How to Maximize Social Media at Your Next Event

By Jeffrey Barnhart, president and CEO

Recent research shows that Facebook has 1.86 billion monthly active members. About 500 million users are connecting on LinkedIn while 328 million users are tweeting away on Twitter. In totality, it’s an enormous audience connected in ways like never before.

Social media is the latest tool used to inform and excite a targeted audience about your next event. And it isn’t going anywhere so it’s best to understand how to use these tools to support your specific marketing objectives. By establishing a strategy for event promotion, incorporating gamification and getting people connected well after the conference is over, you will be able to leverage the benefits of social engagement.

Promotion, Promotion, Promotion

The buzz starts on social media. Tease and talk about your event on all of your established platforms, linking posts to pages that drive viewers to learn more information and register for sessions on your website. By driving online engagement, attendees have the opportunity to “meet” each other and share information about the conference beforehand to increase interest.

The International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA) increased its annual expo registrations by 16.4 percent and exhibitors by 47.7 percent. To achieve this growth, ICMA used compelling posts tailored to each channel’s audience, researched and leveraged strategic hashtags and continually updated artwork on each of the brand’s five channels. Content featured in social media posts ranged from recognition programs, new member welcomes, event promotion, breaking industry news and media placements. All posts featured key elements including a URL, image, hashtag, concise wording and “check-ins” when posting from locations. Taking it one step further, the association engaged and tapped into other audiences by tagging companies and individuals when featuring photos in posts.

Encourage Interaction with Gamification

Everyone loves a good game to add an element of fun and interactivity to the mix. Gamification is taking an ordinary task, such as networking, and turning it into an online, interactive activity. For example, social media contests to keep attendees engaged and interacting with each other online and in between workshops and sessions.

The Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) is known to use many layers of gamification during their annual conference. For ESPA, social media activity skyrockets during the time surrounding the conference. Compared to the rest of the year, online activity doubles with hundreds of Twitter posts from members throughout the conference promotion period, which helps to drum up member and exhibitor excitement. They engage members before the event via survey questions which, in turn, allows them to learn more about topics that will be covered at the conference and meet one another no matter where they reside in the country before gathering in person. Onsite, the virtual fun continues as ESPA members join in on a virtual “hunt” which includes tasks such as sharing a photo of someone they just met, finding an award winner and sharing favorite moments using a dedicated hashtag, such as #ESPAConference. All of the questions are designed to encourage attendees to interact and talk to each other while they are there. Participating in the hunt gives members an easy ice-breaker to approach each other and network. The first person to complete the entire hunt receives a prize, which encourages even greater participation. Live video is used as a way to plug people into the conference who may not be able to physically attend. Video also creates a digital archive of the conference sessions and presentations to be leveraged on your members only website once the conference has ended. When used effectively, social media allows for interaction during presentations for polls and opinions to be compiled and underscore the top takeaways. This information is invaluable to the association come post-event evaluation and crafting recommendations for future events.

Keep the Conversation Going and Extend Reach

Social media allows you to reach members who were unable to attend the event by livestreaming some of the content. For the New Jersey State Nurses Association (NJSNA), sharing their annual conference content live on their Facebook page generated an organic reach of 10,902 people in less than 48 hours, equivalent to 18 percent of that month’s total impressions. All conference content on Facebook had a combined organic reach of 14,186 during the two-day event. The month of the conference had one of the highest numbers of impressions of the year due to buzz that was generated from the live conference pieces.

Because of Facebook’s current algorithm the live content is valued more, so it is shown more prominently in people’s newsfeeds and has a greater chance of being seen. After the event, keep the social media excitement going with channel-exclusive content. Past years’ social media content can be used as a marketing tool to drive attendance at future events by re-sharing photos and videos to remind members of the valuable information that was presented. Showing what someone missed is a great way to encourage more attendees at the next event.

In all, social media is a marketing tactic that can help an association grow and drive attendance at an event and encourage member engagement to develop and strengthen valuable relationships. Do not be afraid to use it to create stronger ties with attendees and an even deeper connection with your organization. Embracing this technology is one of many ways to continue to grow your numbers and catalog information for years to come.

A version of this article originally appeared in Association Conventions & Facilities in the June/July 2017 issue.


Jeffrey Barnhart is president and CEO at CMA Association Management.

If you would like to leverage CMA Association Management’s experience, we would love to chat. Please contact us at 800.852.4269 or email us at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *