Social media is one of the most powerful mediums for promoting your company’s trade show presence. From LinkedIn to Facebook, some of the web’s biggest social media platforms can be great tools in your trade show promotional arsenal.

In this section, you’ll learn how to use social media to promote your exhibit, connect with influential people prior to the show, and encourage prospects to visit you for a free quote or offer during the event.

Learn from your competitors’ successes

If you’re a first-time exhibitor, you can get a great blueprint for trade show success by looking at what your competitors are doing. A lot of companies will post pictures of their trade show stands on their Facebook pages, often as part of a promotion.

Spend a few minutes searching for your competitors on Facebook and you might be able to find some snapshots of their booth. This gives you a good blueprint to build your own exhibit from, as well as a good clue of how they’ll be exhibiting this year.

If you can’t find photos or marketing material on your competitors’ Facebook pages, try looking on industry blogs. Trade shows are covered heavily by bloggers and you might be able to spot a competitor’s booth amongst their photos.

See which of your competitors was most successful and use their exhibit as a source of inspiration for your own. Look for indicators of popularity like crowds around a booth or positive media coverage and note them for your own exhibit planning.

While social media coverage can be deceiving, it’s one of the best ways to see what you’re up against at a particular trade show.

Use social media to research before the event

Are you exhibiting at a certain trade show for the first time? Every trade show has a different culture, and using social media to research the culture and atmosphere of a trade show gives you a useful advantage over other first-time exhibitors.

Some trade shows are all about the presentations. Some are all about the sales floor networking opportunities. Others have a more ‘corporate’ atmosphere where most of the deal making is done over dinner and drinks following the show.

Knowing the culture of the show you’re attending will help you avoid spending your money in the wrong places. Instead of searching news websites for coverage of past shows, read the blogs of attendees for a more hands-on perspective of the event.

Make social media an integral part of your branding

Social media is one of the best tools for connecting with prospects and new contacts following a trade show. Make your company Facebook page part of your corporate branding, and your personal LinkedIn profile a feature of your business cards.

Your company’s Twitter account, Facebook Page, and blog should be listed on your banners, posters, notepads, brochures, and other marketing materials. Make every part of your exhibit an opportunity to connect with attendees on social media.

One of the best ways to encourage attendees to connect with you on social media platforms is to combine social media with a competition. Instead of asking people for their name and email address for a chance to win your prize, let them connect with your company using Facebook Connect.

To make social media as simple as possible for attendees, use a QR Code to send people directly to your company’s Facebook App or LinkedIn profile.

Own your Google search results

No matter how prominent you make your social media profiles, a certain amount of your prospects will simply search for your company’s name (or your own name) on Google after the show.

Your social media presence should be configured to make it as easy as possible for these prospects to find you. Create accounts for yourself and your business on the ‘big three’ social networks – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – to make it as easy as possible for prospects to find you in the search results.

If your company website is optimised for search engines, you might want to create a page specifically for each trade show you attend. This makes it certain you’ll be easy to find if prospects search for ‘[company name] [trade show]’ after the event.

A successful trade show exhibit will always result in an increase in organic searches for your company name. If you practice online reputation management, the months before a trade show are a good time to double-check that no negative feedback is visible when someone searches for your brand name.

B2B? Ignore Facebook in favour of LinkedIn

While Facebook is still the preferred social network for B2C companies, LinkedIn is the social network of choice for all B2B activity. If you primarily deal with business customers and clients, it’s best to emphasise your company’s LinkedIn presence.

If you haven’t already, create a Company Page for your business on LinkedIn and ask your staff members to connect with it. Make sure that all of your staff members have their own LinkedIn profiles listed on their business cards and brochures.

With over 11 million members in the UK alone, LinkedIn is a great place to find out about the type of people that will be attending the event. Search LinkedIn using the name of the trade show and see if the organisers have set up a group.

If they have, join the group and begin networking before the event by searching the group for people in your target audience. With the right search filters, you can find hundreds of sales prospects to connect with during the event itself.

Set up appointments with social media prospects

One of the best ways to increase traffic at your trade show booth is to connect with all of the prospects you’ve identified using LinkedIn and invite them to visit you at the event. Using InMail (a feature of LinkedIn Premium) you can message prospects without having to add them as LinkedIn connections.

InMail is fantastic for explaining how your business can help prospects, promoting competitions you’ll be running at the event, or introducing yourself to key people at the event before speaking to them in person.

Follow up post-event using LinkedIn InMail and Twitter

The average trade show will leave you with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of business cards. InMail is a great way to connect with people that you can’t seem to track down using the traditional email or phone call.

Search the names of people you met at the trade show on LinkedIn and connect with them using InMail. For prospects and business contacts that you know well, skip the InMail and connect using the phone number or email listed on their business card.

Another great way to connect with prospects following the event is by contacting them on Twitter. Tweet them after the show reminding them that it was good to connect and that you’ll be in touch soon with a phone call or email.