“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell” – Seth Godin

From a marketing perspective, social media represents more than just a collection of new tactics for acquiring reach and engaging customers; it represents a fundamental shift in the way that we should market our solutions. Despite this fact, I still see many large companies trying to use Facebook advertising exactly like Google advertising, adding Twitter links without actually engaging in the resulting conversations, and failing to identify influencers that attend their events. Following are a few principles that I apply to my social media planning. I would be very interested in what additional techniques you use (please comment below).

Acquisition – building momentum before the event

Focus on communities, not clicks – I am sometimes amazed by the number of companies (including some that are very well known) that treat Facebook like another Google advertising program. With some exceptions, focusing on transactional selling on Facebook misses the inherent value of the platform. Instead, focus on building communities around causes and ideas related to your event.

Promote your theme or cause, not your event – The earlier you start thinking about your event, the more you will be able to focus on building conversations around your event theme. In my experience, unless you are representing an extremely popular consumer brand, customers are more likely to join your cause (sponsored by your product) than to engage with your product directly.

Nail the basics – testing and targeting – In a recent campaign, I was able to reduce my CPC on Facebook from an initial control of $3.00 to $0.10 through testing. Testing should be a continuous process and should focus on the 1) message/text, 2) creative, 3) the offer, if applicable and 4) demographic and interest targeting. If you are not able to set up a community and need to promote your event in a more transactional way, it often makes sense to forgo Facebook advertising all together and instead focus on Google and Bing.

Engagement – creating a multiplier effect during the event

Make it easy for customers to share – Unless you are managing an internal event with a high degree of confidentiality, you should make it as easy as possible for customers to share their experiences. For example, Social27’s platform integrates instant chat, Twitter feed updates, Facebook  connections, and forums into the core experience.

Earn the right to engage… then participate in conversations – at most virtual events, individual feedback will cross the entire spectrum from warm acceptance to outright hostility. Rather than trying to suppress or block contrary opinions, it is absolutely critical to think about how your key Product Managers will engage in conversations as they occur. For example, you should have people monitoring the buzz on Twitter and Facebook, ready to engage in an honest conversation and clarify any outright misinformation.

Continue to use your cause or theme as a hook – Once you have given attendees the tools to share their opinions, it pays to give them something to talk about. One way to do this is to drive active engagement around your cause. Don’t make your attendees passive information consumers; engage them in conversations about how to solve the difficult problems that your product is trying to solve. Don’t be afraid to be a bit provocative. The more you share with your customers, the more they will share with each other.

Consolidation – maintaining relationships after the event

Events may last a day, but, communities last forever – One of the advantages of building a community around a cause during the first two phases of the event is that you can continue to engage your attendees after the red curtain falls. Managing a community can require a fair amount of resourcing, but, the payoff for ongoing sales (not to mention attendance at your next event) can be well worth the trouble.

Identify and nurture influencer relationships – At every event, there will always be certain attendees that stand out from the crowd (and not always positively) in terms of their engagement and influence. While it is not realistic (or advisable) to follow up with every attendee individually, I would always make an attempt to identify influencers and to set them aside for special treatment. From a social media perspective, these players are often conversation hubs on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t shy away from engaging your influential critics either; as the old marketing saying goes, sometimes your terrorists can become your greatest advocates over time.

“Activate your fans, don’t just collect them like baseball cards.” Jay Baer, Convince & Convert

Social media is already an important tool for driving engagement at virtual events. But, in order to maximize the social media opportunity, virtual event managers must think about the end to end experience. From a pre-event perspective, managers should build communities and optimize their advertising strategy. Then, at the event, they should facilitate conversations while ensuring that the proper monitoring and engagement mechanisms are in place. Finally, after the event, managers should engage influencers and ensure that their communities have long-term support and nurturing.

Join the conversation. Agree with me? Good. Disagree? Even Better! Tell me why…

What principles do you apply to social media for your virtual event?

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