Capturing an Event with Social Media

Written by our March guest blogger Chris Richards of Fanpagetoolkit, a Philadelphia-based start-up pioneering a Facebook commerce and marketing platform for businesses, brands, and individuals.

How do you capture the true spirit of a live event through social media? With South by Southwest underway this week, social media marketers, musicians, and others have their attention turned to Austin, and the internationally recognized event. For those traveling to Texas, I’m sure there’s a great scene to see and experience. But, for those who are unfortunately unable to attend (like me), how can the event become a “reality” or at least be made more tangible?

I wrestled with this idea as I worked for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), based outside of Washington DC. The CEA is considerably overshadowed by the event it owns and produces, the Consumer Electronics Show (www.cesweb.org), or CES. Working for the better part of a year, CEA and its staff organize what has come to be recognized as the largest trade show in the United States, and the largest electronics trade show in the world. My role while there was to make the 2012 CES as alluring on social media as it was to see live in Las Vegas, where it is held every year.

And this year CES was huge. Drawing in over 153,000 attendees to Vegas, the 2012 CES was unlike anything I could have imagined. In the end, it was my job to somehow convey this monstrous event to thousands of followers across social media.

Having had several months now to digest my experience, and look back, I want to share some thoughts I had on what can make or break live event coverage. For me, working with CES was my first real application of social media to a professional world event. Using my instincts and intuition alone, some strategies worked, while others could have been better. Let’s see what CES looked like through the eyes of a social media coordinator…

1.       Photos were golden. As soon as I arrived in Vegas, the excitement was palpable. After my first steps off the plane, there were signs of CES literally everywhere I looked. I wanted to capture this excitement and share it with the thousands of fans turned in via Facebook and Twitter. Having been offered a tour of the Las Vegas Convention Center (where CES is held) before construction and set up were complete, the potential of sharing a “behind the scenes of CES” photo album with fans excited me…but as I would find out, it excited them more! In the end, the album I created gave fans a taste of the show several days before it was even open to attendees, something that was reflected in the hundreds of “likes” and comments throughout the album.

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Throughout the show, I provided up to the minute photos of the events, booths, celebrities, and parties happening. Adding them to a single Facebook album, I was able to generate engagement every time I uploaded new photos, earning more likes and comments as each upload was broadcast on newsfeeds throughout the week. Though there were obviously professional photographers at the event (some hired by CEA), my photos provided a timely and well-received look at the show from an attendees perspective, and invaluable content for social media.

2.       The right equipment was priceless. By chance, I had just gotten a new Nikon DSLR and lens set over the holidays, and had become very comfortable with it before CES. This familiarity with the equipment was invaluable as I trekked across the show floor capturing photos. Though common practice, live coverage with a cell phone, in most cases, provides questionable results. In this case, decent equipment provided a clear picture to our fans, and I think they appreciated it.

CEA had the foresight to provide me and my partner with a dedicated work station directly on the show floor, equipped with a MacBook Pro and the necessary software. This gave us a “home base” to return to after walking the show floor and we could always count on having the necessary work space, even amongst the chaos of thousands and thousands of attendees.

While walking around the show, we made certain to make use of mobile positing capabilities on iPhones and tablets in the case that last minute announcements came up, or comments needed moderating. While not ideal for covering the event, mobile capabilities gave us some freedom to leave home base.

3.       Moderation and monitoring were difficult. Speaking of moderating comments, with over 60,000 Facebook fans and around 30,000 followers on Twitter, keeping up with the CES conversation was a job in itself. Receiving an email every time the CES official Twitter handle was mentioned, I would routinely wake up with a Blackberry FULL of emails. Sifting through the conversations took ages, and I personally wish I could have handled monitoring better. For an event of its size, CES generated discussions that were sometimes equally as negative as they were positive. Only at the end of the day was it even possible to being digging into the conversations, as the #CES hash tag was used so prolifically throughout the event. Anyone hoping to cover a large event via social media needs to be prepared to dig into the conversation, looking for re-tweetable content, or valuable commentary on the event.

4.       Merge social media with real life. Proving to be an extremely successful event, we were able to bring together hundreds of CES twitter followers together for a one-night “Tweet-up” party. Not only did the Tweet-up serve as great social media content as we promoted the party a month ahead of time, but during the event, users were Tweeting away expressing their satisfaction with the party and people involved. It didn’t hurt that we had sponsored an open bar, and contest-driven raffles and prizes provided great incentive to join in the fun. Essentially, for those interested, we were able to bridge the gap between the typically intangible world of Twitter with the very real and exciting nightlife of CES in Las Vegas.

I was also impressed with the use of social media by exhibitors on the show floor. Blackberry, for one, offered booth visitors a free Blackberry t-shirt if they stood at the booth and checked in to the Blackberry@CES Foursquare venue. It was obviously working well, as people crowded around the booth to show the staff their phones and earn their geeky t-shirt.

5.       Know your social audience vs. your event audience. The biggest takeaway I learned from coordinating social media at CES, in retrospect, was that audience was everything. During the show, it would have been easy to get carried away with posting about up to the minute events and happenings that would have interested CES attendees. But, as I learned, our audience was mostly out of town, foreign technology enthusiasts. We had thousands from Poland following our updates on Facebook, and a huge number of New Yorkers, for example. So, what did that tell me? These people were looking for the big picture of CES. They didn’t care about what time so-and-so was talking in Las Vegas. They just wanted a personal perspective of one of the world’s biggest shows, and they were turning to Facebook to experience it. Using Twitter, on the other hand, we were able to schedule and post time sensitive updates that were well suited for the more professional, Vegas crowd that was likely to be subscribed to our Twitter stream. I think that in the end the content strategy worked, and if it reinforced anything for me, it was to always know your audience!

It’s hard to capture the process that went into coordinating such an event, and the social media surrounding it, but I hope this provides an idea of some simple steps that can be taken to create a more engaging, and attention-grabbing event with the help of social media.

 

For more information I can be reached on Twitter at @seerichards

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