Social Media vs. Events

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, ... Everybody is talking about it, but how many event organizers actually succeed in using social media? How many of them make money with it? Gerrit Heijkoop knows all the secrets of using social media successfully for your event.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, ... Everybody is talking about it, but how many event organizers actually succeed in using social media? How many of them make money with it? Gerrit Heijkoop knows all the secrets of using social media successfully for your event.


Hi Gerrit, welcome to our studio.


Thank you again and very nice to be here again.


We are going to talk about social media.




So... social media, is it just a hype? Or is there a real opportunity for businesses to do something with it?


I believe it's both: it definitely has characteristics of a typical hype curve as we see in many technological innovations. Meaning that people get a little overenthusiastic and it's the new solution for everything, then over the hype curve you have kind of this reality check: 'is this really worth it'? And then we get to a level where this is just another normal means of communication which can be very valuable and has many opportunities.


I notice a lot of people spend a lot of time on social media but when you look at the outcome there is almost nothing, how come?


That depends on what you define as an outcome, what do you mean with that?


Well I think if you organize an event for example and use social media in the first track of organizing an event meaning you want to gain more visitors to your event and it results in zero additional visitors…?


So the good thing here is, I think you should always measure the effect of social media on your business objectives so if you say my business objective is more visitors, that's where you should measure. Then the next question is, what were you doing with your social media channels? Were you using Twitter and Facebook to push that message out there: 'come to my event, come to my event'! Then we can share fairly quickly that that probably won't work.


But what does work?


Well I believe you should see social media as just another means of communication, like email, like a telephone, like old-fashioned direct mailings. And in that metaphor, you couldn't either say you know, telephone; it doesn’t have any benefit for our organization, it means what you do with it, so if you call people and do cold calls saying: 'come to my event', it might not have so much use. But back to the social media, what you should do is, social media is a great opportunity to either have more engagement and interaction with your audience on a more frequent basis to better know what they care about, what's their common place of care. And then you can tap into that with the content of your event, the content of your messages, and the conversion into more visitors will be a result of that. So you see, so the, gaining more visitors shouldn't be the objective on your social media activities themselves, because you have a lot of conversation and interaction on social media, you create a lot of buzz, you get better informed, and that will result in more visitors.


Do you have an example of an event that does really well with this?


Well what I like in an international context is the way the IMEX tradeshows are approaching this, they do a couple of things right, but let me pick one thing out of that; that it is how they try to open up their show floor to the outside world, so they have their, well they, I should be honest, I mean we are involved in this project so obviously this is our project as well. But what we do is we run the Imax Social Team, and the Imax Social Team is there to give a visitors perspective on the show floor on exhibitors, on all the stuff that's going on, and its capturing that in Twitter, in Facebook, in Instagram whatever message is out there, and what it does is, it gives the community at the trade show content to interact to it, to like, to share, to their networks; but it also gives people who are not at the live event an idea of what's going on there and hopefully next time they want to be there because they like who else is there, what's going on, it's a lot of fun.


You were mentioning that you could use social media during the event, but of course there are many stages of an event: the organizing phase, during the event and after the event. Can you gives some examples of what you can do in those different stages with social media?


Yes definitely. Before I enter the event, obviously the main, we kind of talked about it when you asked me if it was opportunity or hype, its mainly all about generating the buss; getting your event name or your brand out there, getting the fact that the event is there out there; or the other component which I might even like better, um, getting, getting, using it as a business intelligence tool to better understand what the content of your event should be. Whether its more like a serious conference about what topics should you address, what speakers do you want to have, or if its more on the pleasure side, maybe its like, what artists do we want to have, what music, what activities do we want to have?


Yes, and during the event?


Well so during the event there's a couple of things you can do, like we discusses in the Imax example, you can open up your event to the outside world, from local to global; but the very important part is also like webcam, you know its 2013 and you can assume that a lot of people at your event are, have access to these networks right. And whether it's Facebook or Twitter or anything, these are just common means of communication. So if people run into problems or questions at your event, they are going to expect that they can reach you really quickly in real time via these services, and on the other hand for you as an organizer, it's really simple to be there real time with your visitors use their cameras as your eyes to see what’s going on in different places at your event and take action if necessary.


Also during the event, a Twitter-wall is of course something popular, but not everybody is not yet on Twitter, there are still people that don't use these media; how do you handle that?


Well, Twitter, an interesting thing about Twitter is, I mean there's a lot of buzz and fuzz around Twitter and I think an event or Twitter is and light events are a match made in heaven, mainly because of the public character; you could find people at the event that you don’t know yet and start networking with. On the other hand like you say, a lot of people don't use Twitter; um so you should think about that, you should make a count up front and make an estimation of how many people know how to use it- and there's other tools in the market that could do the same right, if you want to use Twitter to ask questions to a speaker, well there's tools like Sendsteps or more sophisticated voting or audience response systems that could solve that, so that could, there is always a trade off from "am I going from the free public available tools like Twitter or am I investing in a more advanced tool?"


Well after the event, there's a couple of things you can do, it's very easy to extend the lifetime of your event obviously because you are sharing the content; the photos, the slides, the videos, all that kind of stuff; so people like relive that memory. Well that’s easy stuff and we've been doing that for years, but in social media channels that's just really easy to share. What seems to be more difficult and I haven't seen many examples of events succeeding; but the promise should be that you could extend the conversation right; well obviously technologically, that's possible; I mean there are tools to keep the conversation going, but I must admit, and I also experience that as an event entity myself, of the week after you have the follow-ups, the LinkedIn connections, the Tweets the sharing of the content, and then it, it dies down. But the benefit for that is if you build up these channels, if you build up your following on Twitter on Facebook, or whatever your network is, the next time you run your event, those people are still there right. They are already in your Twitter account as your followers or on your Facebook page as your likers, so it's fairly easy to pick that up again and get the attention and get people who were there last year back into your event next year.


You already mentioned a lot of social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on, but as an event organizer, which one of them should I use or all of them?


Well the easiest answer and maybe the difficult one, but you should choose the one where your audience is.


That's obvious...

Well, it is obvious yet a lot of people come to me and say: 'I want to use Twitter', ok why? 'Because Twitter is a big thing' - well do you know that your audience is in Twitter? So you see, yet a lot of people seem to forget that. And in order to find out how many people are on different networks and where they are, that is just a matter of doing your homework. And there are some technological tricks, so you could like let Twitter, or LinkedIn or Pinterest so to speak scan your email addresses if you have a database of the people that you want to invite; and see how many of those email addresses pop up as Twitter accounts, but you could also fairly easily ask it in your registration, but then obviously you are further down in the process, ask them: 'what channels are you on and what do you use it for'? Or you can just listen, search the channels and if you are doing a conference for meeting planners, start to find out where they are, with how many and if its anything for them at all.


A lot of businesses are afraid of criticism on social media, but how do you handle for example a complaint on Twitter?


Well the interesting thing I find about that conversation is: so people, the little company says: "what if someone says something bad about my event"? Well the thing is if you would not use Twitter and I would Tweet something bad about, the fact that you don't use Twitter, would that not make that complaint happen? So that question...


It does happen...


The question is not even with the event planner would that work, so if we understand that then we better say: "ok, so if that could happened, I had better make sure that I'm out there at least listening to the stuff that's going on" and then you can say its fairly easy to say that a complaint is an opportunity right because apparently if somebody in your event is unhappy, well they are whether you can hear it or not and whether they can express it or not and well not they have the opportunity to express that and if you are listening you can actually handle and take action on that and solve stuff or if its unreasonable you could at least know that that vibe is out there and the good thing about social media is if you have a strong brand in social media, you wont be on your own, you will build a community of maybe fans or at least people who like you around you and if there is really dishonest stuff that is going on, people that really try to break you down, they will step up, because if I like and I see someone bashing that, I don't like that because I like this brand and I will defend you and you are not alone you know.


So you can count on the community?


Yes, if you have invested in that and that takes time right, that's not a thing like if you - so it is a two-way thing, yes, you could be more vulnerable, because you give access to these channels and you will hear it if its not good, on the other hand, if its not good, you had better fix it.


Yes! Indeed. What do you expect for the future of Facebook for example of still existing in five years?


No, no...

That's a bold expression...

That's a bold expression, I like to make, I think Facebook will die in two, maybe five years. And I say that specifically on Facebook I believe that they have been so hard trying to monetize on the network that they have been trying to interfere with the core-user experience, you might reckognize it that you now get adds inside your timeline, well that is my core-user experience and we all we don't like that. So I think it's a matter of time that something else pops up and we think hey that's better, less adds and better user experience. So, that's in terms of Facebook. 


On the other hand, I see something else happening in the social media arena. And that is that we start to communicate in smaller groups, for example for a couple of years we have been in broadcasting, all of a sudden everybody could broadcast, whether I'm this little guy from here or I'm this big corporate, and now I see a rise of WhatsApp groups, you know WhatsApp the free kind of messenger texting tool and all of a sudden we don't do that one-to-one but you see all these groups with friends with colleges, with project teams, and ok so we have the groups there We have a strong focus of groups with Facebook, we have circles, Google Circles work like that. And what that tells me, I haven't figured out exactly what it would mean that we should act on it but what it means is that we’re getting less public and we're getting less focused, so I have certain content that I want to share with this group and I have certain content that I want to share with this group, and that's simple, for example I've got from my own personal situation we would have got with how can I be social and now with a team of four, maybe in a couple of weeks we might be six or eight, and we have this Facebook group, its closed off and and its only for us, and that's where we share stuff we're working on, our inspiration, funny links or whatever stuff, and that just feeds the conversation in our office, I guess we should really come to understand where these groups are, what their main, their common place of care is, and how we can maybe then feed that with relevant content and maybe join the conversation but at least make sure our content is in there so people can talk about that, and that is very different than shouting our marketing message in these groups and that is a very different approach.


If you could give the people watching our show one last piece of advice?


Its not about you. That is the most difficult mindset you need to change, especially if you are in marketing and I will be honest- even I have sometimes difficulty with that. Because its so easy to say the event is the best, like me, like me, like me. But the funny thing is, If you understand that this is all about conversation, and conversation about stuff that people care about, well unless you are Coca Cola or Heiniken, people are not a fan of your brand and they're not sitting there waiting for your content to come about. So instead you should share and think about content that they do care about and make sure that you are the source of that. Because then if you have great content and you have topics of conversation, you are the source and you become relevant as a source and maybe I'll grow into a fan of yours.


Gerrit, I want to thank you for this inspiring interview.


Well, my pleasure, very big.


And thank you for watching our show, I hope to see you next episode.