When I last wrote here about the integration of digital and face-to-face media, I commented that many events companies are making rudimentary experiments in social media, although surprisingly few are really convinced about the efficacy of doing so. It was becoming clear, I suggested, that user-driven social media groups can become a powerful marketing multiplier for events as the efficacy of mass email marketing, the event industry’s main promotional tool, comes into question.
For all their uncertainty about social media
, everyone in the events business seems to recognize that there is something really important going on here. Every industry conference for the past three years has included sell-out sessions on social media. Until six months ago, I would have described the results as, at best, confusion and in many cases severe skepticism. Some clarity does, though, seem to be emerging.
Real results in social media
At a seminar organized by UFI
in Kiev, Ukraine
a month or so ago
in 2011, speakers were talking enthusiastically about their experience with social media. Better still, they were presenting results, in some cases very impressive results.
A lot of attention focuses on which networks work best and how. There are, of course, no clear and simple answers to this question. No one size fits all. In an award-winning presentation, Madrid’s IFEMA
described the need for a "differentiated treatment for each fair.”
The exact choice of network, they said, will depend on whether an event is targeting a professional or public audience‚ the social profile of that audience‚ and the industry’s fit with the dynamics of the different platforms. So, an events company with multiple major events is not going to be able to develop a single social media strategy for its whole exhibitions business. They’re going to have to tailor to each show. Challenging, but interesting.
Basic wisdom is to use Facebook
. That often works well, but there has been a huge number of exceptions, and compelling research has yet to be presented on which geographical, audience, industry, and event features contribute to effectiveness with each social network.
Of course, one perspective is that you don't need to choose. IFEMA's award-winning approach includes an aggregator to bring together multiple social media streams on the industry portals that serve each of its key shows. Simon Burton of 360º Creative Event Services
, also speaking in Kiev, calls this interplay of multiple social media channels "amplification." He believes these channels can play off each other in ways that generate much more impact for an event or media brand.
Face-to-face events: the ultimate social medium?
Event organizers have a unique opportunity to take the social media experience to an extra, real-world level. Some, often speaking with a strong luddite bent, will suggest that exhibitions and events are the “original and still the most effective” social medium. Well, whether or not that’s true, there are clearly exciting opportunities to bring social media networks together in the face-to-face environment.
Professional event organizers may be better placed to do this in a sustained way than the volunteer groups who spearheaded the ‘unconference’ (e.g. Barcamp) movement before it began to fade. Holding social media network gatherings within larger events gives them a greater chance of success and an added level of security to a world that hasn’t quite overcome the concerns that on the Internet
people aren’t always what or who they seem to be.
Competitions in particular provide fertile ground for linking social media activity to a physical event. IFEMA’s presentation in Kiev incuded examples of a photography competition promoted through Twitter and a young models competition pushed via its Facebook site, where the final round of judging took place at its fashion show. There are many others.
There are still a good number of skeptics out there saying, “Show me that it works!” We're getting closer to the point where the experiments are yielding results, some of which are really compelling. Burton noted, “Social media is about engagement and being part of a community.” He added: “If you ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ you are missing the point. Engagement
will be its own reward.”
And, as for all brands, the key opportunity for publishers is the ability to engage in a proper, year-round dialogue with your audience. As Reed’s Matthias Baur told our Kiev meeting, “The top mistake when using social media is not to listen to your audience.” If you are not listening, he said, “you are not up to date, you miss key information that can helpful for your sales process, miss out learning what the competition is doing, don’t know who is influential in your industry, and miss leads.”