Once upon a time it was all so simple…
Providing you owned, could access or buy, good data and had the budget to hit your target universe five times on average with your message you could more or less guarantee an audience for your event. For exhibition marketers, preregistration was a very clear indicator of footfall on the day, with conversion rates of between 60 and 75 per cent. In the conference market a twelve week cycle of marketing would, possibly with the input of some telemarketing, produce enough registrations to cover costs and deliver that all important margin.
And then life got a whole lot more complicated…
The advent of online and email marketing brought with it a more instantateous way to talk to audiences. Unfortunately though, like a child gorging on the pick-and-mix, many marketers have abused the latter, flooding their database’s inboxes with messages on a far too regular basis. Others have treated their web presence as an online brochure, asking visitors to sign up for updates and news when in reality there would be none because noone factored in the time or resource for either the marketing or the main event team to curate such things.
Into this already crowded, and rowdy, room marches social media…
It’s like a toddlers tea-party. You want to make yourself heard above the cacophony: so you shout louder; you run hither and thither until it seems you are everywhere at once; you wear the gaudiest outfit because you think it will make you stand out; and you try everything, briefly. But when you leave you are hoarse, tired and, if the truth be told, you didn’t actually get very much done or make much of an impression because you were just one of a group of over-excited, slightly out of control children in inappropriate clothing.
For event marketers, the biggest problem is that the promotional cycle for an exhibition, conference, awards etc. is actually very short; very rarely does the campaign last for more than four months. This really doesn’t lend itself very well to social media because relationships in places such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and long lists of followers in Twitter aren’t built overnight, and if you want to establish a well-read blog then there is no point starting it ten weeks out from your show. And if you stop talking to your audience, they lose interest and go somewhere else.
Let’s look at two examples, both expos with conferences and seminar programmes attached and a technology bias, though not IT events as such, and with similar attendance figures at their live days:
Our first event takes place annually in February. They have a LinkedIn group which was established in January 2008 – a month before that year’s event. It’s growth profile looks like this:
While the group shows a steady growth in membership over the last four years, it is interesting to note that there are identifiable spikes in the number of new memberships in February of each year., i.e. when the event happens. Just three weeks later both increase in membership and activity, as shown in the chart below have fallen dramatically.
In contrast, the second team have created a LinkedIn group which began life based around their event (which takes place in March) but has been nurtured and developed to deliver to the expo’s existing and potential audience all year around. The group was established in December 2007, four months before the event was scheduled and their growth and activity profiles look like this:
As with all statistics you can look at these two sets of information in a number of different ways, but at face value the contrast is clear. One team started earlier and kept the momentum going whereas another only focusses their effort in the final push towards the event. The groups have been around for approximately the same amount of time, yet one has nearly six times the number of members as the other and is showing a positive growth pattern. One team is clearly putting the time and effort into creating a community that isn’t abandoned as soon as the last speaker has left the building…
Utilities like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. aren’t just another medium into which information can be lobbed out to the target audience in the same old way. Think about it: you strive for coverage in relevant magazines and industry journals because you want your product to appear in an environment that has kudos and stature. This is delivered by the editorial content created by the teams that manage those media. If you want to do the same thing via LinkedIn etc. then you have to create an editorial and community environment that makes your potential audience want to interact with you.
To deliver real ROI and marketing with impact for your event you can’t just dip in and out of social media, ignoring your audience for 11 months of the year and then shouting at them for four weeks before you want them to attend. You need to spend time getting to know them, finding out how to work with the community you have created via your exhibition, conference or roadshow. Remember, they sought you out and it is up to you to make them stay.
p.s. If you want to find out more about creating social media strategies that work for events, our colleague Hellen Beveridge will be teaching a series of courses over the next few months. Visit www.gallusevents.co.uk/our-events/ for more information.