Trade shows and conferences are often under-utilised by companies. Exhibitors try to capture as many leads as possible to follow up later; speakers hope that their presentations will resonate enough to create contacts; visitors aspire to gather as much information as possible and leave without having to be talked at by sales people.
If you study any trade show, as we did recently, you will discover that a lot of opportunities are missed. Let me tell you why.
Perhaps you would love to know what’s going on at a specific trade show, but can’t attend for whatever reason. With social media and Google, you should be able to find out. In our study, this was not the case. Knowing which trade show we wanted to monitor remotely and gather information from, we looked in specific places for information. Unfortunately, we were left under-informed, only picking up micro-bursts of news through Twitter and very little from any of the companies involved.
Look at the website for almost any trade show. It’s a brochure; nicely designed with all the information you need for exhibiting and attending, including details about whom will be speaking. That’s all well and good for selling the event before it happens.
Once the event is running, nothing happens. There’s no news being published about talks, no press announcements from exhibitors at the event. Once a conference or trade show is up and running, the official website is usually useless except to help remind you of the address.
If I ran a trade show, I would make sure the website lives and breathes during the event by turning it into a resource for sharing news, data and video – anything that lets people stay informed.
Exhibitors pay a lot of money to be there, so why not help them reach a wider audience by publishing more current information throughout the event? The website can benefit from content provided by exhibitors – fantastic free stuff that helps boost your own brand awareness and generate a feelgood factor for future events.
At the last trade show we studied, there were only two great examples we could find of exhibitors maximising the occasion. They didn’t just use the event to talk to people in the room, they used it to talk to the wider audience who were interested in the sector.
The first example was a company that had clearly invested in making the event a launch pad for a new service. It paid for an exhibition stand, hosted a discussion forum and produced a nicely designed ebook that was made available as a download following a widely promoted press release.
The second example was more simple. A company that was announcing something pertinent to the industry issued a press release to say that it would reveal more at the show. Later on, it issued a full news story.
We were tracking the event to look for news announcements, but aside from those two things there was precious little else during the days of the event.
There is a huge lack of information during an event. Even afterwards there is next to no news, so you can use this as an opportunity to fill the void.
Related reading: How to get editors to read press releases
Social media tends to be under-utilised at trade shows (except for trade shows dedicated to social media). During our research, we found a small number of people communicated excessively during the trade show using official or popular hashtags.
The people who were communicating the most were commenting on speeches they were listening to – live micro-blogging – and conversing with others about the event.
A common practice at trade shows is to turn up, see who’s there, gather contacts and then communicate later. Advanced research can be helpful in scheduling meetings at the event, creating social networking relationships with industry peers.
If you’ve had social media success around trade shows, tweet me – I’d love to hear your stories.
Steve (RIP) was Services Director for Vertical Leap. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their digital marketing.