Breaking Down Walls

17 Ways to Use Social Media to Transform Your Conference

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Posted: May 25, 2016

So you’ve decided to host a conference? Congratulations, and also… strap in and hang on tight. It’s about to get a bit hectic. Taking on the task of organizing and hosting a conference is not for the faint of heart.

Successful conferences take time, thoughtfulness, and resources to pull off. Fortunately, social media is a wonderful way to extend the reach of those precious investments to ensure that your conference breaks through those conference walls to reach people far beyond those on the invite list. We’ve compiled a list of 17 ways to use social media to help make your conference more connected.

1. Create a hashtag.

You’d be surprised how many conferences wait until the last minute to decide this. Make this one of your first considerations. Keep the hashtag clear and obvious for people who are in attendance to use. Keep it short, so that there is plenty of room for attendees’ observations and highlights. And, lastly, avoid the “alphabet soup” of acronyms. You want people who aren’t at the conference to know what the hashtag represents.

2. Use a social media aggregation tool.

Put your audience in lights. People love to see their names on big shiny screens, so one way to get an audience more engaged in sharing is to use a social media aggregation tool to pull together all related content being shared on social media—usually on a chosen hashtag—to display on screen, in real time. There are a number of tools you can use to do this, including Tagboard, Tint, Zoomph, and Walls.IO.

3. Promote social media and your hashtag across all your communications channels.

This seems like an obvious recommendation, but you’d be surprised how easily it is to let social media fade to the backburner while you’re organizing other conference logistics. Don’t let that happen. If you’re planning to host or organize a conference, make sure social media and the hashtag you plan to use throughout the event are embedded and woven into all promotional content and channel outreach from the moment you start to get the word out.

4. Create a Facebook or Meetup event with conference details.

A great way to spread the word about your event is to create a Facebook or Meetup event page. It takes just a few minutes, and you’ll have a way for people to express their interest or plans around attending, encourage others to spread the word about the event, and provide an easy place for people to connect leading up to the event. It’s also another way to communicate to attendees about last minute changes or logistical updates that people may need to know. Make sure it’s clear in the content that a Facebook or Meetup event RSVP alone isn’t enough to register for the event, if that’s in fact the case.

5. Create a conference logo and transparency.

Building a cohesive look and feel for the conference helps it feel more professional and official. The look and feel should be extended to your social media channels, so everything is integrated and uniform. When you’re designing a logo or a name for the conference, keep in mind how it will play out across screens and channels. Then, build a transparency or watermark so that you can easily “brand” any photos that are being shared on your social channels in support of the event.

6. Incorporate social media and hashtag into all your conference materials.

While designing and printing your materials, ensure that the event hashtag and the organization’s social media channels are front and center. Encourage people to tweet any questions, so conference organizers can provide real-time support from anywhere. Brand the hashtag broadly so that people know sharing on social media is supported and encouraged—sometimes a visual cue in the moment can help remind people to do some sharing. This could be everything from the program to slides for presenters to table decorations. Work it into a lighting projection, or free stickers, or a poster when you walk in the room. The options are endless.

7. Identify influencers and build personal relationships with them before hand.

As the RSVPs and registrations roll in, understand who is attending. You may even consider requesting that certain influencers include their social media channels as part of the registration information, so it’s easier to review and see who might have a larger social-media following. Once you’ve built your list of influencers (and maybe invited some people, who may be willing to share on social media, to attend for free), do some one-on-one outreach. Introduce yourself, ask them if they have any questions about the event, and encourage them to share their intention to attend the event and what they’re learning throughout the event on social media. Make it easier for them to share by providing some sample tweets or posts. Best of all, make sure to find time to connect with them in person at the conference so you can start to build a more fruitful relationship.

8. Create a custom Snapchat geofilter for your conference.

Snapchat is becoming a go-to channel for real-time experience sharing. You can now submit a request to Snapchat for a fee (starting at $5) to create a custom geofilter for your event with a branded logo or visualization located around your venue.  

9. Use real-time interaction tools to take feedback from the audience.

Asking for real-time participation from attendees is a great way to get them more engaged in the content being shared. Tools like PollEverywhere give presenters an opportunity to ask questions of the audience, poll people for information in real-time, and see those responses displayed immediately.

10. Build out an editorial calendar to use social to promote before, during, and after the conference.

Nothing beats having a solid plan from which to work. Getting organized in the weeks leading up to the conference will alleviate potential headaches in the moment. A conference editorial calendar contains a few types of content: promotional content for the lead-up to the conference, a plan for which sessions to cover during the conference, and a plan for how to use the content that comes out of the conference in subsequent weeks.

11. Assign someone to “own” social media during the conference.

If your objectives include extending your reach, establishing your leadership, or helping to create opportunities for people to learn from the conference (whether they’re in the room or not), then make sure to dedicate someone to running your social channels. This is a full-time task when the conference is live. They’ll be responsible for capturing quotes for Twitter, taking photos, answering questions from people who are in attendance, cultivating relationships with known influencers, interacting with people who are actively sharing, moderating the live social display, capturing content for post-conference sharing, and so on. The responsibilities of that person are vast, and important. Give yourself the opportunity to wring as much value out of the event as possible.

12. Livestream keynote sessions or highlights from the event.

Again, this is a consideration based on your goals and objectives. If your driving focus is to extend the reach of your content, consider using live streaming. There are low-level investment ways to stream using tools like Periscope or Facebook Live. There are higher-level investment ways to stream using professional videographers and streaming sites like YouTube Live or UStream. The quality may be determined by your potential audience and your desired objectives.

13. Schedule a tweet chat during or after the conference.

Tweet chats are a simple, fun way to build relationships and encourage active learning on social media. You can schedule a tweet chat on a topic relevant to the conference afterwards to give people opportunities to reflect on what they’ve learned and come together again virtually. Or you can choose to host the chat during the conference itself to apply issues and topics that are being explored at the conference in real time.

14. Capture content to share in future campaigns.

Is there someone in attendance who would make a good interview subject? Want to capture a testimonial from someone who has benefited from your services? Build some time into the editorial calendar and work plan to take advantage of having those folks in the room with you. Set aside a quiet space to record video or audio, find a spot with natural lighting, and grab a quality camera to capture photos in and around the room. All of that rich media can be repurposed over the course of the coming year(s) and provide additional resources for your communications and marketing efforts.

15. Organize materials from presenters on SlideShare.

Speakers often put together compelling slides chock full of valuable information. As the conference organizer, ask presenters ahead of time if they’d be willing to share their slides with you after the fact, so that you can share them with attendees. Services like SlideShare are a great way to host that content and bring people back to your resources. While you’re at it, why not send presenters a conference-branded slide deck so that everything feels consistent?

16. Host a contest or giveaway.

If you want to engage people in the room, another great way to get them involved is by hosting a contest or giveaway. While in front of your audience, ask people to tweet their favorite takeaway and give away a token or gift at random. Or, announce a contest at the beginning of the event for people who provide the most interesting photo or selfie and use the hashtag #EventContest (with the name of your event, of course). Whatever it is, make sure you have the appropriate terms and conditions in place ahead of time.

17. Follow up via email to encourage sharing.

When all is said and done and the banquet halls are quiet…not so fast. You’re not done yet. While it’s important to take a breath and look at all you’ve accomplished, you should also add one more thing to that to-do list. Draft an email to attendees filled with important debrief information, including encouragement to share what they found most useful. Items to include in a post-conference email? A post-conference survey, a prompt to share highlights of the conference at the conference hashtag, links to slide decks on SlideShare, information about what’s next to continue the momentum, etc.

Organizing a conference takes plenty of time and strategic thinking. Even if you integrate just a few of these ideas for how to use social media into your conference, you’ll be well on your way to attracting new followers, establishing yourself as a leading voice in your field, and cultivating and strengthening relationships with your most important connections.

Want to talk about how Pyramid Communications can help take your conference or event to the next level? We’re always available to help.

Twitter: @kimervin
Kim Ervin is Pyramid’s director of social and channel strategy. She develops social media strategies and campaigns which aim to deepen connections between organizations and their communities. When not sharing the ins and outs of social media management, Kim is likely reading and researching ways to change the world on multiple screens.