A Conference Social Media Failure

Late last year I was part of a planning committee for an industry group’s tradeshow. We were tasked with putting together the content, future sites, etc. Typical committee stuff and because we were all in the industry and knew exactly what we were doing, it was even more excruciating than other committees….I am kidding, it was actually a great group. The conference was a success, but we were not without our problems. One of the main problems was our social media plan of attack or lack thereof.

One thing to note is we were all volunteers with busy schedules and our own daily clients (where we succeed with this stuff everyday). Not an excuse, just a point.

At the post event wrap up, a senior VP from a major company (who should know better) stated “The Social Media aspect of the event was a failure, I think that we should let it go”. I literally burst out laughing and started to tell him what we (yes, we) did not do that led to the “Social Media Failure” and that he really needed to understand that it was not social media’s fault, it was our fault, because even though I was not on the “marketing committee”, I could have piped up, I could have been more engaged and I could have helped. We never even built the foundation to succeed.

I went around the room and (in a funny way) asked everyone what they had done to contribute, what had they done to spread the word. I even had a laugh at my own expense… My point was that social media is social and you cannot have a party without a host, so how could we expect something to succeed when the host ditches his own shindig.

Why am I bringing up my own committee’s failure? To prove a point. Even people who know what they are doing can fail at something. Just ask any of our last 30 some odd presidents.

One of our biggest problems was that our senior VP friend thought that social media was some panacea that was going to drive hordes of waiting attendees into the arms of the registration site and we were going to break all attendance records simply because we woke up and got a screen name. This is a common misconception. People see other people’s successes with social media and they think that it happened on its own. They don’t plan to succeed.

Now there was a ton of stuff we should have done, but at the very least, we should have used Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and a Blog. Here is a little bit about these tools and how we completely failed at making an impact.

We failed to plan –

We did not have a plan. We lumped social media under the “marketing” subcommittee. Big mistake. The marketing folks already had their hands full and were ill prepared to fight this battle. A “social media” subcommittee should have been formed and had its own internal to do lists and check lists.

We under utilized –

We relied on too few places to be and not enough input. The group utilized only Twitter and Facebook. Now, these are the 800 lb gorillas, but they are not the be all and end all. We left out every other major platform…. That was silly. We also did not make effective use of the biggies that we should have.

We wrecked twitter –

Our conference chair opened a twitter account with probably the best screen name ever – The twitter account was used 5, maybe 10 times in the run up to the event. There was no sharing, no engagement, just a few random blurts to followers. The owner of this project only followed about 30 people. What a shame. Twitter is an amazing tool to drive people to your message. You can send them to pictures, registration pages, speaker pages…. Wherever you want. We wasted a chance to be a leader in our own field.

Unless you are Ashton Kutcher or Oprah, no one is going to come looking for you. You have to actively get out there and promote. You have to follow the right people and then follow more. You have to update regularly with great information so that the right people re-tweet what you send out and others will follow you…. It can be exponential if you work at it (key word is work).

We failed at Facebook –

A facebook page was built and that was about it. There was no linking to blog posts, twitter feeds or using Static FBML to put our own banner on the page. No one took the time to regularly update the content or engage with the page fans, and why bother, there were only 5 of them. There were only 5…. that means that even our own committee did not all become fans.

Facebook may not be all about business, but we all “like” business pages that we want to catch up with. This was a huge missed opportunity especially when Facebook updating can be automated by using your twitter feed or blog rss feeds.We also missed the boat to put up pictures and video from past events. This would have been a huge chance to show first time attendees or those on the fence what they are missing. It is also the place you are most likely going to catch the up and comers in your industry.

There are 101 other things we should have been doing on FaceBook as well, but you get the idea.

We ignored LinkedIn –

The group that I am talking about here has an amazing LinkedIn group… hundreds of people are there and involved. No one from the marketing committee (or other committees) ever took the time to share articles about the event, links or even questions. The event was never mentioned in the LinkedIn group. This was a huge missed opportunity… enough said.

A simple Blog could have done great things –

Our little friend the blog is often overlooked with all of the whiz bang tools out there now. In fact, a good blog can be the foundation for all of your other social media efforts. You can link your rss feed to twitter, your FaceBook page and even LinkedIn. BAM, one blog post and you have three additional touch points without even opening the pages of the other outlets. We didn’t even have a blog.

Not all of your posts have to be Hemingway novels or even Steven King stories. They simply have to happen. You can post YouTube videos of sponsors and speakers, updates to the schedule, local lunch joint reviews and yes, you can even write something that is of major importance… you can break the news that your Keynote is going to be Bill Gates or that you have added 20 new extra special educational sessions.

Wrapping Up –

There are many things that I have left out, not enough time….I guess my main point is, how can you expect to succeed when you don’t even try. How can you expect to gain anything by sitting and doing nothing.

Believe me, it took a village to fail on this one. What we did was nothing short of putting the fastest car on the track, hired the best driver to lead us and forgot to order the gas to make it go………

Make a plan, give your plan an action team and set them loose. Do not expect that a plan will come together with a little magic fairy dust, you have to make it happen. If you take the time and put in some energy, you can make it work and make it work well. On a daily basis I work with clients who are at first skeptical and then fans of social media because they implement a plan of attack and stick to it.

Social media will not help you overnight but it will be one of the most important things you can ever to for your meeting or event. If you event is next week, start tomorrow with plans for next year. Use next weeks conference to debut all of your little gizmos and people will be excited and you will already have a head start on the coming year. If you event is in two months, get going and build a small audience now, it will continue to grow through your event and on into the next…..

Get going… you can’t start without starting.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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