuing change. What is happening at a trade show in an industry in January may not be the same for that industry in June.
This plan should be part of the company’s overall marketing plan, and comparison data should be made available to management that will substantiate and support their commitment to these trade shows.
For years companies have used two marketing plans, the first covered all of the advertising and literature required to present the company products in an effective way. The second, was a “add on” to the existing marketing plan that covered trade shows. If the company didn’t make its numbers in the third quarter, the first marketing causality was the trade shows budget. The marketing manager in his or her wisdom could show that they reduced their expenses by eliminating the trade shows for that quarter, or for the rest of the year. The problem with this approach is that it will now take the company twice as long to come back up to the original sales level because more effort has to be put into “cold calling” and unqualified sales opportunities. It is interesting that a company will have a sales person sit down and follow up on leads submitted by a trade publication, but will put qualified leads from a trade show on the back burner. I can guarantee that the majority of those people who filled out a form from a trade publication are just literature collectors, but when you get a qualified lead from a trade show, they really want to do business.
Some years ago I had a client that was bound and determined to spend many dollars on literature to be handed out at the trade show. No matter what I said he always had a response. “This is old literature, I was going to get rid of it anyway” or “This literature has a lot of information so they will hold on to it”
We had done a few trade shows together, and the expense allocated for trade show material was astronomical. When I confronted my client on this, because I had a tough time presenting a realistic ROI (Return on Investment) that made sense. He said, not to worry it was an accounting thing. I also know when things get tight in a company because of a downturn in sales, accounting takes a hard look at everything, and where they can “cut” because of the expense they do. Having listened to my client talk about his literature, He loved to design, write copy, and show how informative it was, and how the attendees really like it and no doubt they will be carrying it home to read again and again. While at my client’s booth at a major trade show at the Javits Center in New York City I really got annoyed, and I confronted my client as he was handing out these very elaborate 8 page multicolored coated stock brochures that must of cost over $4.00 each. When I saw this I asked him how long he had been handing these out. He said since the start of the trade show, which was at 10:00AM. It was now a little after noon, and I asked my client how many do you think you have handed out. He was so excited, when I asked him that because he said that everyone wanted them, they were so professional. Again I asked him how many he had given out, and he said, “About 60” Well I said, I have been telling you for over 2 years that it’s a waste of money to spend a lot on literature to be handed out at a trade show because, according to statistics between 82% to 90% of the literature collected at a trade show is thrown away. I said to my client, “I will bet you dinner at the best restaurant of your choosing, that I can collect at least 30 of your brochures right here at the trade show” He said, “I’ll take that bet”
With that said, I found two of the workers that empty the garbage cans around the trade show floor. I told them I would give each of them $20 dollars if they could find 30 of these brochures that have been thrown away. Then I told them I would meet them back at the booth in one hour.
50 minutes later both of these workers came back with 45 brochures in their hands, and wanted their money, which I gladly gave them.
That evening I had dinner and a wonderful bottle of very expensive wine at restaurant considered the best seafood restaurant in New York City. My client was still in shock, but not over paying the bill, but seeing how much money he had wasted by not listening to me two years ago when it came to literature.
If you do your trade show literature correctly, it will be inexpensive, it will be focused on this show, and also follow your trade show theme, and it will be something they will hold on too, and use for reference for the whole trade show.