Q&A: Real Tips On Using Social Media To Promote An Event

Several months ago, I agreed to be part of an interesting social media event called the Corporate Social Media Summit that will bring together a big group of companies to share real stories about how they are actually using social media. Today I thought it would be interesting to ask a few questions to the main organizer of the event, Nick Johnson. He has been really active in using social media to promote a social media conference (go figure!) … and here is his honest take on what has worked and what hasn't in his efforts so far. Read to the end for an exclusive discount code for readers of this blog as well.

1. If you had to describe what makes this event unique in 140 characters, could you do it?

Exclusive focus on CORPORATE concerns on social media for marketing/comms.  Some of the best corporate practitioners are sharing expertise. Boom! 2 characters to spare!

2. You have been actively using social media to promote the event itself, can you share a few lessons you've learned along the way?

The biggest lesson is that if you’re using social media for marketing, conventional marketing messages simply do not work. I spent a lot of time experimenting with what sort of message got the best response – it’s always easy to revert to the basic ‘salesy’ format of message (“What a great event! You really should come!” etc.) and I was guilty of that a few times. But I soon stopped – the response is really pretty poor, and rather than engage people, you alienate them. For a fledgling company, that was something we couldn’t afford to do.

Your readers will have heard this a million times, but using social media successfully is all about the content. To really get your message out it’s imperative you share information that people find useful and interesting.  I got a ‘White Paper’ on written – focusing on case studies of 7 key examples of corporate social media use – and I distributed it, for free, via Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook/Scribd/Slideshare etc.

It was a bit of a revelation – people really valued the content, they passed it on to other people, they ‘retweeted’ messages, and they engaged in discussions around the key questions in the document. It really helped to get the Useful Social Media brand recognized, and helped me put together a community of people that were interested in this topic – people that I could then suggest attend the conference.

3. The Useful Social Media blog (great title by the way) has been a place where you share the results of your efforts very candidly – was it hard to decide to be so open with performance, and would you do it over again if you had a choice?

To be honest, it was a bit of a scary thing to do. But I thought that if USM was to be taken seriously in this space, we’d have to engage and share. It’s no use us putting out products telling people that social media is all about sharing, and being open, and engaging in debate if we just sit on the sidelines and ignore our own advice.

So we took the plunge and I’m pretty glad we did. I’d been wondering what sort of content I could put together that social media professionals would value. I mean, we’re new in this space and people are quite rightly going to be skeptical of any information we put out there – there’s no track record – I’m no Brian Solis (or Rohit Bhargava) – yet, at least..

But sharing, openly and without censorship, the progress I was making with my marketing campaigns, and the sort of figures I was seeing when I compared social media to other marketing channels seemed like it might be pretty useful. It was info I had at my fingertips, and if I could use it to engage an audience in this space then brilliant.

Fortunately enough, from the comments I’ve had it seems like it might be working! Whilst I have (rather shamefully) not updated that part of the blog for about a month, there is a BUMPER set of data on it’s way…

4. In your experience, what makes an event more or less "useful." There are clearly lots of events out there which don't focus on this either in their content or even in the way they are produced.

Well no conference can be all things to all people. Trying to do too much will leave you with a vague mess of an event.

We decided very early on that we needed to zone in on one area, one group of people we wanted to appeal to. We decided to focus, exclusively, on the needs of big businesses. Social media has revolutionized the marketing/communications landscape for big brands, and you can see with various high-profile cases (Habitat/Twitter, United Breaks Guitars) that they sometimes have a bit to learn.

That focus was key – we knew who our audience were and we’ve made every effort to ensure that this conference speaks to them, as clearly – as usefully – as it possibly can.

Whilst this is a new venture for us, I’ve been running business conferences for a while, and I’m aware that a corporate audience will find it most useful to hear from their peers. After all, it’s their peers that know the problems they’re facing – and may well have solutions that can be implemented in their own businesses.
There’s no chance I’m going to criticize the content of other conferences in this space – there are some great events out there – but I think we’re the first to focus so exclusively on a corporate audience. And bring together such a great line-up of corporate speakers who can really give practical, relevant insights to their fellow corporates.

5. What are you most excited about at the upcoming Corporate Social Media Summit?

Well it has gone really well so far, so the thing I’m most excited about is seeing everyone turn up! We’ve got a really great group coming along – there are about 120 attendees confirmed now, and it’s a pretty great list of businesses. For someone pretty new in the space, it’s going to be a huge kick meeting these guys.

If you want a specific session that could be interesting, I think I might just go for our opening ‘super panel’ on day two. We’ve got Bill Tolany (Head of Integrated Media at Whole Foods Market), Heather Oldani (Director of US Comms for McDonald’s) and Amy Powell (Senior Vice-President of Interactive Marketing) all coming together to discuss ‘how to win friends and influence people’. It’s a pretty broad remit, but they’re three experts at the top of their game and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’ve got to say.

BONUS – Any discounts or freebies you can offer to readers if they still want to register?

Quote RBNJIV2 when you book and Nick will automatically knock $200 off the pass price!

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