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Using Social Media to Enhance Face-to-Face Encounters

Rob Murphy
  • Using social media as a way to leverage more opportunities during face-to-face engagements such as trade shows is one of the greatest assets of Facebook, Twitter and the like.
  • Make sure you use social media as a way to engage your followers and fans, not just as a way to constantly promote your brand. Listen and interact, don’t just spout marketing jargon.
  • Reaching the right audience can be as simple—or as difficult—as choosing the right social media channel. Make sure you do your research before seeking out consumers through a particular channel.

At its core, face-to-face engagement creates a personal connection and builds trust between a company and its target audience. A warm handshake, engaging conversation, and getting to know customers and prospects on an individual level can play an important role in forming stronger, more meaningful and profitable business relationships. However, the virtual landscape is changing the way we make and maintain connections. Whether through e-mail, instant messaging, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media channels, brands are able to quickly and effectively share information, network, educate audiences and stay up-to-date on industry trends. From brand management to customer communications to sales, today’s marketing must integrate multiple media platforms and environments to achieve maximum impact. Adding social media, videos, and virtual events to face-to-face events can measurably enhance and extend results at very little incremental cost.

MC2 spoke with some of the beauty industry’s leading social experts to examine how social media and virtual elements are enhancing face-to-face brand interactions.

Road to the Show: Rules of Engagement

Engaging an audience at a trade show or through social media plays an invaluable role in cultivating relationships, strengthening existing ones, discovering new opportunities and, ultimately, driving consumers to purchase. The industry experts agree that the real win comes when virtual tactics are integrated into traditional face-to-face programs.

“People want to ‘talk’ to someone, it’s our human nature to connect with one another,” says Jennifer Walsh, CEO, Behind the Brand, the TV personality who showcases and talks about the beauty industry. “If a brand talks to customers through social media, the customers are more apt to seek out that brand or person when they show up for an event.”

“Anytime you can take something online into reality—that’s the pinnacle. Integrating a social media strategy with a face-to-face event can have significant impact on a brand,” adds Sheri L Koetting, CEO, MSLK, a strategic marketing and design agency. “Vaseline’s Dry Skin Patrol campaign is a great example of this. The company engaged mom bloggers to join the Dry Skin Patrol team, and sent them out to do different experiences putting the product to the test. Vaseline created a Facebook page and engaged audiences virtually, as well as held face-to-face events and product demonstrations where people could meet the mom bloggers and interact with the brand and its products.”

Engaging Prospects from Day-to-Day to Face-to-Face

Like any relationship, building a social media network takes work. Smart brands are making it part of their daily routine to build stronger bonds with customers and leverage face-to-face encounters.

MC2 spoke with the experts on how brands are using social media effectively throughout the year and around a trade show. We asked, “What are good practices for engaging communities day-to-day and at face-to-face events?”

According to Shannon Nelson, a beauty blogger and social media consultant, “Most brands are using Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. Facebook is where you ask questions to get your fans to respond—it will create more of a dialogue. On Twitter, I see more people talking about things going on behind the scenes—what’s happening in the store or at the office. And, it plays a greater customer service role.”

“Brands are really making social media a part of their DNA. They engage their audience every day on every level from the weather to events. They might offer a few morning tips that are not always specific to their brand. This makes them more accessible and human,” adds Felicia Walker Benson, editor in chief, ThisThatBeauty blog; beauty editor, Jones magazine; and social media beauty editor, Bergdorf Goodman. “Around an event, I typically see an increase in the use of hashtags.”

“In general, daily engagement that works includes tips of the day, educational videos, behind-the-scenes pictures and videos from behind the scenes, and posting or tweeting photos of celebrities using your product,” says Koetting. “Anything to activate the audience, such as putting up a new product and asking your followers to name a color for [it] or post a photo of them wearing the product, will greatly increase engagement.

“At trade shows and other live events, Twitter is a great way to make people feel as though they are part of the event without having to be there. Engage them by letting them ask questions that can be answered virtually, as well as on stage or in the booth,” adds Koetting.

Social media, when used properly, provides a phenomenal opportunity to connect with consumers on a personal level. However, there are ways that brands fail at using a social platform correctly. For instance, Nelson points out, “The biggest thing I see is that several companies automatically think, ‘We’re a brand. Therefore, all we’re going to do is talk about our products.’ When a brand does this, it is just talking to itself. It tends to have no replies, retweets or dialogue with its audience.”

“A brand can build loyalty, excitement and trust if it handles social media properly. Social media is literally the voice of your company, and many brands were giving this role to a very young person with very little experience in the company or in the industry and this is a huge mistake,” says Walsh. “Think of social media as the person you would put on TV to represent your brand on the #1 TV morning show. It is a vital role, and this is also why many brands’ CEOs are very involved in tweeting and the key messaging on Facebook.”

A face-to-face event is an opportunity to create a memorable brand experience. It’s also a platform from which the brand and other influencers can create content and conversation via online and offline channels. Social media, used in conjunction with a trade show or face-to-face event, can help you reach a larger audience exponentially—whether its following and retweeting the trade show organizer’s tweets or taking advantage of the show’s hashtag.

Additionally, media is at the show reporting live to their followers, many of whom might not be at the show. “The social media landscape has changed the way information is shared—advancing the immediacy of everything and giving anyone and everyone access to that information, good or bad,” says Julia Coney, editor, “To keep people interested, it’s important to have a six-month plan.”

Get Feedback to Stay on the Right Track

In preparation for a trade show, you can use social media to gauge your audience’s preferences and likes and dislikes, which can be incredibly valuable in determining the focus of your trade show program and live events. “Brands are using social media to truly engage customers, to see and gauge what their interests are within the beauty arena,” says Walsh. “It’s a great tool to help brands become more real, more like a friend—a way to look into the day-to-day of the brand.”

Nelson suggests using a call to action to see what draws interest from your followers. “If you know people (followers) are coming to a trade show, engage them with a tweet, such as, “We’re going to have XYZ at our booth, click here.”

“Social media is also another touch point to our attendees and allows us to interact year-round with them, hear what is interesting and important to them, and hopefully incorporate some of this dialogue into the live event,” adds Jill Birkett, business director, HBA Global.

Choosing the Right Social Media Platforms for Maximum Impact

With the social landscape changing on an almost daily basis, how do you know where to begin? While most agree that, in general, Twitter is an effective tool across the board, the experts agree the key is knowing your audience, knowing where it is spending its time online, and considering the content you are distributing. Several brands try to go with what’s popular, but it’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all formula for every brand. “Determining the most effective [social media channel] for you will depend on the demographics you’re targeting,” says Nelson. “For example, beauty brands targeting tweens have a better chance of engaging them on Facebook or YouTube.”

Choosing the right platform is linked to each brand’s unique DNA. “Social media and beauty is a good fit because of the emotional connection for building a brand. Facebook is one of the best platforms because beauty is visual. Facebook is fully integrated—video, pictures, content,” says Koetting. “It’s amazing what some of the small, nontraditional forums are doing. People are talking about problems and issues, and brands can find niche groups and answer those questions.”

“Beauty is all about images,” Walsh adds. “So to be able to send a tweet to entice people to read more, either on the brand’s website or on its Facebook wall, builds awareness of what is happening within the company.”

Different segments of beauty require different vehicles. “Twitter can be especially great for cosmetics because it offers a quick, in-and-out engagement,” says Walker Benson. “For other areas of beauty, such as plastic surgery or dermatologists, Facebook is a better platform as the topics require room for longer conversation and content for educational purposes.”

“Twitter is great for sharing immediate information such as, ‘We’re here at Fashion Week’, whereas Facebook is great for sharing an entire look post,” adds Coney. “However, for most beauty brands, their Twitter following is completely different than their Facebook following. When brands tweet something into Facebook, there can be a disconnect for the people who don’t get Twitter.”

Take Advantage of Trade Show Resources

In recent years, trade show organizers have built in social media to help enhance the trade show experience for both exhibiting companies and attendees. Not only can you promote your presence at the show, but you can also build your social media following by taking advantage of the trade show organizer’s virtual resources and social media activities. For example, HBA Global currently uses LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as its social media forums to promote show events, communicate updates and provide special offerings. Tweets, postings on Facebook, and discussions on LinkedIn were used to showcase exhibitors and conference speakers.

Leading up to the event, HBA also hosted online educational webinars for exhibitors to enable them to hear about activities and opportunities within HBA, to promote themselves and their products, and to learn better exhibiting practices. A new on-site feature at the HBA event at the Javits Center in New York was the Social Media Lounge, which brought HBA’s social media communities together and housed expanded programming and tutorials.

“This year, we hosted our first Tweet-Up at HBA, which allowed us to meet face-to-face with people we have been engaging in dialogue with for months,” says Birkett. “It was also a great networking opportunity for those in attendance, and we were able to transcend the convention center and share the HBA experience with remote tweeters, as well.”

When taking advantage of show management’s efforts, don’t forget the rules of engagement. Comment on posts, retweet the show organizer’s tweets, use the hashtag in your tweets, “like” Facebook posts, offer solutions, participate in pre-show social media conversations to promote your presence at the show, and don’t just talk about yourself.

Continue the Conversation Beyond the Show

Follow-up is critical after any business encounter. If you stop talking and engaging, you’ve lost your audience. Social media allows for an effective and efficient way to keep the conversation going with attendees after the show. Just because the show is over, don’t stop using the hashtag. Also, get personal with your leads and connections developed before and at the show. “Before a show, brands and media are using social media to communicate directly and set up onsite meetings,” notes Nelson. “For instance, I used Twitter to announce: ‘I’ll be at Cosmoprof—let me know if you want me to stop by your booth.’ Brands that stood out to me were those that engaged with me virtually, gave the personal face-to-face time, and used that connection to continue the conversation after the show.”

An integrated marketing strategy employing consistent themes and branding through all communication channels is essential to maintaining a company’s competitive edge. Face-to-face interaction will help form the strong bonds that lead to long-lasting business relationships, while virtual communication will keep dialogue going with prospects and customers fresh and lively year-round.

Rob Murphy is the chief marketing officer of MC2,a leader in the exhibit and event marketing industry. Located in the Chestnut Ridge, New York, corporate headquarters of MC2, Murphy directs all marketing efforts for the company, including the Exhibitor FastTrak seminar program, and new sales initiatives. For more information, visit or check out the blog, MC2Talks. Follow MC2 on Twitter @MC2_Exhibits and @MC2_FastTrak and fan MC2 on Facebook.

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