There are many good reasons to attend a tradeshow or exhibition, no matter how big or small your company may be, or whatever the length of time you have been in business.
I work for a tradeshow display company, and in recent years we've seen an increasing number of businesses embrace social media at tradeshows. Outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ can help make the most of the experience, hitting each of what should be your three main targets:
- Promoting your brand
- Meeting existing and prospective customers
- Having fun
(That last point may seem trivial, but taking along your more sociable and outgoing team members will add value to the experience, as well as giving staff a change of scenery and a new and diverse set of challenges to meet.)
Much of the following advice could apply to social media in everyday business, but we find that tradeshows are where up-to-the-second media such as Twitter come into their own, helping make the physical event virtual, and bringing something very localized to a wider—and potentially global—audience.
One of the key components of using social media at a tradeshow is preparation. Draw up a strategy beforehand, in the weeks building up to the show.
If your business doesn't have a Facebook page or Twitter account, set them up. Begin tweeting about the tradeshow well in advance, and if possible include the official Twitter name or hashtag for the event.
On the subject of hashtags, if possible find out what the official or most common hashtags applicable to the tradeshow will be. Essentially, you don't want to be the only company there using, for example, #NYCExpo, when everybody else is using #ExpoNYC.
Take time to consider who you would like to meet at the show, and use sites such as LinkedIn to compose lists of those you can network with when you're there.
2. Grammar and Spelling
You may think this goes without saying, but if I had a dollar for every time an important, potentially vital business post on social media was misspelled—and often embarrassingly so—I would be a very wealthy man!
It may be fashionable among teenagers and youngsters to use misspellings and vowel-free abbreviations in their Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter accounts, but clear communication is vital in business.
A tweet may be just 140 characters long, but it is still a message representing your business. Nothing looks less professional than a sentence that's peppered with errors or a message that makes no sense whatsoever!
3. Use Them Sparingly
This is a matter of quality rather than quantity. By their very nature, tradeshows can involve a lot of sitting around. Don't fill any empty minutes by tweeting the first thing that comes into your head, however appropriate it may seem at the time.
Try to keep your communications via social media focused on content and value. Use them to promote structured events throughout the tradeshow: product demonstrations, for example, or signings. That way, you can create a buzz around the overall event and draw people to your stand at key times during the show.
4. Keep It Classy
This is one of the tips that applies to the use of social media at all times, not just during tradeshows. Once again—and I really can't emphasize this enough—social media, however informal they can seem, are a representation of your business. Think of them as your shop front. If you wouldn't write something on the window, don't write it on Facebook or Twitter.
It's surprising—and a little depressing—how often we hear of employees and managers of businesses big and small being reprimanded for social media faux pas. In the UK, the manager of a liquor store—part of a nationwide chain—was recently suspended for announcing a sales promotion on champagne the day Margaret Thatcher died, writing, "If for any reason anyone feels like celebrating anything, we have Taittinger available... at £29. Just saying."
It should go without saying—but still has to be said—that a business account on Twitter is neither a soapbox for your political beliefs nor a stage for your comedy routine. "Witty" and "quirky" are both fine, but keep them in check and use them only when it's appropriate!
5. Post Pictures and Videos
This is all about taking the experience beyond the exhibition center and reaching a wider audience. For whatever reason, you may have current or prospective customers who are unable to reach the show. Taking photographs and recording videos of any events you may have at your stall, and posting them as quickly as possible, is a great way of bringing the tradeshow to them.
It's worth noting that product demonstration videos have proven very successful on YouTube in recent years. Perhaps the most impressive example of this is UltraTech's 2012 video showcasing its "hydrophobic" spray; the video received over 5 million views in less than six months.
6. Keep the Momentum Going
So you've packed away your stall and you're heading home, but that doesn't mean that the tradeshow experience is over. Social media allow you to stay in contact with those you have met—whether customers or providers—more easily than ever before. Successful use of social media can allow you to treat every day like a tradeshow, whether you are promoting your business or interacting with customers.