LinkedIn, especially when combined with Twitter, offers a way to connect with people before, during and after trade shows.
When you plan to attend or exhibit at a trade show, one of the first things you can do is determine whether there is a Twitter hashtag for the event. Hopefully event organizers have had the foresight to designate a short and unique hashtag. Sometimes there will be multiple hashtags circulating around a single event. You can use Twitter Search to find these hashtags.
When you discover the hashtag for a show, you can start monitoring tweets which include the tag. Then you can also start following people who are using the hashtag. It’s surprising how many brands are engaged in social media but do not bother to reciprocate interest by following an individual who is following the company’s Twitter stream. There are several free Twitter tools that will allow you to set up your Twitter account to auto-follow people who follow your brand. However, when you are targeting a specific event such as a trade show for the purpose of connecting with them at the show, when you find new people to follow, you should always take a moment to look at their Twitter bio. Limited to 160 characters, Twitter bios are short and sweet and can be read in a few seconds.
Using LinkedIn Events to find trade show prospects
Okay, so how does LinkedIn fit into this, you’re asking? Well, the same diligence and individual attention comes into play in maximizing your presence at a trade show through LinkedIn. One of the most efficient ways to use LinkedIn for trade shows is through the Events feature. Go to the “More” drop down menu, find Events. Then type in the event name or keywords and look for the particular event that corresponds to the date/name of the show you are interested in.
As an example, here is the resulting event on a search for CES (the Consumer Electronics Show). Be sure to RSVP for the show yourself, as exhibitor or attendee.
Event listings on LinkedIn are a valuable way to know in advance who will be attending a show—information that is generally not available from most trade show organizers. For serious connecting, this list of who has RSVP’d is an excellent way to cultivate relationships in advance of a show, to plan 1-on-1 meetings with potential clients, partners, vendors and existing accounts at the trade show.
Building relationships, one LinkedIn member at a time
You can begin to build a relationship with LinkedIn members who will be attending a show by following them on Twitter (most LinkedIn members who actively tweet include a link to their Twitter account on their LinkedIn profile). Ideally, you will take the time to click through on any URL included in their LinkedIn or Twitter bio, and see if user has a blog you can connect with. You can also invite them through Twitter to come to your booth by sending a Tweet using the “@twittername” message feature in Twitter. Of course, you should have an inviting offer, or it’s just spamming. Note, you will probably want to look carefully at those who RSVP to differentiate those who are attending, rather than exhibiting, or you may just end up mostly inviting your competition!
Sometimes an event will have an entire LinkedIn Group dedicated to the show. To find these Groups, go to the main Search bar, select “Groups” under the drop down arrow, and type in the conference name. These pages are opportunities to post valuable, relationship-building updates such learning sessions that the company may be sponsoring at the event or links to blog entries containing content that is meaningful and relevant to event attendees).
If you are interested in meeting with influential decision-makers onsite at a show or thought leaders at a conference, you can ask to connect with specific individuals through LinkedIn. As a member of a shared Group on LinkedIn, go to Members, and search by title or proximity to a geographic location of interest, such as your company’s home region or nearby the trade show city. Through your shared membership in a group, you will be able to ask to connect with them directly. Obviously aggressive, self-serving sales pitches will not be appreciated, but honestly and mutually beneficial connections can be forged this way, founded on shared interests and a business development perspective.
Depending on the size of the show, you may want to break your pre-show activity into several sessions over several days, or enlist a few other people, like an administrative assistant, or a sales rep, who can help discovering event attendees, following them on Twitter, and posting to groups, and even researching emails for targeted pre-show email campaigns.
Following a conference or trade show, by promptly following up with solid leads or future partners with invitations to connect on LinkedIn, while referencing particulars of a conversation and how your linking can be beneficial, can set you apart from other acquaintances at a show and lead to ongoing business relationships.
Investing in B2B relationships
Is this time consuming? Yes, but after all, even in B2B, it’s the people who make decisions about who they want to do business with. If you are selling a product under $20, it probably doesn’t make sense to put all this due diligence into each Twitter connection, but if your product has anything to do with relationship building and answering individual pain points, it’s worth the effort.
A final note, as with any social media activity, it’s important to assess candidly whether contact is appropriate and welcome, and to approach potential connections and leads with respect, as well as abide by both written and common sense guidelines about contact.
If you’d like to connect, you can find me on Twitter, http://twitter.com/AnnieintheSun, sharing more marketing ideas, sites, and tips.
Social media is just one of the ways a marketer’s role is changing. To find out more, click here to request your free copy of The Evolving Role of Exhibit Marketers, a 36 page guide that examines how marketers adapt to today’s changes.
Featured image “Linkedin Chocolates” borrowed from Nan Palmero.