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Do Trade Shows Get Social Media? Open Community Book Tour

Skyline Trade Show Tips is taking part in the virtual book tour Maddie Grant [http://twitter.com/maddiegrant] and Lindy Dreyer [http://twitter.com/lindydreyer] are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web [http://opencommunitybook.com]. In this post, Maddie and Lindy answer a few questions for our readers.

First, tell us a little bit about the book. Why did you write Open Community?

Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer Open Community Book TourLindy: Well, the community forming online around a conference and trade show is bigger than you may think. That’s an opportunity and a challenge.

Maddie: Lindy and I have talked to thousands of association executives who have voiced their frustrations about the social web–from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff (and members!), to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that’s just the beginning.  We decided to write Open Community as a way to address those frustrations and redirect the thinking about using social tools to build community online.

So, what is “Open Community,” and what role can it play for exhibitors at an association trade show?
Lindy: Here’s the gist. Open Community is the people who are bonded by what an organization represents and who care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about the trade show!) online. Connecting with and supporting the Open Community is really important, because if you don’t, someone else will.

Maddie: In the event community, we sell the importance of face-to-face and the kind of deep networking that happens at our conventions and tradeshows.  Naturally, the idea that someone might be able to form a deep bond online was met with some skepticism at first.  Over the last few years, that initial skepticism has transformed into optimism.  Now the question is, how do we connect online with face-to-face in meaningful ways?

Lindy: And exhibitors have a huge role to play.  As exhibitors, you know the industry, and you have the relationships.  You can provide a lot of value to the community online by acting as a connector and a champion. You can tell your clients and prospects about places the community is interacting, and you can share content in those places.  So long as you don’t cross the line between providing value and self-promotion.

How commonly are show owners proactively helping exhibitors connect with attendees through social media?  Do you have examples?
Maddie: Not commonly enough. Every show organizer should spend some time educating exhibitors about the best ways to use the show’s social media channels to connect with attendees.  It all goes back to what Lindy was saying about exhibitors being champions–they have the motivation to spend some time helping the community flourish online.

Lindy: We’d love to hear your readers dish about which shows are doing a good job of this. We’ll be asking a lot of show organizers about this very question when we’re at Expo! Expo! in December.

I can say that we’ve seen some exhibitors band together on their own to do creative work on Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare. If you have partners who will also be exhibiting at the tradeshow, it makes a lot of sense to team up on the social media side of things–you can share each other’s stuff and be much more conversational that way.

How often are show producers creating a common space to aggregate their show’s social media outposts – combining LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and their blog into one location?  Or using a third-party application that gives them a custom social media site?  Or do they just let exhibitors and attendees search it out for themselves?  Again, examples would be great.

Lindy: In the book we talk quite a bit about the balance between outposts and the organization’s homebase.  We really like that shows are looking at ways to expose outpost activity to more of their attendees.  The custom, white label social networking sites that we’ve seen a lot of events experimenting with are kind of a different animal. You’re asking people to change their normal web use patterns, and include your space in the mix.  Tricky stuff.  SEMA has done some really interesting work in both areas.  They’ve had both a buyer-matching social site and also a site that aggregates chatter about the show from outposts.

Maddie: I think from the exhibitor perspective, the most important thing to remember is to go where your customers and prospects are.  If that’s Facebook and Twitter, then go there.  If that’s the show’s custom social media site, then go there.  The whole idea behind the Open Community is to connect with them where they are and where they want to be.

What’s next?
Maddie: Well, we see the book as a conversation starter–we hope lots and lots of people will get the chance to read it, and think about how the concepts affect their organization.

Lindy: And we hope to gather lots of great stories about Open Community in action, which we’ll continue to share in lots of ways throughout the year. So here are some questions for all of you to consider…

  • Have you exhibited in a show with an active Open Community?
  • Did the show organizers help you engage with the community online?
  • Did connecting with the community help you be more successful as an exhibitor?

We’d love to hear about your answers to these 3 questions in the comments box below!

Evolving Role of Exhibit Marketers: free white paperLearning Social Media is just one of the new responsibilities added to Exhibit Marketer’s day job.  Discover more in the new white paper, The Evolving Role Of Exhibit Marketers, by clicking here now.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch was Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, for over 25 years. He is now retired and spends his time freelancing, traveling, and enjoying time with his family.

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