Social media is a valuable tool for planners looking to build buzz about their events, to understand hot issues within their target markets, and to communicate with attendees year-round. Now some organizers are also finding ways to use it in a more strategic manner by turning attendees into advocates who can drive growth for their events.
“For a long time we had a very top-down approach to marketing. What social has changed is now you can have millions and billions of people buying and engaging with products and events entirely through word of mouth,” says Michael Barnett, C.E.O. of InGo, a social media marketing system for events.
InGo is integrated with more than two dozen registration programs such as Eventbrite, Cvent, Etouches, Experient, and Active RegOnline. Attendees are invited to register using their Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook accounts. Once they do, the system analyzes their connections in two ways: it looks for people who the attendee has a strong relationship with (based on things like similar education, employers, locations, or likes) and it looks for people who are similar to others who are registered for the event (based on their job functions or title). From that analysis, InGo generates a list of relevant contacts the current attendee can invite to the event with one click.
“It uncovers the people that we might not know about that would be a good fit for the event. And they are not getting invited by a corporate email or something from the show. They are getting invited from somebody they know, somebody who they may want to do business with,” says Paul Dwyer, registration director and operations financial analyst for Reed Exhibitions, which uses InGo for some of its shows.
For Reed’s International Vision Expo and Conference last September in Las Vegas, Dwyer says attendees sent out 269 personal invitations through InGo which resulted in 234 registrations. Of those, 143 were people who had never attended the show before. For Reed’s ISC East trade show in November, 2 percent of the 4,000 attendees were new participants that came through InGo. “But you don’t want to get too caught up in the numbers. If you are getting an extended reach with high-quality people that buy, that’s going to be a win,” Dwyer says.
To motivate attendees to invite others, organizers can publicize a leaderboard and offer prizes, such as iPads, free hotel rooms, or access to a V.I.P. lounge. Along with good incentives, Barnett says they have found two factors that impact the success of social invitation campaigns: whether the attendees have strong social networks and whether they are inspired by the subject matter.
“If it’s just functional, it’s not going to move people. But if it’s something that people get excited about, social magnifies that dramatically,” Barnett says.
Informa Exhibtions has used InGo for some of its events during the past two years, and Jeff Davis, the company’s director of new business development, says he’s continuing to explore how social media can be used to tap into new attendees.
“The people who spend money with us every year, we owe it to them to get as many new fresh faces as possible,” Davis says. “We have hardcore attendees who have lots of contacts who are in the business who we haven’t reached. There’s no doubt that leveraging some form of a social tool to find these people and get them into our stable of prospects is worthwhile. It makes our event better and makes our customers happier.”