Meeting planners often look forward to one of the industry’s biggest annual events – MPI WEC. This year, it was held in San Francisco, and Sarah Smith, Convention Sales Development Manager with San Francisco Travel Association and Amy Perritt, Content Marketing Consultant partnered to help promote the event via social media. Sounds easy enough… great event and great city. However, even with enthusiastic attendees and a desirable destination, most planners need to not only get the word out to promote their event, but they need to go where potential attendees are ‘talking’ online.
Recently, we sat down with Sarah and Amy and asked them about utilizing social media to promote their event, common barriers to starting a social media strategy, and what they see as up and coming social media platforms for the meetings industry.
empowerMINT: In your experience, how do you feel that utilizing social media helps promote attendance/participation at events?
Amy: Social media can help an organization reach audiences you might not otherwise reach. You can use different content formats and styles to offer a more personable and authentic way to tell the event story. For example, attendees become event ”journalists” so to speak narrating their event experiences through social media, which helps fellow “potential” attendees decide whether it’s an event that makes sense for them to attend – and hopefully it does and they register! This kind of content sharing, with the organization joining the conversations, encourages community engagement and participation onsite as well.
Sarah: Social media also gives you an additional way to engage your attendees before, during, and after the event. It allows your attendees to start interacting with each other, sponsors and speakers before they leave home. This engagement makes people feel like they are part of the conference, exposing them to people, ideas, and experiences they might not have known about otherwise. At MPI WEC, people learned about everything from puppy petting stations to receptions all from social media channels. The online experience will help strengthen the “in real life” experience, leading to repeat attendees.
empowerMINT: What would you say scares people the most about engaging with social media at an event when they aren’t savvy users?
Amy: If they are not overly familiar with your event channels, they may not feel comfortable engaging. It’s always best to determine where your audiences truly are whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc., and then not only include those channels in your social strategy but think about resource and content allocation to each one based on attendee/audience behavior.
Engaging with attendees on their preferred channels a few months prior to the event is a nice way to build an event community and increase the comfort level around using social media during the event. Testing a new channel each year is also a great way to stay ahead of emerging trends and stay connected with where and how your attendees/audiences are participating in the social media landscape.
empwerMINT: What tips do you have for meeting planners to get started?
Sarah: Plan ahead and only take on what you can handle. Having a strong presence on one social media channel is better than being on multiple channels but not having a solid presence.
empowerMINT: Knowing that many attendees search for destination information, how can meeting planners partner with the local convention & visitors bureau?
Amy: An effective and easy way to partner with the CVB is to engage with them early on and to share your social media editorial calendar/plans with each other months ahead of the event so you can leverage your messaging, content, and networks. This kind of collaboration demonstrates to your event community that the destination and the organization are partners and united in providing the best event experience possible.
Sarah: The local DMO will likely have an arsenal of information, tips, and articles that will appeal to your attendees about the destination they will soon be visiting. If you involve the DMO from the beginning, you can build this information into your social media plan. Additionally, find out a point person (or hash tag) at the DMO that you can go to for answers to destination questions that might come up during the conference.
empowerMINT: In what ways have you seen an event/convention do something clever or unique in utilizing social media to either promote the event or during the event?
Amy: With MPI’s World Education Congress 2015 (#WEC15), the San Francisco Travel Association (SFTA) went over and above in using #AskSF to engage with MPI attendees on Twitter. The SFTA social media team was professional, reliable and fun in responding to all sorts of queries and it helped attendees feel welcome to the event/destination and make the most of their time in San Francisco. The MPI community was extremely appreciative. I also very much liked how SFTA posted a collage of event highlights (pictures) each day which was a great way to showcase event moments and attendee participation in San Francisco.
Additionally, MPI begins working with its speakers a few months before WEC to find mutually beneficial ways to demonstrate the value of attending WEC and the invaluable insights and expertise the speakers will be bringing to the event and the industry in general (i.e. webinars, video, online chats, content sharing). We provide speakers with a toolkit of sorts with images, hashtags, bitlys/URLs, etc., to incorporate in their communications. Speakers, of course, play a big role and the MPI team is grateful to them for this collaboration.
Sarah: I think having Twitter chats with attendees (or prospective attendees) and speakers in advance is a great way to generate interest and excitement for your event.
empowerMINT: What are you seeing as emerging trends in utilizing social media for events?
Amy: We have started to see a bit of traction around new opportunities such as Periscope.
Sarah: I think meeting planners and others in the industry will start hearing a lot more about Periscope!
So interesting! A big thanks to Sarah and Amy for taking the time to talk with us.