1. Communicate your #Hashtag/keyword
In order for social media engagement to be effective and measurable everyone must agree to use a single term that joins all the comments together. This is the #hashtag and both Twitter and Instagram use them to connect conversations around a particular event or topic.
For exhibitions I recommend a short and easily identifiable #hashtag. For both IMEX and IMEX America we use the format #IMEX(year of show) = #IMEX16. We include it in all our marketing materials, publications and anything else we can think of including our tote bags. We also make sure we add it to all our social media posts about the exhibition. Some events go so far as to create a giant physical #hashtag which when done well can become and attraction itself and a popular photo opportunity.
2. Provide Sharable Content
It’s important to provide your participants with content that they will want to share. Ideally they will take their own photos, write blog posts and send tweets using your #hashtag live from the best education sessions. It’s great when this happens but if you put yourself in their shoes you can quickly realise that this is not usually the case. Time or resource restraints mean that most participants are simply not that efficient or keen to fulfil an organiser’s social media ambitions.
Therefore, it’s important that the organiser’s social media channels also offer a regular output of good quality content from the exhibition that is relevant and easy to share. A professional photo of the opening of the exhibition with the #hashtag and a friendly welcoming message can be very effective.
— IMEX (@IMEX_Group) May 19, 2015
Engagement isn’t all about coming up with great content or planning for good photo opportunities. The best engagement can come from simple answers to questions or requests. When an exhibition is active on social media there is an implicit expectation that the organisers will respond to social media. After all these are all channels of communication and once opened they should flow in both directions. Active monitoring of Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and other social media channels is crucial and should enable effective engagement.
I believe that this serendipitous engagement should be core to any social media plan. Well-designed graphics with calls to action are great, but nothing beats a helpful online conversation, a real-time tip for exhibition navigation or a quick response to a complaint. There is always the danger of having an upset participant or negative reactions spreading on social media. The golden rule here is to respond quickly and effectively, but ultimately regardless of the outcome it is always better to be aware of this rather than have it happen anyway and without the organiser’s knowledge.
— IMEX (@IMEX_Group) May 20, 2015
Games and fun activities can be very useful when used to shape behaviours and drive desired actions for all types of events. Not all aspects of an exhibition can or should use gamification, but in some situations they are very effective. Competitions are usually well received, as are activities where participants can showcase their skills, knowledge or in the case of exhibitors where they can raise the awareness of their product.
For IMEX America 2014 we created a selfie competition with a miniature Las Vegas sign as a backdrop and a generous prize consisting of a branded baggage set courtesy of our destinations partners LVCVA. This was very successful in enhancing a trend of selfies at the show and the following year there were lines at the Las Vegas sign, no competition needed.
— IMEX (@IMEX_Group) October 15, 2014
A golden rule of any online communication is to acknowledge and credit your sources. Thanking participants for engaging or sharing content is equally as important. A simple “thanks for sharing”, or photo credit note can go a long way. When co-created content is gathered and shared you are not only engaging with the participants but you are also generating good will that can turn participants into fans and advocates. This is the true reward of engagement that comes with the perfect mix of online and offline interaction.
— Wolfgang Jilka (@WolfgangJilka) October 12, 2014