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.