Despite the proliferation of online marketing in recent years, offline continues to be the main focus of SMBs looking to generate leads to their business. A survey conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) in 2011 revealed that the average share of marketing budget allocated to trade shows by companies in the B2B niche was around 40%. This emphasis on trade shows is not surprising considering that no other marketing activity gives businesses the same level of relationship management and engagement as face-to-face meetings during trade shows. Given this scenario, it is very unlikely for the marketing strategy for such B2B companies to change in the near future.

However, what a lot of businesses in this segment miss out is on enhancing the visibility of their brand by integrating their trade show promotions with social media. The logic is simple. Trade shows attract a huge chunk of audience who can be converted into customers. This audience is also highly connected to other potential customers who may not be attending the trade shows. By engaging with the trade show attendees over social media, businesses can not only carry on the relationship building process beyond the trading booth to an online platform, but also enable a word-of-mouth promotion of the brand from the primary attendee to their contacts online.

A common refrain among old-school marketers is that while social media can create a virtual following, it does not help in conversions. That is a wrong metric to measure the success of a social media campaign. An alternate way to look at social media integration with trade shows is to see how many potential customers were ‘touched’ by the overall campaign. For instance, let us take the example of a trade show where setting up the booth and preparing brochures and sample accessories cost $20,000 overall. A successful campaign (without any social media integration) could typically establish serious relationships with 15-20 prospects with conversions expected to generate around $30,000-$80,000 worth of sales. However, integrating social media into the trade show marketing campaign, businesses may expect the number of leads to increase anywhere from 5-20% which in turn is likely to increase the revenue generated through the campaign. Most importantly, such social media campaigns are free to integrate with very minimal inventories required.

So how does a business go about integrating social media into their trade show campaign? First and foremost, the end objective of the campaign needs to be understood. This will ensure the right metrics are captured and analyzed. For instance, the number of retweets and shares could give an indication of the number of people, other than the primary prospect, who have been ‘touched’ by the campaign. Here are some ways your trade show booth could integrate social media:

Promos/Giveaway Campaigns

Do your prospects belong to a demographic that wouldn’t mind tweeting stuff to win promo items? Then this is an excellent strategy to deploy. An example of successful deployment was made by web analytics firm, WebTrends during SES New York. The company released a limited set of WebTrends branded sneakers at the conference and apparently had a promotion posted on a pop up display asking anyone who noticed one such pair of sneakers to take a photo and upload it to Twitter with the #didyouseethat hashtag. The company promised free airline tickets and sneakers to the winners. This campaign took WebTrends beyond the premises of the SES conference to the friends and followers of those who tweeted. According to a release from the company, this social media campaign was a huge success seeing over 4000 “likes” with more than 20% of the leads coming in as many as three months after the SES event.

Ego Baiting Attendees

In a lot of B2B trade shows, promos as the above may not necessarily work. That’s because a lot of such attendees belong to the senior management of the company who may not be lured by freebie promos. In such cases, one of the tried and tested ways to get your prospects relay your brand to their connections is through ego-baiting. There are a lot of ways to do this. However, the simplest and the most effective way to build on a relationship is to tweet a ‘Thank you for visiting our booth’ message to the prospect. This leads to a reply or a retweet that not only creates a bonding with the prospect (enhancing the possibility of a conversion) but also takes your brand to the followers of the prospect leading to more potential customers.

Transforming Sales Enquiries Into A Promotional Platform

The weeks after a trade show are often spent in following up with the leads and converting them into customers. While a lot of this conversation is over phone calls and emails, there is an opportunity to translate these sales enquiry conversations into more promotional material by aggressively promoting your social media profiles. This can be done by promoting your twitter handle or Facebook page links on the brochures that are distributed during the trade shows and promising discounts to prospects who get in touch with you over social media. Since the sales conversation may be set to happen in public view, the followers of both your business and that of the prospect may be able to follow the conversation which helps in more brand awareness and potentially more sales.

Social media is still evolving and the kind of marketing campaigns that one may deploy here is only limited by creativity. Are you aware of any interesting social media engagement that B2B marketers have indulged in? Tell us in the comments below.