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The Social Strategy
Social-media marketing books are a dime a dozen, but few include more than a passage or chapter that directly addresses how online networking tools should be implemented in the context of exhibit and event marketing. Traci Browne, author of "The Social Trade Show," fills that niche with an exhibit-centric social-media guidebook that details how industry pros can make tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn work for them and their trade show face-to-face marketing programs. By Lena Valenty
Illustration: Nick Chaffe
Traci Browne has worked in the exhibiting industry for more than 15 years as a trade show marketer and conference/expo organizer. Browne blogs on trade show marketing for industry publications throughout the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, and is a featured contributor for Business 2 Community. She is also a conference speaker at EXHIBITOR2013. Her session, "A Strategic Approach to Social Media Your CFO Will Respect," will outline how to create a social-media plan grounded in strategy, measure return on investment, assign a dollar value to complicated outcomes, and turn social-media programs into content-marketing machines. Visit www.ExhibitorSessions.com to learn more.
ocial media is no longer the new kid on the buzz-building block, but its presence on the trade show floor is still surprisingly sparse. While Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al lend themselves effortlessly to a range of marketing functions, few exhibitors are successfully wielding the tools. To suss out the reasons why, exactly, social media is a hard nut to crack for exhibit and event pros, we turned to Traci Browne, owner of Red Cedar Publicity and Marketing and author of "The Social Trade Show."

According to Browne, the secret to social-media success isn't really all that different from any other exhibit- and event-marketing tactic: You have to align it with your goals and objectives. "Often, exhibitors try to use social media as a gimmick or just another platform to broadcast their marketing messages," she says. "Then, when they fail to generate attention, they say, 'Social media doesn't work.' That's not true." Read on for more of Browne's insights into how to execute your program's social trade show strategy.

EXHIBITOR Magazine: We've been talking about social media as a marketing tool for years, but in many ways exhibit and event professionals are in the dark on this topic. What accounts for the industry's slow adoption of social media?
Traci Browne: Too often exhibitors view social media as a one-off element that has little or nothing to do with their marketing objectives. Exhibitors should be looking at their strategy, deciding if social media is a tool that will help them achieve their goals, and then aligning their tactics with their objectives. For example, if your strategy is to present your company as a thought leader in the industry, don't worry about how many followers and friends you get. Focus on using social-media tools to disseminate cutting-edge information.

EM: In your book, you provide examples of bad social-media objectives juxtaposed with good ones. What are the key elements of a "good" goal?
TB: Good goals are aligned with an exhibit program's strategy, as well as the overall company strategy, and they're measurable. Let's say you want to raise awareness for your product in a new industry. We'll assume you've looked at your strategy and determined that Twitter was a good tool to use. Simply saying you want 100 new Twitter followers isn't good enough. A better goal is to get 100 Twitter followers who are senior-level human-resource managers at Fortune 500 companies. Now you have a goal that is measurable, and you've defined your audience. You have set the stage for the type of information you will be sharing – content that is relevant to senior-level human-resources managers.
If you did nothing else with social media but used it to listen, you'd be light years ahead of companies who have no interest in the medium.
EM: Defining the audience that you want to reach seems like an obvious, albeit oft-overlooked, first step. In addition to job titles and company names, are there other things to look for in establishing a target audience?
TB: Fortunately, social media makes it easy to identify your champions – the people who would proudly and eagerly shout your company's key message from the mountaintops.

Thanks to social media, your customers now have a voice, and they are not afraid to use it. One of the easiest ways to find your champions is doing a Google search on your company name or product/service name. This will often bring up related blogs and forums. If you're looking at blogs, don't just look at the posts. Read the comments and see if you can uncover a champion or two.

It's important to note that most champions are quite altruistic in their motives. They are not looking for anything from you. They are passionate and want to share their knowledge and expertise with their peers. Or maybe they just want to be seen as an expert. Your thanks and recognition is often enough to satisfy and motivate them.

EM: You mention that blogs are a good place to find champions. What do you say to people who are hesitant to view blogs as anything more than trivial musings of wannabe journalists?
TB: Even the blogger that only has a loyal following of 20 or 30 people is someone you should pay attention to if those 20 or 30 people are part of your target market.

You may be asking yourself, "Why are bloggers important to my program?" Because bloggers will often post information online as they receive it. Let's say they stop by your booth to view a product demo. Instead of taking notes for a story that will appear in print weeks or months after the show, bloggers start typing away and post it almost immediately.

If their readers are at the show and see it, they might put your booth on their must-see list. But even better, a reader who isn't even at the show may be a potential buyer. So thanks to that one blogger, you've just extended your exhibit's presence to a much larger geographical location.

Chapter 14 of "The Social Trade Show" covers tools for listening to your audience. Can you describe those tools and their benefits?

TB: If you did nothing else with social media but used it to listen, you'd be light years ahead of companies who have no interest in the medium. Social media allows you to listen in on conversations taking place in the convention-center hallways, around break stations, and even on the plane.

I attended a show recently as a member of the press. The show hashtag was filled with tweets from exhibitors encouraging attendees to stop by their booths and register to win something or other. I tweeted, using the show hashtag, "Do any exhibitors have new technology I should be writing about in my publication?" Only one exhibitor responded.

"The Social Trade Show: Leveraging Social Media and Virtual Events to Connect With Your Customers" details how exhibit and event marketers can use social-media tools to spread key messages, create communities, and extend their trade show presence far beyond the exhibit hall. Tailored to today's changing exhibit-marketing landscape, Traci Browne's guide to all things social media contains chapters on everything from generating awareness and capturing bloggers' attention to repurposing content and creating company-wide social-media enthusiasm. In the introduction, she writes, "There was a time when the trade show was the place buyers went to learn about various companies' product offerings ... Today, buyers are doing their research online and creating a shortlist of vendors based on information available on your website, on industry blogs, and through customer reviews and social-media chatter." To purchase a copy of the book and peruse other industry tomes, visit www.ExhibitorBookstore.com.

There are some simple ways to stay informed. You can set up Google Alerts for your company, your products or services, your competition, hot industry topics, the show organizer, the name of the show, and your current and potential customers. That way if any important news pops up, you will be the first to know.

Twitter also has advanced search features that let you search topics, people, or company mentions. You can narrow your search to specific words, hashtags, mentions, Twitter handles, and even geographical regions. The search will also indicate if comments were positive or negative, and if tweets were actual questions to which you need to respond.

Then there are social-media monitoring tools that run the gamut from free to expensive. If your company is active on social media, check with your public-relations department to see if it's using such a tool. If not, start with something simple that provides the basics, such as HootSuite, Google Analytics, or Sprout Social.

In addition to listening tools, there are also measurement tools specific to social media. What types of metrics are important to track and report?

TB: It all goes back to your pre-show planning. You can't measure a feeling. If you set specific measurable goals, you will know at the end of the show what worked and what didn't. You will have failures, and that's OK.

Every company is going to assign a different value to all its marketing efforts based on their cost and the value of a potential sale. The best piece of advice I can give an exhibit manager is to immediately set up a meeting with the company CFO and work with him or her to define those numbers. Find out what measurements the CFO wants to see, and don't be shy about asking for help in understanding how to go about doing it.

Any savvy marketer can tell you that customer engagement shouldn't end when the show ends. So how can social media be used to extend an exhibit or event program?

TB: Two words: Repurpose content. Content is what keeps your presence at the show alive long after it's over. Most everything can be repurposed. Social media is not just Twitter and Facebook. It's YouTube, podcasts, blogs, and photo-sharing sites, too. Let's say you record video interviews with customers in your booth. You can post those online after the show, and pull out snippets of those interviews to include as customer testimonials in various marketing materials.

Pictures taken at the event are well suited for marketing materials, too. Candid shots of customers can be passed on to sales reps, providing them another point of contact with the customer. What's more, appropriate photos will add a nice visual component to a blog post. Just make sure you obtain permission to use them.

The important thing for exhibit managers to remember is that they only need to collect the information and media from the show and then pass it along to the appropriate people to do the repurposing. I'm not suggesting the exhibit manager becomes a content creator, curator, and publisher. That's someone else's job.

What are some dos and don'ts when it comes to a company's social-media presence?

TB: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you like to walk into a trade show and have four or five exhibitors following you around constantly telling you to come to their booth to register to win an iPad? Of course not. But you might not mind them following you around if they were listening to what you were saying and responding to your questions.

Maybe they're pointing out some sessions you might want to attend, or a great place to get sushi in the show city. They are having a conversation with you about the things you want to hear about. Then — and only then — will attendees not mind if you say something like, "Want to stop by our booth and check out our new system? I think it will help you solve that problem you mentioned." Many people call this the 80/20 rule. Talk about others 80 percent of the time and about yourself just 20 percent of the time. That's the key to social media.E

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