Editor’s note: This is an update to an earlier article Ann Shea wrote in 2011 about using LinkedIn for trade show promotions. LinkedIn has evolved considerably since then, so Ann has found several new ways to leverage the amazing growth and power of LinkedIn.
LinkedIn, especially when combined with Twitter and Google+, offers show presenters and attendees a way to connect with others 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 (denoted by a one-word keyword + the pound or # sign prior to the word) for the event. Hopefully event organizers have had the foresight to designate a short and unique hashtag. As an example, one of the largest trades shows every year is the Consumer Electronics Show or CES. The hashtag for recurring annual events is usually some abbreviated version of the event name, plus the year, like this one: #CES2014. Sometimes there will be multiple hashtags circulating around a single event. You can use Twitter Search to find these hashtags. Hashtags have now gone beyond just Twitter. People are using hashtags to label posts in Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Google+.
When you discover the hashtag for a trade show, you can start monitoring tweets and other social media mentions which include the tag. Then you can also start engaging with people who are using the hashtag. It’s often surprising how many companies are engaged in social media but do not bother to reciprocate interest by following an individual who is following the brand’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 Twitter account.
Your Company Profile and LinkedIn
To maximize their return on investing in a trade show, most companies communicate a few particulars about their presence at the show through press releases, email campaigns, etc. These digital communiqués are a great place for the company to reference not only the show hashtag, which can get the content discovered, but also to include a link to your company’s LinkedIn page. And on that topic, be sure someone is maintaining your company’s LinkedIn page with frequent updates which add value and include the particulars about event. Check whether your company website’s home page has a link to their LinkedIn company page, as well whether your website features LinkedIn sharing icons. LinkedIn sharing icons can be especially helpful if the company spends time doing content marketing and has a blog. Look for more information on LinkedIn these icons on LinkedIn’s own information for developers under the topic “Share Plugin” and “Build a Company Profile plugin”.
Another Way to Find People on LinkedIn Who Know about A Particular Trade Show
Back in 2011, LinkedIn had a feature called LinkedIn Events which was very helpful to find trade show prospects and people to meet with prior to a show as people could indicate they were attending, presenting, or interested in the event, and you could easily find out more about them right there on LinkedIn. You can still use LinkedIn to cultivate relationships in advance of a show, to plan 1-on-1 meetings with potential clients, partners, vendors and existing accounts, and connect with people from the show after the event. To find influential people involved in larger under keywords, as in the example below:
Building Relationships, One LinkedIn Member at a Time
You can begin to build a relationship with LinkedIn members who will be attending a show as you follow 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 the 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.
Don’t forget to check out the tradeshow sponsors. Many trade shows or expo halls have professional LinkedIn pages, where they may post about upcoming events and talk about key exhibitors that will be in attendance. For example, Skyline’s LinkedIn page has a slew of helpful tips that you can view prior to attending any tradeshow that can help you optimize your time and your company’s investment. If a trade show staff member has gone out of their way to help you with your booth and logistics, why not endorse them or even better write a custom recommendation for their profile?
Use LinkedIn Groups To Reach More of the Right People
LinkedIn’s Groups pose opportunities to post valuable, relationship-building updates such as learning sessions that your company may be sponsoring at the event or links to blog entries containing content that is meaningful and relevant to event attendees. Sometimes an event will have an entire LinkedIn Group dedicated to the show. LinkedIn has recently been changing their interface with some frequency. There are two ways to find Groups you may be interested. One way is to go to the bottom of your own LinkedIn account and find the Help Center link and type in “Groups” which will bring to you detail on Finding and Joining a Group. Another way is to type a conference name or topic into the general Search bar and then refine the search by selecting the word Groups on the advanced search options on the left.
When you join a Group, you can specify whether or not you’d like to receive email updates or digests of the Group activity. You can change the settings for emailed updates for any groups you belong to, so as you get closer to the show dates, you may want to consider changing the settings for a group related to an event to more frequent prior to the show, like from no updates, to either weekly or daily.
If you’re interested in meeting with influential decision-makers 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 can request to connect with them directly. When requesting to connect with someone, make it short and sweet. Honest and mutually beneficial connections can be forged this way, founded on shared interests and a business development perspective. People are much more likely to connect with those who’ve taken the time to complete their profile with an update to date personal photo and have fully complete profiles. There are many tips on how to create a solid personal profile, as well as maintain company pages on LinkedIn. A great way to learn more about how to use LinkedIn is through Grovo.com, which has excellent free, step-by-step tutorials on this platform, as well valuable training on Google+ and other internet topics (see www.grovo.com/linkedin).
Get A Process
Depending on the size of the show, you may want to break your pre-show activity into several sessions over several days. You can also enlist a few team members, like an administrative assistant, or a sales rep, who can help discover event attendees, follow event hashtags and post to Groups and your company LinkedIn page.
After a conference or trade show, when you proactively and promptly follow up with solid leads or future partners by sending invitations to connect on LinkedIn can, you’ll set yourself apart from other show attendees, which can lead to ongoing business relationships. Take the time to write a personal note in the LinkedIn invitation copy, for example referencing particulars of a conversation you had at the show and indicating how your linking together can be beneficial.
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. For example, if you’re selling a product under $20, it probably doesn’t make sense to put all this effort into each LinkedIn connection, but if your product has anything to do with relationship building, it’s worth the effort.
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