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But What About Trade Shows?

Now when I attend my annual industry conferences, my first stops on the trade show floor are the vendors who are part of my Twitter community. They are the first vendors I consider doing business with. I also want to help them spread the word about what they are doing in their booths. I share any promotions or demonstrations they are doing in their booths with my network, and I promote to my community any sessions they are leading. I also bring my peers to their booths and sessions and introduce them to each other.

I used to get ready for a show by using the exhibitor directory to create my agenda, with no personal interaction before the show. Now I am online reaching out to attendees and vendors three to four months in advance to find out if they are going to be attending and exhibiting this year. I am already planning my schedule and want to make sure I have set aside time to meet with these people. It’s easy to do because I know where I can find them via social media. I am talking to them almost every week anyway.

Being part of a community can lead to new opportunities. I am often asked to host roundtable discussions and participate on panels. I almost never fill out a speaker proposal to get on the education agenda. I am asked by members of my community who are on the event education committee to participate. I suggest to them vendors who would make great participants in panel discussions or who could lead a discussion on a particular topic.

By being part of a community, you will suddenly find yourself with the wonderful dilemma of not having enough time in a three-day event to connect one-on-one with other members. Social media provides the solution by allowing you to quickly create impromptu gatherings and easily spread the word.

Recently at a trade show, I sent out word to the community via Twitter that we would be meeting in the bar at the hotel an hour before the opening reception. Word passed all through the community, and about 40 people showed up. Personal introductions were made for those who had not met. Some people were invited specifically so they could meet another member of the community we thought they should know. After that we swarmed into the opening reception and dispersed, only to regroup here and there to make more introductions.

Do you want to be the exhibitor who is just sending out postcards and emails hoping attendees will be interested enough to come see you? Or do you want armies of loyal community members bringing people to your booth because they believe in your company and want their peers to know about you?

When I walk on the trade show floor these days, I have very little time to wander around and stumble across someone’s booth. Most of my appointments have been set up ahead of time. I still go through the exhibitor list, but now I reach out to my community and ask, “What do you know about this company? Should I visit with them? Is there someone else I should look at?” In my free time, I stop by the booths of those I now consider my friends to say hello—and I bring people with me. I ask them whom I should be visiting with. Often they walk me to the booth and make an introduction. This is not only a much more productive use of my time as a buyer, but it is also more productive for the exhibitor because I am not in her booth just to kick the tires.

How many of your customers are doing this? How many people (who are not your customers) are going out of their way to find people who would be a good fit for your product or service and making the introduction? Are you doing this for your customers? By incorporating social media into your exhibit strategy, you can be sure the answer to these questions are yes. Your booth staff will be spending more time with qualified customers building relationships and less time with the tire kickers.

My story takes place on Twitter. But there are a hundred other stories just like this that are taking place on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pathable, and many other platforms. Wikipedia has a list of more than 300 of the most active networking sites available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites. The point is that you need to find out where your customers’ communities are and start interacting.

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