Marketing your small business in the digital age can seem a daunting task for many entrepreneurs. Which platforms should you use to promote your business? Which hashtags should you use, how often should you post, and how can you tell if you are really connecting with your audience? Do you need to go viral to find success?
Believe it or not, most professional social media marketers agree that you only need a small, dedicated core of engaged followers to grow your business successfully online. The genius of social media is that it is a low-cost way to advertise the marketing investments you are already making in your business, like pop up events and trade shows.
When used correctly, social media marketing can help you to grow your small business organically to reach the customers that really count. Effective trade show marketing starts with a well-planned strategy for what to do before, during, and after the show. With a few simple tips, you can engage and impress customers in person AND online.
Before the Show
The most important thing to do before a show is to plan out your online strategy. Start with your goal in mind. Remember, you are only looking to engage a targeted group of enthusiastic followers. Think about where your customers hang out in real life. Do you offer transcription or translation services? Your ideal customer is probably a professional in the medical, legal or educational field, so focus on creating a strong LinkedIn presence. On the other hand, if you are a performance or digital artist, a platform designed for sharing pictures and videos like Instagram or Facebook probably makes more sense. Whichever platform you choose, keep in mind that your job as a business owner is to use your online platform to provide real value for your customers, IRL, aka in real life.
Invest Where It Counts
No doubt you’ve already invested heavily in the exhibitor’s fee for the trade show, business cards, brochures, and marketing materials, and a high-quality trade show display for the actual event. The good news is, some of these materials can be used effectively online to help attract likely customers for your brand. Choose short quotes from your website or brochure that communicate the things that matter most to your brand. Put them in a bold, complimentary color against a clean, white background and you have an easy, sophisticated looking post that helps customers get to know you.
Like most business-related tasks, your biggest investment in effective social media marketing will be your time. Set aside adequate time on a weekly basis to create and schedule regular posts for your chosen platform for at least six weeks leading up to your event. If you’re unsure how often to post on a given platform, just Google search “How many times should I post on [PLATFORM]”.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Even if you know next to nothing about social media, chances are the trade show you are attending is actively seeking vendors like you online and therefore advertising using established social media hashtags. Trade shows and expos have professional marketers creating their posts, so instead of reinventing the wheel simply copy the hashtags the event organizers are using to promote it. This will also keep you in the loop for people who have attended the event in the past and are looking forward to this year’s show.
Another bonus of using the same hashtags as event organizers is it increases the chance that you will gain brand exposure through cross-promotion. Event organizers look for high-resolution images they can re-post on their own social media pages. Stand out from the crowd by showcasing the trade show display you already invested in online.
Most exhibitor packages include 2-4 tickets to the event for your team. If you are a solopreneur, you might not have a team yet, but chances are you already have a group of people who live in your area and are very knowledgeable about your business– they’re called customers! Invite some of your local customers to be your designated ‘social media team’ in exchange for free or discounted products or services. This is a nice bonus for you and your customers that really makes people feel connected to your brand.
During the Show
Remember that your goal as a business owner is to provide value for your customers online and in real life. Maximize your engagement by offering content your key demographic is interested in. Again, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Expert testimony, a curated collection of related links, or even a short demo video can improve engagement online and in real life. During trade shows, posting live testimony from satisfied customers or real-time reactions to samples can be an effective marketing tool for those curious about your brand.
Make a Good Impression
Be sure to designate a person or persons to post online on your business’s behalf during the trade show so you can focus on making real-life connections with the potential customers right in front of you. Smile, make eye contact, repeat the person’s name and capture their email or social media handles whenever possible. No matter how good of a first impression you make on someone, chances are it will take more than one interaction to earn their loyalty.
After the Show
This is why follow up is one of the most important thing business owners must remember to do after the event. Experts say a good rule of thumb for follow up in the digital age is ‘the sooner the better’. There are tons of apps and autoresponders that will allow you to send a standard message to anyone who follows or interacts with your brand online. A low tech alternative is to send a short and sweet “Thanks for checking us out at [EVENT]!” along with your contact information after (or even during lulls in) the event.
Once you’ve done cursory follow up with everyone you interacted with, be persistent in using the networking event you just attended to generate new leads for your business. As new contacts see that you are consistently providing valuable online content, they will be more like to trust, engage with, and recommend you and your brand.
Yes, online marketing has its challenges, but with a little time and effort, you can learn to leverage social media to grow your business organically online!