Technology

A New Strategy for Event Social Media

By / May 3, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

At events, we use social media to engage with our attendees and to keep the hashtag flowing. Should event social media be a deeper part of the process? A new startup makes the case for social strategizing months before the event.

When it comes to event social media, is your association’s problem a lack of planning?

Not like planning a couple of weeks out, just to be sure that people are aware your event has a social presence. I mean planning four to six months ahead of time, and at a level equivalent to any of your general sessions. An area where attendees can get help with social media. A full-fledged plan of attack on both the tradeshow floor and at the receptions. A live-tweeting approach so impressive that people at home can take notes from the educational sessions. And—oh, yeah—a plan to engage attendees after the event, too.

This might sound overly ambitious to some. (Isn’t the #hashtag enough?) But one event-industry startup is making the case for a deeper, strategy-driven approach. Little Bird Told Media, which got its start last year, has its eye on building a brand-new kind of business for the event space—social media strategy that’s tailored, start to finish, to the event.

Founder Alex Plaxen got the idea for Little Bird while he worked with his prior firm, EventRebels, where he was its director of marketing. At the time, he was already a masterful live-tweeter (see the sidebar for more on that), and his skills on that front were drawing attention from others in the event space.

“People were starting to come up to me and ask me, ‘Can you teach me how to tweet? Can you teach me how to, you know, use live-streaming? What is this Snapchat thing people are talking about now?’ And so, I kind of realized, ‘Maybe there’s something to this,'” Plaxen explained to me in an interview last week.

He realized next to nobody was trying to specifically offer social media services for events, so he made the leap to the startup realm last year. The goal? He’s trying to help organizations maximize their engagement capabilities at events, which he says are “a different beast” compared to day-to-day engagement.

It was a fascinating approach—and I had some questions.

Why Does Advance Planning Matter?

In detailing his process, it was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the idea of getting an association’s ducks in a row months ahead of time—nearly half a year, in the case of one of Plaxen’s clients.

What’s the benefit of such a long lead time? Well, a few things: First off, it allows time to introduce new social networks among attendees and vendors ahead of the event, so they know what to expect long before they actually find themselves in the expo hall.

Also, it provides enough breathing room to come up with different strategies, such as creating event hashtags for different purposes—for instance, #HELP for customer service needs, or #SOLO for people who don’t know anyone at the event.

Such advance planning also allows for a number of optimizations that show up at the actual event. One example Plaxen offered was the idea of revamping the traditional helpdesk into something along the lines of a social media lounge, where staffers keep an eye on the hashtags or help attendees get a grasp on Instagram.

In the weeks after the event, Plaxen’s team works to engage with and respond to attendees—and share analytics with the association to see how things went.

“A lot of events stop using a hashtag the second the event ends. That’s a bad idea,” he says.

What’s the Cool New Network You Should Be Using?

Plaxen is particularly bullish on Snapchat, a social network that’s grown quickly in the past two years but has gotten relatively short shrift in the event space. (As if to prove his point, he snapped just before we started the interview.)

Part of the reason he’s become so interested in the network is because it offers a degree of ephemeral content to attendees, things that might be useful at the time but eventually fade from view. “Snapchat is just the new cave painting. It’s the way to tell people a story,” he says.

Another fave of Plaxen’s is Anchor, a social podcasting platform in which others can respond to voice messages by adding short messages of their own. On the mornings of events, he uses Anchor to create the equivalent of short radio shows for attendees to listen to while they’re getting ready in the hotel room—while encouraging both speakers and vendors to hop on the feed to add their own pitches to the podcast.

As cool as these tools are, though, it’s essential to rely on aggressive cross-promotion to encourage awareness and interest, Plaxen says.

Does Brilliance Require Planning?

This kind of approach, ultimately, won’t work for everyone, but what I think is really intriguing about it is that it could start a bigger conversation for the event space. How much planning can we do ahead of time to maximize the engagement that we’re getting from our attendees?

At an ASAE event I was covering a couple of years ago, some of us on the event’s hashtag got the idea to use Hackpad to create collaborative notes from the event, rather than one person taking those notes and sharing them on social media later. The problem was, we discussed the idea more than halfway through the conference—at which point the logistics would have been difficult to pull off.

But what if someone had this idea this earlier in the process and created a way to implement it? That’s the kind of thing this sort of high-level social media planning allows for. Plaxen repeatedly told me that “social media is a tool,” a means to build engagement, and it’s a very effective tool for the job—if used properly.

As social media matures, associations should ultimately try to do more with it at events. That requires better planning, sure. But it could lead to more sophisticated results.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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