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How B2B Trade Shows can Benefit from Social Media

people walking on pathway

Some of my favorite speaking gigs are B2B trade shows. Most often, the attendees of my sessions are business owners themselves, or a representative tasked with learning “how to do social media”.

It is exciting to me to see the “Aha!” moments on the faces of those who realize social media isn’t just for sharing stupid cat pictures, memes, or drunken photos of the weekend’s transgressions.

The point that usually causes the most enlightenment is that there really is no “B2B” marketing. In reality, business decisions are made by humans. A business does not determine sources, vendors, or emotional connection – humans do.

Social media, at its core, is a relationship-based form of communication. It is human-to-human marketing.

Trade Shows Make a Dent in Marketing Budgets

A 2011 survey conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) revealed that companies in the business-to-business category allocated approximately 40% of their annual marketing budgets for trade shows.

That said, I am surprised at how little many marketers use social media to make connections before a trade show.

This is a huge amount of money being spent on trade shows, but brands are doing little to capitalize on their floor presence.

Don’t even get me started on the number of booths that employ an empty suit sitting behind their boring table mindlessly soaking life out of their smartphone battery.

Finally, trade show attendees are seeking information. Take advantage of their desire to learn more about your brand, product, and service lines through online marketing.

Marketing is Changing

Long before social media, trade shows were an integral part of B2B marketing. It was the hub of all things new, where sales folks strengthened already established relationships with vendors and sought out new products for their own lines.

With trade show expenses ranging between $7500 and $25000, it is in the interest of every brand to extend their reach prior to the actual event, as much as possible, to see a positive return on investment.

To goal for every trade show social media campaign should be to drive traffic and build awareness.

Here are 12 ways brands can use social media leading up to a trade show:

Be Socially Discoverable

First things first, make sure you social media profiles are setup, up-to-date, and established. No prospective client wants to be the first to Like your Facebook Page or be your second Twitter follower after your mom.

You don’t need to be on every single social platform, but the ones you intend to promote and use should be well established. If they are not, go set them up right now.

For the purposes of this conversation, I would recommend you have a presence on all or most of the following:

  • LinkedIn (Individual and Company Page)
  • Instagram
  • Facebook Pages
  • Twitter (bonus points for a custom hashtag)
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

Set Sales Goals Before the Show

Susan Friedmann, a.k.a. The Tradeshow Coach, says social media can be an invaluable weapon in a marketer’s trade show arsenal, but she emphasizes that while the means and media to reach trade show attendees is evolving, the fundamentals of producing a successful trade show event remain largely unchanged. “The biggest mistake I see companies, large and small, make when approaching their trade shows,” Friedmann says, “is not setting quantifiable goals for the show.” And that applies to your booth marketing as much as it does your social media marketing, she says.

Friedmann says if one of your objectives for the show is to gather leads—which is the goal for 70-80 percent of companies attending trade shows—quantify that goal. “It’s not enough to say, ‘We want lots of leads.’ If doing demos for prospects is part of the plan, determine ahead of time how many demos you’re targeting. Use your social media marketing and the analytics it provides, Friedmann says, to help you reach specific goals, such as, “We want to gather 300 leads, do 50 client demos, which, within six months, will lead to five sales worth a total of $10 million.”

To be truly socially minded, set specific goals as they relate to your online presence. For example:

  • A ________ % Increase in New Leads and Sales
  • A ________ % Increase in Organic and Direct Traffic to our website
  • A ________ % Increase in Facebook/Twitter/Social Media Following
  • A ________ % Increase in Email and/or Blog Subscribers

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Get the Conversation Started Early

The key to effective marketing is to build anticipation early. Start by announcing your attendance on Facebook or Twitter. If the trade show has an official social media presence, mention them or include them in some of your promotion. This is likely to be shared by them, further extending your reach to a targeted-audience.

Many show attendees will feel overwhelmed by salespeople on the trade show floor. Reaching out to them early will make them far more likely to accept your invitation. Remember, be warm and welcoming rather than direct and overly focused on closing the deal.

Identify Key Prospects

Casinos have “whales” — high rollers — who are likely to drop a considerable amount of money each visit. Casinos often reward these guests with lavish comps to lure them onto the casino floor. Similarly, you and your sales team should have a list of your own high rollers; key prospects you believe will be attending the show. Make a point to reach out to these folks weeks before using LinkedIn and set an appointment with them before their schedule during the actual event fills up.

One of my coffee-industry clients attended a trade show after learning that a buyer from Starbucks would be at the show. We scouted out the individual (remember, all business is human to human), after learning more about that particular buyer, we formed a plan on how to approach and “not pitch” their product.

This tactic worked to secure rare time with this buyer when others were scrambling and trying to form a pitch on the spot.

Monitor the Official Show Promotions

Many trade shows will publish frequently asked questions, blog posts, and other materials online to drum up interest. Comment, share, and interact with their communications to gain additional exposure to first time attendees who are looking for more information about the event.

Create the “Wow” Factor

Victrola Coffee Trade Show Booth
An “Instagram-worthy” trade show booth can get you more publicity than the best traditional marketing campaign

If you are looking to make a splash at the show, invest early on in designing an experience that will make attendees stop, whip out their smartphones, and share their experience with their own social circles.

It is best to design your trade show booth with “experience areas” where folks can snap their photo with your branded backdrop. Think of the red carpet experience and the brand exposure sponsoring companies get when those photos are shared, tweeted, and tagged.

Creating a Social Community

Before the show, look for opportunities to host or guest host a webinar, Twitter chat, or administer a LinkedIn group relevant to your industry. By hosting a question and answer forum, you establish yourself as an expert before selling your product or service. This gives you an excellent platform to promote your presence at the upcoming-trade show, as well.

Socially-Savvy Sharing

At the event, encourage staff to share their experiences, photos and videos of attendees, interesting tidbits about the product, or customer reactions. Encourage your sales team to update their statuses on LinkedIn to mention their attendance at the show and take advantage of hashtags being used by other attendees and the show itself.

It may be a worthy investment to hire a small, socially-savvy team to help your existing team with this. Allow your sales staff to do what they do best: sell.

Promotions & Contests

Contests can be extravagant or simple. One example I see that works quite well is a time-based discount where manufacturers tweet discounts or coupons available for a limited amount of time. For this to be successful, you must have done your homework to build your following and know your followers are present at the show.

Don’t Forget Blogging

Rather than posting boring press releases before or after the show, encourage your staff to share their experiences on a blog throughout the show. Include video, photos, or embed favorite tweets pertaining to the post’s topic. This type of special reporting adds a very human sense to your marketing.

Remember, frequent blogging helps keep your visitors engaged and boosts your ranking in the search engine results.

Landing Pages for Attendees

Create a landing page specifically for show attendees. You can use it to gather valuable information while setting appointments to meet with customers and prospects.

Follow up Quickly

I am a huge fan of following up with leads quickly, but not so soon that they feel you are being pushy.

I recommend my clients send a gentle “Nice Meeting You Today” email to prospects within hours of closing of the show floor. Make it personal and informative, but not salesy.

After the Show

Some products have a long sales cycle; meaning, it could be weeks or months before a lead generated at the show is ready to make a purchase.

  • Keep the conversation going after the show by using social networks like LinkedIn or Facebook to recap the highlights of the show. Remind those who were not there of the awesome opportunities they missed out on – deals, discounts, meeting executives, celebrities, or stories from your company-sponsored after-party event.
  • Speaking of after-parties, many brands will stop marketing at the end of the workday – you can carve out your own space and stand out from the day’s noise by promoting your after-hours events with hashtags or check-ins. Again, use red carpet-style branded backdrops around your event and encourage attendees to share on social.
  • Keep a list of common questions and topics raised by attendees and use this as fodder for your blog post series. Publish a blog post to answer and address each of these and schedule them out. Again, keep the conversationalist nature going by referring back to the trade show. Use specific examples or customer testimonials, when you can.
  • If you have permission, tweet out and mention customers who were in attendance. Not only does everyone like to see their name highlighted, but you will gain additional exposure as they share, retweet, and favorite the shoutout.
  • Create a special email campaign with videos, blog posts, and product features to those who could not attend, but expressed interest. Highlight your presence at the show as a way to build early anticipation for next year’s event.

Trade Show Hosts Should Be Using Social More

Many of the trade show hosts do very little to boost their numbers with social media. A little effort beforehand can go a long way to spread the word about your show sponsors, boost attendance, attract new brands, and add value to your existing participants.

By providing this value add, trade show hosts can secure their own future year after year because they are continually producing happy participants.

Be smart, use social media before your next trade show to build buzz about your brand and products. You’ll make your investment much more valuable.


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