Nine tips to attract more online participants

Social media is increasingly being used to recruit more delegates. Sometimes with success, sometimes irritating the recipients. We give you nine tips for successfully amplifying your audience via social engagement

1. Talk with your target group, not at them

E-mail marketing and social media are commonly deployed on a grand scale in the run-up to a conference. And if registrations happen to be lagging, the message will certainly be repeated many times. 'Should we send out another e-mail that "a few" places are still available?' Although you can reach a lot of people this way, they often think the messages are spam, and these won't translate into a lot of registrations because spam-like content quickly irritates readers and is often deleted. It's better to use content that generates discussion. And then you can join the discussion. This way, you are providing something. Usually, linking a hashtag to this content is enough for people to associate you with the conference. If members of your social media network share the content, it will spread by itself. In the best possible scenario, your content will go 'viral' or spread around the world. You should also focus on people who are already a 'fan'. They will gladly act as your ambassador and share your posts if you give them interesting content.

2. Use the five Ls

The most common mistake with social media is focusing only on what you want to say, instead of wondering whether it means anything to the recipient. It's not always easy to know what recipients want, but it helps to try to think from their perspective. The content appreciated by target audiences nearly always falls under one of the five L's: Learning (interesting information that people can use), Laughing (positive jokes or fun video clips), Love (attention and compliments), Listening (asking questions and interacting) and Location (practical info about your event).

3. Choose a good #hashtag

Craft a short, exclusive and, most importantly, recognisable hashtag that is easy to remember. For instance, the name or the subject of the conference. You can also add a year to the hashtag if it involves an annual conference. Something as simple as #IBTM17 would be effective. If people are unfamiliar with IBTM, but they are exposed to a great deal of interesting content, they will take the initiative to find out about IBTM. Check whether your hashtag means something in another language or whether it already exists. It would not be the first time people who are looking for your conference hashtag receive an avalanche of irrelevant messages in Spanish or another language. By the way, often you can avoid this problem just by adding the year to your hashtag.

4. Be generous with your #hashtag

Use your hashtag for all of your communications, including offline material, banners or whatever else is part of your campaign. If people know your hashtag, they are less likely to make up one of their own when discussing your conference. And you don't want that because you may miss a lot of what is being said about your event, and you won't be able to respond in time. Even during the conference, it's a good idea to display your hashtag everywhere, such as the big screen between the speakers.

5. Use photos and video clips

Research has shown that people find images much easier to understand and remember than text. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn posts are shared more often when they have an image. We are four times more likely to remember images as we are to remember text. People generally remember 80 percent of the images they see, but only 20 percent of the text. Be sure to always add an image to your message: a photo or a video clip. Choose your image carefully. It has to add something and be relevant. Pay attention that you do not have any blurred images or photos that are just bad overall.

6. Call to action

If it's quiet and you do not have much to share, you can also ask your audience what they think is nice to post on social media. Prior to the conference, perhaps during the registration period, you can appeal to your audience (including your hashtag) to indicate online that they will be attending your event. You could send another small gift to the people who do that or even raffle off a bigger gift. It is easy for participants to announce online that they will be coming because they can instantly network; it is also great for raising the profile of the gathering. During the event itself, you can allow them to chat online about the topics that come up or let them take specific photos, such as at a meeting point. You can install a big screen there, with the hashtag on it, for people to stand in front of. Better yet: have a photographer ready nearby. He/she then sends it to the participant's Twitter account.

7. Respond positively to criticism

Criticism is a natural part of social media. You may also receive commentary on certain choices you have made in the run-up to a conference These might concern the content you have posted, but they might also, for example, be due to the fact that you have invited a speaker who appears to be somewhat controversial. As long as the criticism is not solely a tirade, you should always respond and not remove them. If you do respond, show your audience that you take the comment seriously. Another good option is to personally contact the person who left the criticism. If you are sincere and show empathy, that is often enough to solve any issues. Post the agreed solution as a response on social media. Sometimes you can just 'respectfully' disagree with each other.

8. Make agreements with your staff

When it comes to work topics, you can tell your staff what you expect regarding the use of their private accounts. Go ahead and write down some straightforward agreements on an A4 about not hurting your colleagues, not letting things get personal about work and not sharing any business secrets. This may all seem perfectly logical, but it's often violated under the justification: 'My personal Twitter account only has ten followers.' But if the audience contains a journalist, someone from your conference's target group or a person with 5,000 followers who retweets an inappropriate message, the impact could be huge.

9. Set up a Twitter wall

Together with your chosen hashtag, display your tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn messages on the big screen during the conference. A ticket line on the bottom of the screen is a good way to present these. In this way, you will stimulate visitors to tweet during the conference, which creates a direct interaction with your participants. Be particularly cautious about careless social media use during the event with the free Wi-Fi. If a login is required, make sure that all of the participants can easily access it. And do not force them to input all about their lives and to complete all manner of forms before being allowed to go online. Just ask for a password and consider it done.  

Encore tips on social media marketing

Don't choose the easy way out by posting the same message on each platform. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to name but a few, each have their own communication culture. So, be sure to use a separate plan for each social media channel in order to take advantage of each platform's strengths. For the same reason, limit the number of social networks on which you are active online. It is already a challenge for most organisations to actively track The following book is specifically geared toward conference organisers: ‘Trending Topic – We have to do something with Social Media #ButWhat’, a management book by Gerrit Heijkoop and Paula Vos. The tips and tricks offered in this article are based in part on this book.

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