Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Social Media & Events Marketing Part I: LinkedIn

How do effective events marketing professionals use - and choose – from the myriad of social media sites available today? How Event Marketing leaders manage these channels effectively –and keep current on the latest offerings - is a growing responsibility. Upcoming posts of The Event Marketing Insider will explore Social Media and examples of its effective use, and the challenges faced, by events organizations. Update: Visit Part II of this series detailing utilization of Facebook here.

LinkedIn is the granddaddy of professional social media sites, because of this it’s the main one to include in your marketing communications arsenal. The Events team at Gartner, for example, has utilized LinkedIn over the past two years, using both the Groups feature and the Events module to build community, engage prospects, and communicate germane content and event information.

The key benefit to establishing and managing an events-related Group is that it provides a channel and a core community of prospects - individuals who are engaged in, aware of, and/or curious about your offering - for Marketing communications. Two examples of Groups Gartner has established, the Gartner Business Process Management (Xchange) (900+ members), and the Gartner Information Security Summit (250+ members), employ the full functionality of this feature, particularly focusing on Group Discussions and News Items. Group owners Tracy Runko (Gartner Information Security Summit) and Juan Fernandez (Gartner Business Process Management (Xchange)) have used Groups to post discussion questions, deliver germane Gartner content, link blog postings from Gartner analysts and deliver content from other group members. (Another option both are exploring is using LinkedIn Polls both to engage and generate discussion points for the group - or on-site at the event.)

Both Fernandez and Runko agree that a main difficulty they face is engaging members participation in discussions. While they and Gartner analysts actively post discussion topics and news items, generating responses to these threads has been a slow going. There may be a number of reasons behind this – from concerns regarding sharing competitive information to bandwidth to participate to an individual’s comfort level – the lesson to be learned is that even while ensuring posts are content-based, engaging, and invite response/discussion, generating ongoing conversation is a challenge.

Fernandez notes “where do we go from here” is another question he wrestles with. Having built a respectable community (as he notes, the Group appears on the first page of search results due to its size), engaging members on an ongoing basis is important to avoid having the Group perceived as a pure push promotional tool. To that end, an additional thought: in establishing a LinkedIn Group, take the time to gain cross-functional buy-in and agreement to submit content – as you will need a team to continually contribute content to the Group. (The last thing you want is a group with no activity!)

LinkedIn also offers an Events module which can be added on the right rail. This module maps the user to relevant events and their details, including dates, location, pricing, event Web site, and target audience. While very template, the Event pages are searchable and, importantly, lists keywords (so in using this feature do, think keyword usage through.)

From a user perspective, one can indicate whether or not they are attending a listed Event, or if they are “interested” in attending. This information, posted to the user’s profile, but is also key intelligence and information for the Event Marketer. You need to ensure proper follow-up mechanisms: that users who indicate they are attending your event are registered in your system (lest they think clicking “attending” on LinkedIn signs them up), and that “interested” people are followed up with. Individuals who indicate they are not attending can also provide marketing intelligence. As a point of reference, view Events sites for Gartner Information Security Summit and the Gartner Business Process Management Summit. Of interest/note: the Gartner Information Security Summit offers a discount to people who register utilizing a marketing code; the BPM Summit page notes early bird pricing discounts – additional tactics to be considered when setting up a page.

In short – LinkedIn has prime features and modules to engage and build community among prospects – but take the time to plan and think through how these groups are used: this is not a tactic to undertake a month before and event, it is an increasingly important part of an event marketing strategy. Continued content, discussions and interaction year round will build brand equity around your event and content – and add an important asset to your marketing arsenal.

Please do share your thoughts and experiences on using Social Media for your event ... may be fodder for a new LinkedIn Group!

Good luck!



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