Tricks of the Trade Show: Six Points on Social Preplanning

So, it’s January … and in addition to being ‘frozen tundra season’ here in New England, it’s also trade show season across the U.S.

Not long after the holidays, professionals in every career from apple farming to zip-lining start gearing up for their industries’ annual expos, conferences, symposiums, what-have-you. A cross-country current of chotchkes, business cards, and rumpled business-casual wear emerges as trade show season stretches long into the spring, slowing only when it bumps up against the equally powerful golf tournament season.

We’ve blogged about our work with trade show specific creative before — things like leave-behinds, booth designs, and live events. Today’s topic, though, has to do with pre-show social media planning, and some of the things we do here at WP to get ready for the convention floors.

Mevion Medical’s booth at ASTRO, featuring graphics by WP

• Thing One: visit the show’s website. No brainer, right? Find its social media links, follow them, and look for any official hashtags that are being used on social networks. Find out what organizations, companies and media are sponsoring or hosting the event, and follow them, too.

We are getting ready for the International Builders Show now, for instance… a few clients will be there, and we’ll be there showing attendees some of our work. A quick click over to IBS’ Twitter stream quickly reveals their official hashtag: #IBSVegas. From there, we can find out when and where events are happening, find people and companies with which we might want to connect, and take the overall pulse of the show, all before the first skirted display table hits the exhibition hall.

Tip: More and more trade shows are developing their own apps. Download these to your phone early; not only can you access contact information, schedules, and maps among other things, you might also get a jump on some of the cool giveaways and contests that are planned. Free iPad, anyone? 

The Quatic Apparel booth at SurfExpo,
featuring graphics by WP

• Next, schedule some updates ahead of time, to post in the days leading up to the show. Facebook has a scheduling option on its business pages, and we use HootSuite to manage our social media efforts for ourselves and clients. Share links to events you’re attending or products to watch for, ReTweet official news, post photos of whatever prep work you might be doing for the show… above all, remember to keep it human, interesting, and on topic. Posting beforehand allows for connections to be made pre-show — maybe you’ll even set up a meeting or two — and scheduling these updates saves time, lets you post at optimal times during the day and week, and clears the way for more preparation for the event, including:

• Identifying your show goals. Whoever is donning the attendee badge is going for a reason, be it you or your client; so find out what it is. Sales? Brand awareness? Industry education? The pretzels in the food court? Knowing who to seek out and what the objectives are will help align your social media efforts. We use an actual form that those attending a show from our ranks fill out; it’s the brain child of our event coordinator, Vanessa. It doesn’t need to be complicated; in fact, the simpler, the better.

Tip: You can check out our simple form here.

• Which leads us to the real meat of the matter: creating content. We’ve talked about following social channels of trade shows, associations, and sponsors, identifying hashtags in order to best follow conversations, and devising planning documents. Good news — in doing this, you’ve also created a great chunk of information to share.

We put our lists of important links related to a given show — lists of Facebook pages, Twitter streams, YouTube channels, etc. — on our online newsroom where anyone can easily access and repost them. There are a lot of options, though; you could also create a list on Twitter, which can serve as reference for you as well as a resource for others. Everyone loves lists, after all, but perhaps not as much as…

• Video and photo content. Visual content will always take you farthest, and doesn’t always need to be highly produced. Content generated from professional video and photo shoots is awesome, but rarely easy to execute. Try out some simple video and photo apps and websites to create new content without taking too much time or breaking the bank; Animoto is one of our favorites.

Tip: Remember: photos set to music in a slideshow format = video!

The WP team at IBS 2014

• You can also take advantage of content that’s already been created to share work, ideas, or just memories gleaned at previous events. Perhaps your company won an award at the XYZ Show-of-your-choice last year … repost that news. Maybe you met your favorite reality star and snapped a photo — go ahead and reshare. It will add to the conversation about the show, build excitement, and again, lead to more connections and relationships. If you met Ty Pennington, chances are someone else did too, and they might want to join you in the nostalgic swooniness of it all.

Tip: Take advantage of the social media trend and hashtag #TBT, or Throwback Thursday. It’s not just for baby pictures and embarrassing snaps of your friends in high school … businesses can also use it to highlight past work or moments in time without seeming irrelevant. We’ll be sharing this video from last year’s IBS: it includes glimpses of the Thermapalooza event and the NAHB High Performance Building Zone we designed and helped execute.

Have your own tricks of the trade shows? Share them in the comments!

Jaclyn Stevenson is the Director of Public Relations and Social Media for Winstanley Partners. She Googled ‘alphabetical list of trade shows’ while writing this post.