I’m back with another Two for Tuesday, and today’s post focuses on how you can use social media to make the most out of attending conferences and events. We all attend events throughout the year, whether it’s a networking cocktail party or a CLE seminar or a multi-day conference. And social media can actually help to enhance your conference experience in many ways. Let’s look at two of them!
- LinkedIn: There are two ways that you can use LinkedIn as part of your event experience. First, if you’re attending a conference, there will often be a group that is dedicated to the event. Here, you’ll find discussions about speakers and sessions, as well as conversation among the attendees. It’s a great place to start connecting with people before the conference, so you can make the most of meeting them at the conference. The majority of event organizers won’t give you advance access to the attendee list, so LinkedIn groups can be a way around that, so that you can be a bit more strategic about who you want to meet. People will also get to know you beforehand if you’re actively contributing valuable information to the conversations.
LinkedIn is also where you want to connect with people you’re meeting at the conference or event, as well as speakers. If you’ve got your laptop with you in a session, or your smartphone in your pocket at a cocktail event, you can easily look up the person you’re speaking with on LinkedIn and send them a request to connect (just after the conversation though, you don’t want to be rude!). Make sure to send a more personalized note than the standard one (I don’t believe this is yet possible with mobile, but hopefully soon), and reference your conversations. In the past, we used to collect business cards and have an assistant input all of that information into your contact database, but now, you can connect to them on LinkedIn instead. And that’s a much better way to network because you can learn more about them fairly quickly to see where you might have commonalities, and you have reasons and means of connecting with them in the future through the platform.
Similarly, if you see a speaker that is particularly engaging, connect with him or her on LinkedIn as well – let them know you enjoyed their presentation. Perhaps you’re a blogger as well, and you’ll be recapping their session. Send them a note with the link to the post afterwards to add another point of connection. Even better, ask them to guest post on your blog, or interview them for a post.
The idea here is to take your event or conference attendance from being a flat, one-dimensional effort of simply showing up and talking to people to an multi-dimensional, rich experience. You’re meeting people, but you’re also adding them into your network, where you will engage them in the future through conversations, sharing valuable content, keeping up with their careers and projects, and if you’re in the same city or geographic area, additional in-person meetings.
- Twitter: When I first started using Twitter, it was very conversational, because there was such a small group of people on there and we all knew each other. Today, Twitter can tend to be a little more about broadcasting content than engagement, but conferences and events are where it really shines.
When you know you’re attending an event, find out whether there will be a hashtag for that event – generally, smaller networking events won’t have these, but conferences and CLE seminars will, because they want to empower their attendees to share their content. For example, the Legal Marketing Association (organically) developed a hashtag that includes their name and the year of the conference – so this year’s will be #LMA14.
Since you’re (hopefully) using some kind of platform to manage Twitter, and not just the web interface, you can use this platform to set up a column that only shows you the tweets relevant to your hashtag. That will allow you to see all of the conversation surrounding the conference or event before you even get there – not only will the conference/event organizers be offering tips and news about speakers and events, attendees will be using the hashtag to start conversations and get to know each other. Like LinkedIn, it’s a way to connect with people before you meet them face-to-face, so you start off the conference ahead of the game.
Twitter is also useful during and after the event – during the event, you can use the hashtag to connect with people who are also there, and find out who might be in the same session as you, who wants to meet for lunch and where, who is standing alone during a coffee break and would be happy to chat. You can review the information coming out of the sessions you’re not attending, and see the gems coming out of the session you’re in. If you’re blogging, you can share your recap posts during and after the conference using the hashtag, so others who are interested in them will get to see them as well.
Follow the people you’ve met, so they appear in your regular Twitter stream, and engage with them. That will continue the conversations long after the event is over. You can also connect with the conference organizers – maybe you have ideas for future events, or maybe it’s just too hot in the conference room, and you want to ask them to turn the heat down (I’ve done that).
Social media is so-named because it’s just that – "social." So it can help to add a huge benefit to your existing networking events. Think about this for a moment – if you’re attending a conference or event for the first time, and you may or may not know some of the other attendees, wouldn’t it be better to have chatted online with a few people already, perhaps have a coffee meeting or dinner arranged for the first evening you’re there, and spend the entire time having meaningful conversations, because you’ve gotten the small talk out of the way online?
Contrast that with arriving cold, with no connections, spending the first night having room service in your hotel room and reviewing the attendee information you received when you registered to see if you may know someone and figuring out how to connect with them the next day. Or having to introduce yourself to the people you sit next to, whom you’ve never met before, and hoping you’ll have something in common.
There’s nothing wrong with the latter scenario, but the former gives you a leg up and helps you maximize the time that you’re dedicating both to meeting and engaging with new people, as well as educating yourself in your area of expertise. And it becomes more and more natural the more you use it – I’ve met many amazing colleagues through social media, and my usage of Twitter and LinkedIn for the LMA conference is second-nature now – give it a try for your next event!