Using social media to attract meetings and conferences to your town

Bull Moose delegates, Syracuse NY, circa 1910, Library of Congress on Flickr CommonsIt’s easy to see how social media and mobile devices have changed how meetings and conferences themselves are conducted (for more on that see Jeff Hurt’s Seven Tips to Make Your Conference Millennial-Friendly) but how about the idea of using social media networking to attract more conferences TO your town?

I’m speaking on this very topic at a breakout session for the Texas Travel Summit, and here are some of my thoughts….

First, The Fundamentals

1) This is really a networking issue.

Social media is simply another tool to network and connect with the people who schedule places for meetings.  Be a helpful and informative resource, and get in front of meeting planners where they are, online and off.

2)  You still must ask two basic, old-warhorse questions (social media does NOT change the need to ask them)

——–>>  Who is your market for meetings?

——–>>  What does your town have to attract that market?

3)  Figure out who plans meetings. One good place to start is associations, and there is an association for just about every trade, industry and interest that you can imagine.

Where can you find decision-makers from associations? In the US, start with the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives.) Look for information about associations in your prospective meetings market.

Another place to look is event professionals and meeting planners.

Now, the Social Media Stuff

Here are some ways to connect with these folks, using social media.

1)  Read their professional and industry blogs.

***  Start with the Alltop Event Planning channel or the Trade Shows channel.  Find a few industry blogs, keep up with them, make comments and interact with the authors. Over time, let them know that your destination is the sort of place that they’d love for their meetings.

2)  Connect on LinkedIn.

***  Go beyond filling out your personal profile (although a complete one is important) and also create Company profiles for your CVB and your Convention Center. Here’s the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority Company profile.

***  Find, join and be visible in Groups that relate to your market.

Start looking at Groups like the DMAI (Destination Marketing Association International) empowerMINT Group for CVBs and Meeting Professionals, MPI (Meeting Professionals International,) the Association Resource Group, PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association,) Event Peeps (for Live Event Industry Professionals,) Corporate Event and Meeting Planners and the IAEE (International Association of Exhibitions and Events) Group.  Just pick a few for active participation or you won’t be able to keep up.

***  Pay attention to, and provide assistance when you can, in LinkedIn Answers – a Q&A section of the site – particularly in response to questions and activity in the Conferences and Event Planning section.

3)  Go find the meeting planners and associations on Twitter.

Use the LinkedIn list above and find @ASAECenter, @MPI, @CVBConnect, @PCMAConvene, etc. on Twitter. Interact, say hello, retweet their good stuff.

Here’s where you can really dig in:  hour-long, regularly scheduled hashtagged Twitter chats. Introduce yourself at the start and watch the tweets fly on the topic of the day.

There are two chats you should know about and possibly join when they happen….

  • #assnchat for associations is Tuesdays, 1-2 pm CST.
  • #eventprofs for event planning professionals is Tuesdays, 8-9 pm CST and Thursdays, 11 am-12 noon CST.

4)  Show meeting planners your town and your conference venues with video and photos.

Videos can go on YouTube, Vimeo and your Facebook Page. Photos can go on Flickr and your Facebook Page.

  • Create videos that show conference facilities in detail, inside and out and a bit of the surrounding area. Cover transportation to/from it. If you don’t want to hire pros to do this, use a handheld camera like the Flip or the Kokak Zi8 and do it yourself. Another option is making videos out of photos using Animoto.
  • Create videos during a few events as they are in progress at your venues. Show actual people during an actual meeting, and include a few short interviews with people who like your convention center and your town.  Have them sell your offerings!
  • Take photos, too. Here is the Flickr page for the Virginia Beach Convention Center, and the Rhode Island Convention Center photos on Facebook.

Summary

It’s not a magic bullet. It is building relationships and networks with humans and it takes time.  Social media is the tool you’re using to network. It’s a means, not an end.

Bonus:  social media profiles help your Web find-ability and SEO (Search Engine Optimization.)  Hurray! You’re making people AND Google happy. Even better, it helps your disabled folks find you online because it helps meet Web accessibility standards.

Any town can do this….the possibilities for hosting meetings are pretty endless.

How else do you think that the 140 Conference SmallTown tech conference ended up in Hutchinson, Kansas?

Update: here’s the presentation as it was presented at the TTIA Texas Travel Summit 2010 – the slides about blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter and Videos/Images have embedded links that you can click through.

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About Sheila

I'm a writer, speaker and consultant specializing in tourism, travel and social media. Co-founder of Tourism Currents. NHRA drag racing fan. U.S. Navy veteran. Caffeinated.
This entry was posted in Blogs, Economic Development, Facebook, Flickr and Photos, LinkedIn, Meetings and Conferences, Twitter, Video, Web Communications and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Using social media to attract meetings and conferences to your town

  1. Damn, some awesome resources here Sheila.

    Sorry to harp on the “bad website” issue, but related to photos and videos, do yourself a favour folks and get a nice webpage focused on these meeting planners where you have ALL of your resources for them, nice and organised. It should answer their questions all in one place (Why Here? What do you offer? Show me more. Ok, cool, how do I get in touch to discuss the details?)
    Andy Hayes | Travel Online Partners´s last [post] ..Why Your Website Sucks

  2. Dave Lutz says:

    Sheila, great post! One of the biggest frustrations that meeting and event planners have is figuring out who to contact at the hotel for checking space availability and getting initial quotes. Hotels and CVB’s would be smart to have pictures and contact info of their sales team on their website. They should also identify what markets they serve. Not many hotels do this.

    The group and meetings business has yet to be commoditized. Hotels can still win business by having a superior relationship and truly caring about their clients and prospects.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks very much; glad you enjoyed it. Personalized, specific information is so helpful – people want to see and connect with a face! So many hotel sites are template-based bores. I get consistent branding, but such vanilla stuff doesn’t cut it anymore.

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