The value in traveling to an industry conference or trade show often has nothing to do with what’s being said at the panels. They can be fine discussion fodder, but the real heart of the experience is often found in the networking opportunities these gatherings present.
Not everyone has the gift of being able to walk up to a total stranger, squint at their name tag for a second and then make small talk for three minutes while figuring out whether this is a person they’d like to get to know better. Twitter can make the process infinitely more pleasurable and more efficient by helping you remove the guesswork, find the right people and lay the foundations for relationships that can transcend that trade show.
- Know your hashtags. This might sound obvious, but it’s important to not just note the conference hashtag on the show’s website and leave it at that. Set up a dedicated feed to search for tweets with that hashtag using a Twitter client such as HootSuite. Monitor that feed well in advance of the show. Don’t be shocked if the hashtag changes — even at very well run conferences, attendees will sometimes decide en masse that the official hashtag is too long or too complicated and opt for something else. Sometimes tracks or individual panels within the conference will have their own tags. Be prepared to roll with the punches. Hashtags are your key to fruitful conference tweeting.
- Start early. Being prepared will make your Twitter networking efforts that much more successful. Identify people you’d like to meet before the show begins, follow them and have their Twitter handles fresh in your mind when you’re scanning the conference hashtag feed. A great salesman never walks into a party without a prospect or two in mind and neither should you. If you can connect with people using the hashtag before the conference starts, you’ll have leg up once it begins.
- Listen more than you tweet. This is the most important part. Don’t worry too much about sending out pithy tweets summarizing takeaways from the panels. Don’t fret about being funny or retweetable. Those things are all great, but they’re not the heart of Twitter networking; listening is. Don’t think of the conference hashtag feed as a billboard advertising your awesomeness. Think of it as a menu of interesting and important people you might like to meet. Once you’ve found a prospect, find ways to engage that person based on the conversations they’re already having. Make the other person the focus of the conversation — it makes them feel special and makes them want to talk with you more. Saying Twitter is an engagement tool is almost like saying the sky is blue at this point, but you’d be surprised how often people (even social-media experts!) forget that the same principles that work for businesses on Twitter apply just as well on a personal level.
- Use geography to your advantage. If you’ve traveled a great distance to attend a show, try using Twitter to establish a little get-together for attendees from your hometown. Set a time and a place and promote the gathering using the conference hashtag. There are several advantages here. People who might not be interested in meeting with just you will show up to see who else from your hometown is at the conference. You’ve all got something in common that you can use to jump-start the conversation. And if you meet someone interesting, you can more feasibly meet with them again down the road.
- Take the conversation offline as soon as possible. The goal is to move from public @ replies using the conference hashtag to direct messages on Twitter to finally meeting in person. Don’t be satisfied with just exchanging quips in a public space. Twitter is a great tool for making connections, but chances are you’re just one of dozens of new online acquaintances this person will make during the show. If you want that connection to last, you need to distinguish yourself and the easiest way to do that is help your new buddy put a face to your user name. You can always continue the conversation online once the show is over.
- Don’t be afraid to unplug. Twitter networking is a lot of fun, but be sure to take a break and go walk the floor from time to time. Remember that not everyone you’d like to meet is following their Twitter feed that closely and keep your options open. Go stretch your legs and squint at a few name tags — you’ll appreciate Twitter all the more once you log back on.
How do you network at live events? What role does Twitter play? Anyone use any other social networks for establishing connections with conference attendees?
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