One of my favorite parts of college basketball’s shining moment known as “March Madness” is watching legendary coaches go head-to-head, night-after-night. Over the years, it’s been fun to watch Coaches (K)rzyzewski, Pitino, Valvano, Izzo, Sutton, Tubby, Calhoun, Smith, and even Coach Knight (who can’t help but be entertained by chairs flying across the court?)
However, even though I was just a boy when he coached his tenth national championship, Coach John Wooden probably ranks highest on most lists for most respected NCAA coach (in any sport).
One quotation often attributed to Coach Wooden is “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
While your next tradeshow or workshop may not be as exciting as going to the men’s Final Four tournament in New Orleans this year, consider claiming this challenge from Coach Wooden as you examine your event calendar for 2012. A great coach is not just concerned with the 40 minutes from tipoff to buzzer. The coach prepares the team well in advance of gametime. Then the coach directs the team on the court under the lights. And a great coach always helps the team analyze and advance the gametime experience to prepare for the next matchup.
With several clients recently, we explored their social media strategy in light of this reality. You need to think about your event marketing plan in terms of pre-game, gametime and post-game. Failing to prepare is a certain strategy for failure.
- Discover the keynote speaker’s Twitter handle and start following what he or she is talking about. Retweeting their tweets (especially if they reference their upcoming speaking engagement at the tradeshow you will be attending) shows you are a real player in the social networking surrounding that event. Don’t do it to expect applause. Seek authentic connection in your pre-networking.
- Look at the conference website and connect with different workshop presenters on Twitter, Linkedin or Google +. Join common interest groups, hangouts or chats and pose questions that are likely of interest to other attendees.
- Use the show’s official #hashtag and set up a search stream to connect with others who are interested in that same event. Connect with new faces you will actually get to see face-to-face at the show. Nurture your social relationships in advance of meeting at your booth (this is a lot better way to drive traffic to your booth than self-promoting your booth number to a bunch of strangers with a generic “stop by and visit” message). Don’t forget that not all hashtag users will attend, so connecting pre-game to other members of that stream is an easy way to strengthen your social network regardless if you actually meet them in person. Pick up some new people to follow. Adding high-value content to your social conversation will allow you to pick up some new followers as well — all before the show!
- Tweet, post, or update your status as often as possible during the event (if you have a mobile device with decent coverage). People need to know you are there. Tell them what workshop you will be attending. Coordinate a tweetup, or invite a specific target market to meet you for coffee after dinner.
- After each class, session, or breakout group, tweet a takeaway. Certainly consider a nightly recap. Even those who didn’t attend will value what you are offering them. Tell them what they are missing!
- Snap pics of your location, your booth, yourself with other attendees and of interesting signs, advertisements or quirky things you see. These make for highly shareable content and make you fun to follow!
- Publish new blog content each day of the event (perhaps posts pre-written and scheduled, or your “best of yesterday” notes about the previous day’s activities) – this is a great content to publish to your social networks. People will say, “Wow, when do you have time to write all this?” You’ll immediately seem like a social media superstar! If your booth uses QR codes or custom URLs, you can post a sign up that says, “Find Out Our 3 Favorite People We Met Yesterday” or “3 Ways Yesterday’s Workshop Could Have Been Better”- it’ll generate intrigue not only for that day’s post, but it’ll keep ‘em coming back to your booth each day to see what interesting or provocative content you have to share.
- Combining some handwritten notes with some targeted messages on social networks give you ample ways to express your appreciation to a particular workshop presenter or significant connection you established. Hopefully you’ve already become acquainted (in the pre-game) and are in the habit of re-tweeting their social content. Continue that tradition and it may not be long before they reciprocate with a RT of your posts.
- If you have already been tweeting your daily takeaways, then you already have the core of your post-workshop blog post, “My 5 Most Significant Takeways from This Year’s Conference.” Even tweeting out those relevant takeaways a week later still makes sense – and allows you to maintain your role as social media “extraordinaire” to those who have long forgotten where they put their notes from that event.
- Send out a complimentary whitepaper to people who stopped by your booth and gave you their business card. When you exchange cards, give them a choice of 3 of your most popular e-books or articles and write their preference on their back of their card. (This sets you apart as unique, because most people don’t do anything with dozens of cards they collect. It also gives you the urgency to actually create such incredible, high-value content). Tweet, email or message them a link to that resource that is on your website. Don’t just link them to the PDF, but rather to a dedicated page on your site where they can download the PDF for free (perhaps without having to give out their email address again). Tracking their visits to this page gives you specific data on measuring your tactics and the value of your content.
- Start researching the hashtag for your next event or ask in your networks who’s attending the conference you will attend next. If there’s not one, create one!
- Repeat PRE-GAME until this becomes a systematic approach to social networking in your tradeshows, workshops and conferences.
As Coach Wooden often said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
For your next event, prepare your game in advance, showcase your preparation during the game, and maximize what you learned so that you’re improving every game!