Social Media – just a way of killing time

Killing-timeA couple of years ago the following question was posted on the Who’s Who in Events LinkedIn group.

Is Social Media just used to kill time and find out what old colleagues are up to or does anyone, other than social media consultants, get business out of it?

While social media, and technology in general are now fully embedded in the event marketing mix, it is worth remembering that there are still a significant number of people who view it with a degree of scepticism. Following numerous stories (given much larger audiences thanks to online and social media) of data leakages and inappropriate sharing, many are much more cautious about what they put into the public domain.

Social media is a great enabler of the creation of a continuous dialogue between like-minded people which can be capitalised on to create really great live events that the attendees truly value. When many people think of social media they are just considering Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, but these are really just the juggernauts that are educating the masses in the capabilities of what social media can do.

Technology now exists that enables you to take the capabilities and structure of social media and use it to create your own network, drawing in your current attendees, other interested individuals and partner organisations. By providing them with an open and collaborative environment you can understand what it is that motivates and concerns them, and then you can deliver business services and events that match these needs.

The organisations that are currently doing this successfully are incredibly diverse: from Cancer Centers who want to know how their patients select care at their center and what they want to receive in return; to AFOLs (adult followers of Lego); and then on to large technology organisations who were creating an event for their users based on what they thought were the issues but when they stopped and listened they discovered that there were other more pressing topics that needed to be addressed.

Social media is no longer just a useful part of an event or business marketing campaign, it is the linchpin of an event or business marketing campaign. Organisers and organisations that stop shouting and interrupting (outbound marketing) and start listening and responding (inbound marketing) will be the winners in a world that has been transformed.

The answer, therefore, to our original sceptics question is:

If you are just an observer within Social Media then all you will ever be able to do is kill time and find out what old colleagues are up.  But if you use it effectively and professionally you will definitely get business out of it.

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Social media requires you to be sociable

2015/01/img_1113-0.jpgSitting in any marketing meeting I can guarantee that one question will always be asked.

“How often do I need to Blog/Tweet/Post”

Most event marketing teams answer with “maybe a blog a month” or “a couple of tweets a week” or “the odd post every now and then on LinkedIn”. Maybe you think this is OK, possibly even a bit ambitious. Once upon a time my Granny used to send her Mum a postcard to tell her she had got back to her place of work safely after a visit home…

So, how often should you post on your social media networks? In my hunt for a definitive answer I came across this infographic from Irfan Ahmad at Digital Information World. While not specifically drawn for events, it does give a pretty clear idea that you can’t just drop the odd comment and then stay silent for the rest of the month, hoping that what you said was so compelling your audience has hung around waiting for your next proclamation.

All too often we forget that social media is made up of two very distinct elements: the media, or mechanisms through which we broadcast our messaging; and social, or the interactions we create and sustain with our community. Without the latter, the former is useless and the brand identity is akin to that of Miss Haversham – out of touch, lonely and frankly just a little bit mouldy.

In most instances, providing you aren’t hammering your connections/likes/followers with constant sales messages, it is very difficult to say ‘too much’. Unlike email or telephone marketing where the arrival of yet another sales message feels like a personal intrusion, much of what arrives via social is ambient at best. As a consumer it can feel like panning for gold, hunting out the nuggets of juicy information. What your social media marketing efforts need to do is to ensure that no matter how frequently, or when, your potential audience comes looking, you have relevant content available.

The most important thing to remember is that although you will get more coverage if you are creating a lot of content, you can also achieve a significant reach by sharing other people’s. Linking up with your friends’ friends increases your social circle much faster, and this holds true for business contacts/networks as well.

So, just how often should you be posting on social networks? My experience is primarily in the B2B marketplace and my aim is to get all of my clients:
– Blogging two or three times a week
– Pinning onto Pinterest at least 4x per week
– creating an update on their LinkedIn group/page at least twice a week
– sending out original tweets at least 3 times a day

Social media tools and scheduling can really help achieve these goals, but that’s a topic for another blog post…

Listen to the people who are talking sense

If you haven’t come across Michael Heipel yet, please let me introduce you…

Michael tweets, blogs and posts about all sorts of stuff, including marketing, events, social media and technology and I like what he has to say. (Sometimes he even likes what I have to say which is great!)

Today I found his blog post about social media and events.  It’s a topic very close to me since I spend most of my time trying to pursuade clients to focus in on their content and then work out what media they are going to use to tell their audience about it, rather than creating a social media presence and working out what they are going to put on it.

I would reproduce what Michael has said here, but I think you should go and read it for yourself.  It makes a lot of sense.

hellen @missioncontrol

Social media doesn’t work for your event? Here’s 5 reasons to think twice…

While at the big industry events like EIBTM or IMEX, social networks and the impact they have on event marketing are widely discussed, I sense that a lot of event organizers and associations are still not sure about how to deal with the topic or how much resources to invest.

Using social media to market events

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.

missioncontrol @purerocketscience

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.

Do event companies need a new strategy?

feel the love hearts graphicAccording to Christophe Asselin, Head of UK at DMG :: events, what event companies (and by association their marketing teams) really need to do to attract visitors is to “feel the love”.

Christophe espoused this philosophy extensively at the Conference for Conference Professionals back in April.  What he was explaining, sprinkled heavily with his own particular brand of Gallic charm, was that if event organisers want to attract visitors, and keep them coming back then they have to be prepared to get up close and personal.

This approach won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot fame.  There are many organisations that, having set about making sure people could find them on Google, social media and blogs, also ensured that any incoming enquiries, orders or complaints could be handled swiftly and effectively by anyone in the business.  Other books such as Groundswell  and Socialnomics are littered with examples of companies getting it right, and in many cases wrong.

So why are so many event companies finding it hard to adopt this strategy themselves?

Economics has a lot to do with it and in particular the huge gamble that has to be taken at the start of the event planning process in terms of specifying and committing to a venue.  To minimise the risk the temptation is to run the team very lean in the beginning, keeping staff numbers and overhead as low as possible.  While this keeps the financial exposure down it invariably means that it also reduces the capacity to bring the event to the market.

It’s hard to be heard if you are a single lone voice and it takes time to gather enough others around you to start creating a really audible noise.

And, if we go back to Christophe’s original point, if the team is small and hard pressed, they don’t have the time, energy or inclination to listen and react to what potential visitors have to say, even though it could be the vital piece of information that could change an event from job done to runaway success.

Which could possibly explain why so many event companies want to embrace social media to deliver their louder voice but they can’t quite work out how, or if they have already dipped their toes into the water they are decidedly underwhelmed by the results.  It isn’t that social media isn’t or can’t work for events, but this is one medium where effort most definitely equals reward.  Rather than taking the usual“let’s add it to the bottom of the marketing department’s list of things to do” attitude, working out a cohesive social media strategy, of whatever size or complexity, in the launch proposal and budgetting adequately to deliver it on a long-term basis, will deliver much more satisfactory results.

For after all, it is only when you truly know your audience that you can really learn to love them.

A Consensus of Subjectivity…

…which is another way of saying Birds of a feather flock together and goes some way to explaining why social networking is such a success, although only for some.

Jeremy Bullmore used the term in 1998 in the context of shared perception of brand personality; the premise being that each and every one of many millions of people gathers a set of feelings that are to some extent autonomous but which further research shows to be closely related, i.e. we like to think we are taking unique decisions for ourselves, but in actual fact we often make them in the context of wanting to be part of a group.  It isn’t much fun being out there on your own.

Back in the dark ages of videotape, why did VHS succeed when BetaMax did not when the latter was universally acknowledged to be the better platform?  When faced with a decision, the consumer went with the crowd.  Similarly, why has LinkedIn grown exponentially while other similar business networks haven’t been able to tap into the same groundswell?  And Facebook wasn’t the first social networking site, so how come it is now almost the biggest community on the planet?

There is, perhaps, a single defining factor.  The consensus on the examples above is that the winners took time to listen to their users and potential users. They created entry points which were attractive, laid out their wares, watched to see how their consumers behaved and tweaked their offering accordingly, and keep on tweaking it (although in VHS’s case a seismic shift in technology eventually put paid to their dominance) to make it less and less attractive to go elsewhere.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes should take note.  There isn’t a marketing text book, essay or lecture today that isn’t trying to hammer home the message of listening:

Listening+action=success

How you and your organisation do this is up to you.  But do it you must.  And the first step has to be that you engage your clients, customers, partners and potential audience in a conversation where you can hear what they are saying about you, your products, your competitors, your competitors products etc. etc.  You need to find where they are having these conversations and join in, you need to be part of the People-Driven Economy which exists in social networks because if you aren’t someone else who does what you do is.

The choice is no longer whether or not you and your organisation embrace social media, the choice is how successfully you do it.

How much time must I spend on social media…?

As part of the social media for events course I run on behalf of The Media House, we spend a whole session quantifying the amount of time it will take to build and manage a social media campaign.

Generally there are two responses to this part of the course: horror and relief.

I use a diagram originally created by Beth Kantor, adapted by others, which lists social media activities and how long it takes to monitor, contribute, create and promote a single brand within a range of social media environments. The reveal of each sector is often greeted by a sharp intake of breath and a visible lightbulb moment.

For some delegates, it is the realisation that, at long last, they have a piece of tangible evidence that they can present to members of their senior management team about the scale of the task they are being asked to undertake.  For a marketing manager looking after ten or more event brands, who is under pressure to develop a Twitter feed, a  LinkedIn group and/or a Blog for each of them, having a clear idea of the time commitment this would take is fundamental to writing a strategy.  While initially horrified that even the basic monitoring phase could take them anywhere between seven and ten hours a week, they are relieved that at least now they can create a case for more resource and/or being more strategic across a whole bundle of brands to deliver a social media strategy that has real Klout

What is most interesting though is that this time-commitment comes as a surprise at all to marketing managers who have long experience of working with traditional media.  Given the amount of time and iterations it takes to write good advertising and marketing copy, why would it take any less to write a good blog post or e-newsletter? And, since the latter have to be done with greater frequency to deliver a regular audience or following, why is it so difficult to scale this up until the realisation occurs that it could well be a full(ish) time job for someone.

But you already have a full-time job…

hellen @missioncontrol