Friday, November 6, 2009

Social Media Buzz at a Live Event

We just finished up Eloqua Experience 2009, which was a spectacular event all around. Marketers from around the world came to celebrate success, and we filled three days with great discussions, fabulous speakers, and new connections among the best marketers in the world. One of the aspects of the event that we were most excited about this year, however, was the concurrent online conversation and tremendous buzz that the event generated in social media. I was asked many times what we did to have that much social media buzz at a live event.

Of course there is no way to “manufacture” social media buzz at a live event, you have to have great content and things that people will talk about, but there are a few things you can do to facilitate and encourage the buzz.

In planning for the social media aspects of the event, our team used a 6 element framework:

Pre-Event Awareness

In order to ensure that everyone was ready to participate in the social media discussions at the event, we ensured that the pre-event communications began to seed awareness that there would be a strong online conversation. A Twitter hashtag (#EE09) was agreed upon by the events team over a month in advance, and was used consistently in any discussions of the event or tweets about it.

In order to ensure that the people most actively engaged in social media were well aware of the event’s social media elements, we spurred discussion of it in all relevant social media properties. A competition on the Eloqua Facebook page was created, with a Kindle as a prize, and that competition was then blogged and tweeted about, reinforcing the hashtag, and building awareness of the social media elements at the event itself.


At the event itself, every effort was made to ensure that participants were able to join in the social conversation, and felt very comfortable doing so. As an obvious step, wireless access was available to all. However, often it is the more subtle social cues that help the most. Having a few of your own team with their laptops very visibly open and active at the keynotes and in track sessions communicates the message that it is okay to have laptops and cell phones out during the sessions.

For bloggers, a simple step is to have all relevant material that they might possibly need in order to blog about anything they saw at the sessions readily available to them. A blogger marketing resource site is a great way to do this, and we made the URL known through distributing business cards at registration with the URL clearly visible.

Encouragement and Bridges

The next step was to encourage people to participate and build a bridge between the conversation happening face to face at the event and the conversation happening online. In the main campground area, a large screen (the Tweetboard) was created that showed a continuous rolling feed of the online conversation and built a "bridge" between the online and offline conversations. Anyone nearby could immediately see the conversation that was happening and was encouraged to join in. (we'll be coming out with detailed instructions for how the Tweetboard was built very soon)

Each keynote then included references to the online conversation – the opening session with Eloqua CMO, Brian Kardon even presented the hashtag in letters over 8ft tall so there was no confusion. Subsequent day sessions each attempted to include a reference to a comment or observation that had been picked up online, continuing to drive awareness and participation.

Destinations and Discussions

Beyond the session content itself, the team worked to build a number of relevant destinations and discussions in order to keep the online conversation vibrant and flowing. These spanned many major social media properties including Facebook, YouTube, Blogs, and Twitter, and ranged from video channels to online contests. Each social media property then referenced the others, ensuring a continuously self-reinforcing cycle of discovery and engagement.

The vibrant Eloqua partner community was also engaged, and a number of contest, giveaways, and events added to the buzz and topics of conversation. As a few examples, a RockBand competition accentuated the “Rock Star” track theme, and contributed a lot of photos, and a creative Bingo game all done via a combination of marketing automation and text messages drove a lot of excitement and engagement.


Even with that, ensuring that every track session was covered and not left out of the online conversation led to a careful “seeding” strategy whereby staff members were present in each session and would capture at least one or two salient points or quotes from the speaker if there appeared to be fewer active social media people in that session than expected. In most cases this turned out unnecessary, but formed a good starting point and fall-back strategy.

Post-Event Engagement

Ensuring that the rich social media buzz and engagement was not limited to the event itself, a series of post-event social media communications was planned to keep the engagement level high. Winners from the 2009 Markie Awards were first posted to this blog, pictures from the event will be streamed to Facebook, and videos from the event will continue to be presented on the YouTube channel.

Of course nothing is more important than interesting, cutting edge, and engaging content, but this 6 element framework helped us create one of the most talked about Marketing events of the year. 1000s of tweets, photos, videos, and new connections drove the community’s engagement and excitement higher than it would have been for those at the event, and allowed those not able to participate to have a better sense of the event without being there.

I hope this framework is helpful in planning your events, and if there are techniques you used to drive even more interest and engagement please do share in the comments below.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar