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Using Social Media to Boost Your Conference Promotions

You shouldn’t have to put the rest of your life on hold to build a strong social media presence for your next conference.

Some social media tools take more time than others, and using them all would be a full-time job (for someone else, since you’ve already got one). But with a smart social media plan that is tailored to your audience, you can hone your approach and get the results you need.

Your first step is to develop an editorial calendar that lays out the messages you want to deliver, the content and media (social or conventional) that you plan to use at different points in your campaign, and the in-house or outsourced support that you’ll need to meet your deadlines. The calendar can be as simple or complicated as you need it to be—but consider starting small, meeting your goals, then expanding the campaign as time permits.

To make the plan achievable, use simple online resources to pre-schedule your content and keep campaign administration to 20 or 30 minutes per day.

·         Twitter tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck make it easy to pre-write a cluster of tweets and preschedule them through the day.

·         WordPress, a popular blog platform, has an editorial calendar plug-in to help you manage multiple posts.

·         A Twitter hashtag is one of the easiest ways to begin building a community around your conference message. Once people begin using the hashtag to post or retweet content, they end up bringing their followers to your conversation.

·         A YouTube channel takes a little more time—to prepare good content, and to manage the uploads. But a compelling video message can add a powerful new dimension to a campaign built mainly on online text.

Like almost any other marketing tool, social media will bring better results if you plan to gradually build profile and credibility, rather than pushing for quick results. The transition from push to pull marketing makes just as much sense online as it does in any other medium.

Six Tips for Marketing Your Conference on Social Media

It’s easy to spot the organizations that are missing the point with their social media campaigns. At a time when conventional marketers are abandoning hard-sell strategies that drive their members and customers away, others are trying to bring the same, tired techniques online.

Here are six tips to get the most out of a simple social media strategy:

1.    Find Them Where They Are: To bring your audience to your social media platform, you have to find them where they already congregate online. Don’t forget that you might end up with a different “right” answer for each audience.

2.    Build an Irresistible Community: Once you've located your audience, invite them to an online community where they can learn, share, and feel at home. As long as the site keeps giving them useful information and contacts, they’ll keep coming back.

3.    Develop Your Listening Skills: We’ve talked about the hazards of short-term “push” messaging and the need to give your audience the information that they need and want. A social media strategy takes you a giant step farther, creating an online community where you can listen to your members’ issues and concerns. You should also monitor all the channels where you located them in the first place, taking every opportunity to repost or reply to any interesting or relevant comments.

4.    Talk Back…In Their Language: When you start reflecting your members’ issues back to them, through the online community and in routine communications, you’ll prove yourself as an organization that has the pulse of its membership.

5.    Don’t Try to Do It All: Doing a consistent job with the right social media platform is more important—and more realistic—than sustaining a comprehensive campaign that uses every possible online tool.

6.    Take Control of the Strategy: In a recent article for the Canadian Society of Association Executives, public relations advisor Tim Shaw urged readers to connect their social media work back to organizational strategy and “measure, measure, measure” the results.
Social media is still a new frontier, where advisors are scrambling to keep up with the latest in technologies and platforms, tweets and likes. But the audience-centred strategies that work in other settings can also help you build a compelling online presence.

Why Conference Marketing Isn’t All About You

Is your conference marketing program designed as a hard-hitting call to action, with messaging that pushes and prods participants to that inevitable moment when they register?

Or do you take a more gradual approach, designed to pull the audience in by positioning the event as an irresistible opportunity for networking and professional development?

Your past registration campaigns may have emphasized one of these strategies or both. But the ultimate questions are:

·         Is the conference all about you or all about them?
·         And if it isn’t all about them, why do you expect them to attend?

The End of the Hard Sell

The big difference between the approaches is as simple and powerful as helping people find the information they think they need, rather than deluging them with the content you want them to like. According to Association Laboratory Inc., a U.S. association management consultancy, this is one of the characteristics that distinguish marketing from sales.

“Marketing is a member-driven approach to creating a package of products and services that solve member problems,” the company states. “Selling is an organization-driven approach designed to convince your audience to purchase what you have to sell.”

For the most part, “when most people say marketing, they usually mean promotion.”

A Gradual, Long-Term Goal

Earlier this year, I attended a workshop on creative marketing and sponsorships hosted by the Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter of the Canadian Association of Society Executives. One of my main takeaways was that marketing campaigns should build member engagement—inevitably a gradual, long-term goal, in contrast to short-term event registration targets.

Association Laboratory lists a series of possible catalysts for your next marketing campaign. Have you spotted a decline in membership or conference attendance? Are you losing volunteers or having trouble recruiting new ones? If your impulse is to launch your next mass mailing or e-blast, that may be the right step. But only if your messaging is about the unique value your members and participants can count on you to deliver, not the product or service you want them to buy in the next 48 hours.

No Silver Bullets

There are no silver bullets for engaging members, but I recently published a list of my favourite marketing tips for associations. If you’ve just clicked the link, or if you’re just about to, you know exactly how your members should feel (and exactly what they should want to do) after reading your next conference marketing piece.