If your budget limits your opportunities to attend industry conferences, don't give up so easily. Virtual attendance is a growing phenom. Here are five key tips for networking at conferences without ever leaving your home or office.
It’s not just marketing conferences, either.
Industry-specific conferences are happening outside of the marketing world. The good news is that you can take advantage of social media regardless of your industry. The bad news is, unless you’re a speaker, going to a conference isn’t cheap, and your budget probably only allows for a couple each year.
When you’re spending thousands of dollars at a conference, you want to get the most out of the experience. Outside of the sessions and the keynote speakers, most of us attend conferences for the networking opportunities. A good problem to have when participating in a conference is having a lot of options.
Since you can’t be in two places at once, how do you make the most of your time?
Two words: social media.
Being active on social media before, during, and after an event can help you increase your presence, expand your network, and be more present in the conversation.
Here are a few tips to help you network like a pro using social media.
Follow the organizing company’s accounts on social media
Who’s the organization behind the conference? Their social media channels will be the most educational hub for conference information leading up to, during, and after the event. There are a few companies that do an outstanding job of marketing and creating a community around their annual conferences.
The most prominent examples in the marketing world are the Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs, and Social Media Examiner. They do a great job of sharing tips and tricks, event updates, and speaker spotlights leading up to their annual conferences on their social channels.
— Content Marketing (@CMIContent) June 9, 2017
Know the official hashtag
There’s nothing worse than sharing great insights from a session and using the wrong hashtag. I’m exaggerating a little, but knowing the official hashtag of the event will make it easier for you to begin networking.
Most established conferences will use the same hashtag every year, but there are instances where the event organizers may update it based on the year or the location of the event. It’s always good to double check with the organizers.
Pro tip: Add the conference hashtag to your Twitter name or bio.
Do your homework on the speakers
I’m an introvert, so it’s sometimes difficult for me to approach speakers in person. This is why I love the ability to interact with them on social media before and after the conference.
As soon as an event announces its agenda, I go through the speaker bios. More often than not, the bios will include links to their social media accounts, or at least their websites. Then, it’s homework time.
If you’re not familiar with a speaker, check out their website, read their writing, and peek through their social media activity. Why’s this important? It helps you become familiar with their expertise, their communication style, and how they interact with others at events, both online and offline.
Follow the speakers on social media before the conference. This will give you an opportunity to engage with them and help you stand out in their mind when it’s conference time.
Lists, lists, lists
Following speakers and other attendees on social media is a great first step when it comes to networking like a pro. However, it’s just a first step. The odds are your social media news feeds will have content unrelated to the conference. This is where lists come into play. I’m a huge fan of lists on Twitter, using them on a daily basis.
Lists on Twitter are particularly useful around conferences for two reasons:
- They keep your conversations organized, especially during the conference.
- When you add someone to a public list on Twitter, they get a notification. This creates an opportunity for engagement with the people you’re adding to the list.
Pro tip: Share the link to your list with the official hashtag starting a few days before the conference and during on-site registration.
Sharing is caring throughout the conference
You’ve done your due diligence, and it’s go time. From the opening keynote until the closing party, there are lots of opportunities to share from the conference. Since Twitter is a public platform, this will be the best option for you to share insights and key points in real time. When it comes to Facebook and LinkedIn, I would recommend doing round-up posts either on your own blog, or using LinkedIn Pulse, and tagging the speakers when sharing the links.
As a prolific tweeter during conferences, I know that there’s a fine line between being a great resource and spamming your followers. I tend to have a running document where I take notes, and Twitter open at the same time. A few nuggets to keep in mind:
- Statistics are always great to share.
- Stay away from inside jokes and points that don’t stand alone.
- Always give credit to the speaker in your tweets.
- Always use the conference hashtag.
- If there are other people tweeting from your session, RT them instead of sharing the same exact statistic.
Spoiler: You can do all of this without attending the conference
What if I told you I’ve done every single thing on this list during conferences I didn’t attend in person? Like I mentioned in the beginning, conferences are expensive and sometimes, you can’t attend in person.
That doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of social media to network with attendees and speakers during the conference using the tips I shared with you in this post. On more than one occasion, people have asked me if I’m at a conference because they saw a tweet from me in conference feed.
So, what’s your favorite way to use social media to network like a pro?