Leveraging Social Media

It's no secret that social media and social networking have changed the way prospects and customers uncover, research, and ultimately connect with the people and brands with whom they want to do business. According to Nielsen, approximately 46 percent of online users count on social media when making a purchase decision, while Experian reports that more than one-quarter of total U.S. internet time is spent on social networking sites. 

Instead of relying solely on what a company says about itself via fine-tuned, well-placed marketing messages, buyers are turning more to the unbiased, and unfiltered, opinions of others. By its very nature, social media levels the playing field between brands and customers. As a result, companies that deliver the best and most authentic customer experiences are winning. 

Considering the impact of social media on the marketing landscape, it's not surprising to find that social media is changing the face of events as well - transforming the ways that events are both executed and marketed.
Here are three fundamental ways that events are changing - for the better - as a result of social media.

1. Social Media Amplifies Word-of-Mouth Publicity
Events provide unique opportunities for brands to get closer to prospects and customers by delivering memorable and engaging experiences. When an event is successful, brands often emerge with "promoters" who will continue to carry the torch for the brand to their own networks. Thanks to social media, attendees are able to share these experiences with their peers outside the event, in the social sphere. 

Mobile apps are to thank for keeping social media in the palm of every attendee's hand, helping word-of-mouth messages spread further and faster - both during and after an event. As a result, the good work that event marketers do to attract attendees and deliver content and connections is helping them reach even those who are not in attendance.

2. Social Media Facilitates Attendee Participation
When attendees are involved in the content of an event, as opposed to merely observing or being "talked at," they take away far more value from the entire experience. A recent Michigan State University study on the use of Twitter showed that adults who tweet during a class and as part of the instruction are more engaged with the course content, with the instructor, and with other students. Their grades are better, too, which may indicate that they have retained what they've learned. 

Event managers are taking note, understanding that if the goal of the event is to transfer knowledge to attendees, social media can play a significant role. Social media is encouraging greater participation as mobile event apps tie to real-time polling, Twitter feeds, and other social communities where attendees can engage with the presenters, exhibitors, fellow attendees (virtual and live), and even the broader spectrum of their social networks.

3. Social Media Gives Legs to Attendee Engagement
Building engagement requires a clear understanding of what attendees seek and how well an event is meeting their needs. For its part, social media is changing the game in attendee engagement by giving event professionals a finger on the pulse of individual preferences and reactions as the event unfolds. Twitter hashtags and LinkedIn event groups are two of the most popular ways to monitor attendee engagement via social media. 

What's more, social media is having a real impact when it comes to building and maintaining relationships with attendees before, during, and after the event. Encouraging registration, promoting session content, sharing presentations, soliciting feedback, and giving people a community in which to continue conversations with those they met at the event - these are all happening in the social media sphere. 

It's clear that social media is changing the face of events. But the question remains: how will your events evolve to give it its rightful role?

Betsy Zikakis is vice president of marketing at Certain, Inc. Certain provides enterprise event-management software that powers personalized event experiences and enables meaningful connections to accelerate business.