It’s not easy to build meaningful relationships at conferences. Organizers may try to ease awkward introductions (and 50-foot staredowns) with networking events, and a majority of people at the conference may be interested in networking, but that doesn’t make it easy. You’re surrounded by hundreds, sometimes thousands of people; some are vying for attention, others refuse to socialize; some have sales agendas, others have bad breath. So how do you cut through the noise (or silence), to make the most of your conferences?

Get social (media).

Below you’ll find expert advice from six of marketing’s biggest influencers and keynote conference speakers, on how to leverage social media when building relationships at conferences.

Let’s dive in.

Joe Pulizzi head shot for round up blog post on social media. 

JOE PULIZZI

Founder of Content Marketing Institute, author of Content Inc.

What’s the best way for conference goers to connect with influencers/speakers on social media while at a conference?

Leading up to the event you can share their content on Twitter and LinkedIn and tag them.  Then, when you reach out to connect at the event, they are more likely to know who you are in advance.

Which social media channels are the best to use while attending a conference?

At least in the marketing realm, it's Twitter and it's not even close.

What mishaps or mistakes have you seen people do on social media at conferences that they shouldn’t?

Overshare.  Share when something is valuable to share.  If you don't have anything valuable, don't share it.

Are there any hashtag tips or things to look out for while at a conference?

Usually, there are multiple versions of conference hashtags.  It's good to just use all of them at the same time.

Robert Rose head shot for round up blog on social media. 

ROBERT ROSE

Chief Strategy Advisor at Content Marketing Institute & Senior Contributing Analyst at Digital Clarity Group, author of Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing

What’s the best way for conference goers to connect with influencers/speakers on social media while at a conference?

I find that it’s through LinkedIn. Certainly outreach through Twitter is good too - but unfortunately, if it’s a popular session, or there are a lot of tweets happening during the event it might go unseen. But a connection through LinkedIn, with context, and a reason to connect - and all of that is what gets my attention.

Which social media channels are the best to use while attending a conference?

Well, Twitter and LinkedIn are my two go-to’s. But, honestly, I’m seeing A LOT more Snapchat and Facebook Live Video these days - so don’t overlook those just because I’m not on them.

What mishaps or mistakes have you seen people do on social media at conferences that they shouldn’t?

I think the biggest is either trying to sell or make an ask as the first outreach. I will often get the “hey, just saw you speak - you should stop by our booth to check out our new solution” Tweet. There is nothing that guarantees that I WON’T stop by the booth more than making that your first outreach to me.

What should attendees do to increase their chances of networking on social media while at a conference?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to speakers, or other attendees. Everyone is there to learn and meet new people. And, if you think you’re shy, just know that EVERYONE is in the same boat as you. Even the speakers are often looking to have good conversations.

Are there unique/unexpected strategies that you’ve seen work?

Creating meetups through social media are really fun. Basically, leveraging off the Hashtag of the event - and seeing about throwing an impromptu meet up.  For example, after one of my sessions, at a marketing conference, I ended up inadvertently creating a meme about “Frank, the Content Marketing Guy”. And somebody did a very cool thing by setting up an impromptu meet up at the bar using the hashtag “#WeAreAllFrank”.  Apparently like 10 people showed up at the bar and they had a great conversation.meetups through social media are really fun. Basically, leveraging off the Hashtag of the event - and seeing about throwing an impromptu meet up. 

Eric Enge headshot for roundup blog about social media. 

ERIC ENGE

Founder and CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, author of The Art of SEO

What’s the best way for conference goers to connect with influencers on social media while at a conference?

The most important thing is to go to a conference with a commitment to make connections. This may force you a bit out of your comfort zone, but you just have to do it. I think the best approach to doing that is a matter of style. For me, I selected great speakers I wanted to meet, prepared insights and/or questions for them, sat in the front row when they spoke, and was the first person to go up to speak with them. Worked like a champ.

For others, it might be more about embracing the social scene and meeting people at the various events and parties. I do that too, but I’m better at the former than the latter.

Of course, if you can land a speaking slot, that’s great too. Then you’ll have people seeking you out.

What mishaps or mistakes have you seen people do on social media at conferences that they shouldn’t?

The mistakes that people make on social is not that much different than they are elsewhere:

  • They self-promote too much. No one wants to hear it!
  • They make disparaging comments, or otherwise say things that are not appreciated by the bulk of the people that see their social posts.

What should attendees do to increase their chances of networking on social media while at a conference?

To me, going to networking events should also be considered social media. Get out there and engage.  Make a friend at a conference, and suddenly you might find a new person who is frequently sharing your content.

I also think about speaking as a social media activity. I often say this when presenting, and then have people look at me like I’m crazy, until I ask the audience how many people have followed me as a result of seeing me speak.

Point is, leverage your physical presence to build your social presence and impact. People are far more likely to share content on an ongoing basis if they’ve met you, or seen you speak.

Are there unique/unexpected strategies that you’ve seen work?

Going up to speakers after they finish speaking is my main one. But, to re-emphasize, make sure you have something of value TO THEM to communicate when you get up there.  I also think my idea of sitting in the front row and being the first one up to talk to them is helpful too.  Their mind is still fresh. Trust me, after 3 or 4 people talk to you right after a presentation, the speaker can start to be a bit fatigued by the process.

John Doherty headshot for roundup blog on social media 

JOHN DOHERTY

Founder of Credo

What’s the best way for conference goers to connect with influencers/speakers on social media while at a conference?

The simplest way to do this is quite easy - engage with their content on social media while they are speaking, mention them in your tweets, ask questions directly to them. With the exception of most of the keynote speakers (who sometimes are paid to be there and quite hard to meet in person), speakers are just normal people who want to share ideas and get feedback from the crowd.

Many will stick around to answer questions after their session or will go out in the hallway or something afterward, so you can go ask them questions in person. Make sure you follow them on social media and keep engaging with them there after the conference as well.

Which social media channels are the best to use while attending a conference?

Twitter and only Twitter. Facebook isn't real-time enough to facilitate conversation. It can be great for organizing get-togethers at the conference, but if you want to engage in conversation in real-time, then it's all about Twitter and the conference hashtag still.

What should attendees do to increase their chances of networking on social media while at a conference?  

Honestly, I think this is the wrong question. Instead, think about connecting with people, not "networking". No one wants to hang out with that person at networking events who is just trying to hand out their business card to everyone. Social media at conferences is a facilitator for offline connections. Conferences are valuable for the in-person connections you make, so use social media to make connections with people and then make a point of meeting them in person at a conference event.

Are there unique/unexpected strategies that you’ve seen work?

The best strategies I've seen work for leveraging a conference's social media are:

  • Promoted hashtags. Not for "hey come talk to us about our thing", but for something you are doing to add value to the conference - "Hey, come to this bar from 530-630 for an open bar on us!"
  • Live tweeting the conference. This is a great way to get your face in front of everyone at the conference who is on social media.
  • Write roundups of the conference from the day, using social media. I did this in 2011/2012 for some of the major conferences I attended, using Storify to catalog my live tweet stream and then posting it as a blog post. This was a great way to get attention to my blog following on from the conference.

Andrew Davis headshot for roundup blog on social media. 

ANDREW DAVIS

Founder of Monumental Shift, author of Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships

What’s the best way for conference goers to connect with influencers and speakers on social media while at a conference?

I think this is a great question, but I’d actually break it into three parts.

Before a conference, I think the best thing you can do is actually pick a few influencers or speakers you want to meet with, and consume their content. Comment on their blog posts or their LinkedIn posts, or interact with them on Twitter about the stuff they’re already doing. You want to build a relationship with them before the event by not even mentioning the event but just consuming what they share. I think that’s a great start so that they’re familiar with the person before they get to the event.

During the event, I think one of the things you can do then- you know, as the event approaches- is say, “I’m going to the event, I’m looking forward to seeing you speak, I’d love to connect while we’re at the conference.” And you can do that on social media, or- you know- you can do that via email, but I think that’s a great way to do it.

While you’re at the event, I think- first- you want to- you know- say hi to the person if you see them before the event in person, remind them of who you are, try to- you know- tweet at them or with them just before you meet them so they’re familiar and remember who you are. Second, I think you should obviously go to their session and the more you share what you learned during the session I think the more willing they are to spend some time with you. And then, after the session, if you want to spend more time with them, say hi in person right after they speak.

And then, finally, after the event is over, creating some content about what you learned from that speaker or influencer is a great way to have a really solid relationship with that person.

Which social media channels are best to use while attending a conference?

I think any of the “live” quote/unquote channels are the best ones. So live video streaming on Facebook, live on Periscope is very, very popular right now- streaming that stuff is great. And then obviously Twitter, which is very real-time and fast-paced, is a great way to share. Instagram is also good too.

What mishaps or mistakes have you seen people do on social media at conferences that they shouldn’t?

I think some simple ones are- trying to engage in a conversation immediately after a session is very hard to do. Usually, the speakers and influencers are mobbed with people and it takes a lot of time to get back to people on social media after you’ve spoken. Especially if there’s heavy tweeting or heavy sharing from your session. So don’t be offended if they don’t get back to you. I think that’s helpful.

One of the biggest mistakes I think people make is trying to promote their products or services using the hashtag during a session, by trying to connect the relevancy of the session to whatever product or service they offer. And, finally, giving any constructive criticism about the speaker via a public forum is really annoying.

What should attendees do to increase their chances of networking on social media while at a conference?

I think the first rule is by adding value to the event and making sure that they’re not over-spamming or tweeting at an event but sharing the most interesting stuff. And actually having a conversation, not just pushing out what they learned, but re-sharing and chatting about the things they’re learning.

Are there any unique or unexpected strategies that you’ve seen work?

There are people that have done really interesting things at events. I’ve gone to an event where somebody created trading cards for all the speakers. And they were using the trading cards as kind of a promotional piece, but everybody got different cards and was trying to connect all seven of them. That was kind of interesting.

Brian Fanzo headshot for round up blog about social media. 

BRIAN FANZO

Founder/CEO of iSocialFanz

My general tips for my community and those I mentor are:

#ShowUcare before the event, influencers or speakers know or need to know that you care.  Tweet, share and engage prior to an event creating a dialog not about what you do or want to do rather your excitement on celebrating what they do.  That way when you do introduce yourself it was more than just I tweeted you or we follow each other on social media.

Influencers & Speakers are busy but they also have a core group of people who they trust and influence them.  Focus on engaging and connecting with those people which will eventually put your content in front of that influencer or speaker in an organic authentic way, often times leading to that speaker or influencer reaching out to you to find out more about you rather than you knocking down their doors.

 What’s the best way for conference goers to connect with speakers?

Create dialog before the event, share and promote the speaker the day of the event and then follow up or engage where that speaker likes to engage the most.  If you don't know where that is, look at their public social media posts and see where they direct one to one conversations with others to.  For me I like twitter, therefore someone sending me a twitter video for example with a question or desire to me will stand out far more than someone commenting on a LinkedIn post or Instagram picture from the event.

Which social media channels would you recommend using?

Keep it simple stupid... you must go where the audience is and engage there and don't expect them to come to you.  For live events and live conversations, both Twitter and Instagram seem to be the main hub, with Snapchat also being an option. Connecting with people during live events on these channels make growing relationships easier and then segue to become Facebook and Linkedin connections is a natural next step.

What mishaps or mistakes have you seen people do that they shouldn’t?

Don't bother influencers or speakers by tweeting at them telling them what they should do or what you need them to do...  Too many make the ask or spew their information on people who are already busy without even considering the concept of presenting that information in a way that provides value or explains why spending time to consume would be worth it for an influencer or speaker.

What should attendees do to increase their chances of networking on social media while at a conference?

Think of the actual event as just one aspect of the networking.... do your research beforehand, have a strategy of who and why you want to meet people while at the event and also do a recap and follow up after the event to bridge the gap back to a digital conversation.

Are there any hashtag tips or things to look out for while at a conference?

Standout from the noise of the event hashtag by doing what others aren't doing....  create twitter videos, or social tiles or live stream. We all get 140 characters and when someone is looking at just the hashtag, your follower count holds no weight, so you need to stand out from the noise of what others are tweeting.

Attending a conference can provide a lot of value, and utilizing social media to your advantage is just one way. These days there is a conference for everyone, so if you're looking to go to one we have a Conference Guide to help you narrow down your search based on marketing tactics you're interested in, location and more. Click the button below to go to our interactive list of conferences!

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