How to Boost Your Trade Show Attendance With Social Media

by Lorna Collier on January 21, 2011
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Michael Markarian wanted to let college students in Boston know about his new venture, I Am Hungry, a mobile coupon app for area restaurants. So, last fall, he attended a Boston trade show called CollegeFest, where businesses could pitch goods and services to students.

To stand out, Markarian appealed to his market at a gut level. He fed them — using free pizza, steak, frozen yogurt, and other munchies provided by his restaurant customers.

But before he let the hungry college kids eat, he required them to join his Facebook page — which they could do from two laptops and an iPad at his booth. During the show, 3,000 did just that, and the sign-ups continued afterward, as word of his service spread. Within 48 hours, I Am Hungry had 20,000 new Facebook fans.

Trade shows can be a great way for businesses to increase brand awareness and attract new customers. But sometimes there are so many displays, so many booths back-to-back, that yours can get lost.

Here are five tips on using social media to beat the competitions:

  1. Before the show, see if there’s a Twitter hashtag assigned to the event. If not, start one, and tweet about the show to your followers. If a hashtag already exists, search Twitter for people using it. Message potential customers to set up meetings at your booth. “I always set up two to three meetings this way — and they usually turn out to be the most worthwhile!” says Katie Barrow (pictured), who directs social media for Fair Trade USA.
  2. In addition to Twitter, promote your trade show appearance on your Facebook page, your blog, and your email newsletter. Continue to provide Twitter and Facebook updates during and after the show.
  3. Foursquare is a popular mobile app that lets people broadcast their locations to friends — and also provides a way for businesses to give prizes to people who check in to their sites. Set up Foursquare incentives — discounts or other prizes — for those who check in at your booth.
  4. Use “QR” bar-code technology to create square, bar-coded stickers and place them at your booth, with notices telling people to aim their cellphone cameras at the codes. Link the codes to your website or Facebook page. (Or use these as a way for people to check in via Foursquare or Facebook Places, as described above, suggests Daniel Schwartz of Maiden Media Group in Philadelphia.)
  5. Take video of customers at your booth and post it immediately to your Facebook and Twitter pages. “Be social at the show — tweet pictures, quotes, and videos,” says Barrow.

And, of course, follow up with all your new contacts, using the Facebook or Twitter names you’ve gleaned.

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