Most Innovative Meetings 2012: #6 H.I.M.S.S. Conference & Exhibition

The health care organization experienced dramatic growth in social media engagement and buzz at its annual conference, in part by educating its attendees and presenters on how to use various tools.

By Mitra Sorrells July 19, 2012, 2:25 AM EDT

Organizers created a 1,800-square-foot social media center, which included lounge seating, large monitors with the Twitter stream, a help desk, and a small stage.

Photo: Jann Hendry

On February 21, participants at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s conference tweeted 6,438 times with the event’s hashtag, #himss12. That’s a world record for tweets on a single day from a health care conference, according to researchers at Symplur. While that may be the most striking statistic from the event, it only tells part of the story. In fact, organizers created a multifaceted strategy that not only facilitated sharing on social media platforms, but also included preconference activities and offered group and one-on-one training for attendees and presenters.

Social media activities began two months prior to the conference. H.I.M.S.S. social media manager Cari McLean and her team engaged potential attendees on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the society’s blog. They also educated colleagues, speakers, and exhibitors on the social media strategy and taught them how to use social platforms to drive engagement with attendees in a webinar. Later others could watch a recording on-demand.

“We explained what true engagement means in the social space, how to optimize their social messages via hashtags, keywords, and being resourceful, and how to support their efforts via mobile on-site,” McLean said. On the conference Web site, a cheat sheet provided hashtags related to the conference and a list of influential people’s handles.

To help first-time attendees, the organization hosted a Twitter chat.“We have more than 400 education sessions and more than 1,100 exhibitors. So we wanted to make sure [new attendees] had a sense of what to expect and the best way to prep for it so they were not overwhelmed,” McLean said.

On-site at the Venetian Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas, organizers created a 1,800-square-foot social media center, which included lounge seating, large monitors with the Twitter stream, a help desk, and a small stage. For three days, the center hosted educational sessions presented by health care bloggers and social media users on topics such as establishing a staff social media policy, social media as a collaborative tool, blogging as a career, and developing an integrated social media strategy. Organizers estimate each session attracted 50 to 75 attendees.

For one hour each day, the center hosted a “Social Media Genius Bar,” with two experts offering personalized feedback.

Signage encouraged attendees to share what they were learning on Twitter with the hashtag. Organizers also incorporated calls-to-action in moderator scripts and walk-in slides. “Our message was that innovation is worth sharing,” McLean said.

Clearly the message got through. The event set a record for tweets and garnered more than 33,000 mentions across all social platforms, a 200 percent increase over 2011. Organizers estimate they reached 85,400,000 people through social media.

McLean’s advice: “Be engaging and not just a broadcaster on social channels. Really try to create a community around your event, don’t just use it as a marketing tool.”

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