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EXHIBITOR Social Media In Marketing Survey

Social Media Works, Just Don’t Ask Us To Measure It

How do exhibitors and event marketers use social media to market their business and support their event marketing?  And what is their perception about the value and future of social media?

To find out, EXHIBITOR Media Group has produced a brand new study, released January 15, 2010, based on survey responses from 383 readers of EXHIBITOR Magazine and Corporate EVENT magazine.  Survey participants are corporate exhibit and event professionals responsible for their organizations’ trade show and event programs.  Because Skyline Exhibits co-sponsored the study, we can offer you the complete report, attached at the end of this article.

The 4 main takeaways from the survey are:

  1. High social media use, but less use so far to support event marketing While 2/3rds of respondents are already using social media websites (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs) for general marketing, only 1/3 have used social media to support their trade show and event marketing.
  2. Social media works The study says that respondents who have used social media claim it has provided “increased brand awareness, enriched relationships with clients and prospects, additional press coverage, increased event attendance, increased booth traffic, and even increased sales as direct results of their campaigns.”
  3. Social media isn’t really free While the tools are free to use, the time dedicated to using social media has a real cost.  On average, survey respondents spend 5 hours a week or less on their social media, with nearly 1/3 of respondents taking 6 hours a week or more, and nearly 10% say they dedicate more than 21 hours per week.
  4. Social media use expected to grow Nearly 9 out of 10 personally believe social media has moderate to unlimited potential for exhibit and event marketing, and over 75% feel social media will increase in importance in 2010.

What Social Media Tools Are Exhibit and Event Marketers Using?

Exhibit and Event Marketers who are using social media tools are using a variety of tools, but mostly the social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, whether for general marketing or for supporting their trade shows.

Here’s their reported social media usage to support exhibit marketing (which have very similar usage to support general marketing):

When asked how they used social media to support their own corporate events, blogs rose in prominence to the second most used tool, used by 65.6% of respondents (rather than only 52.1% to support exhibit marketing).  I think that’s because blogs are a better way to reach their existing clients and team members, which tend to be the focus of corporate events.

The Disconnect of Measuring Social Media Impact

I thought there was an interesting disconnect between metrics tracked and objectives reached.  The metrics most used by marketers to track their social media included “Number of fans, friends, or followers” (65.3%); “Twitter feeds” (59.2%); “Blog posts” (55.1%), and “Social network posts” (53.1%).

However, when asked what corporate objectives has social media helped them achieve, they responded “Increased brand awareness” (80.1%); “Improved relationships with clients/prospects” (58.4%); and “Press/media coverage” (44.6%).  Only about 20% said increased event attendance or booth visitors.  And the most valued metrics, increased or incremental sales were claimed by 16.5%, while increased ROI garnered only 10.8%.

And while nearly 90% of respondents feel their social media marketing campaigns are meeting or exceeding their strategic objectives, only 1/3 of trade show marketers report that they set and track their objectives.

To be clear, I think social media is a fully viable, even essential marketing medium.  Just be sure you’ve got measured results achieving key business goals to validate social media, once you’ve gone beyond your initial learning phase.

Individual Exhibitors Tell Their Social Media Marketing Stories

Despite this overall measurement disconnect, individual survey respondents offered compelling stories of social media success, some to support their events, others where social media was used on its own:

  • “Using social media, we increased attendance at our regional meetings by 50 percent over prior years, and did so at about 50 percent of the cost.”
  • “By using Twitter at a recent trade show, my company was able to drive brand awareness among attendees. We were also able to increase the amount of traffic to our booth.”
  • “Every day I broadcast daily e-mail promotions on our Twitter account. We track clickthroughs and sales, and we can actually see incremental sales from our tweets.  Twitter also allows us to extend our marketing reach to niche markets that aren’t available to us otherwise.”
  • “Social media has increased our search engine optimization scores/rankings. We plan to continue using it as part of our marketing efforts.”
  • “It took us less than two months to generate over 65 followers via Twitter. That allowed us to directly interface with key local and trade industry media. This has increased our overall public relations efforts by 10 percent.”
  • “We filled seats at a sponsored event by using social media. Our direct-mail efforts cost money and filled three seats. Social media cost nothing and filled the remaining 17.”
  • “The use of a mix of social-media platforms has increased our booth attendance as well as increased participation in online events (Webinars, etc.) that translate directly into sales.”

There were also social media detractors, who had yet to reap success from their efforts:

  • “As much as I have read about social media, the benefits do not seem to apply to my company because our client base is not active in the online world.”
  • “I wish I could see a better conversion from the time spent on social-media networking into real dollars.”
  • “We have followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook, but I don’t think they’ve helped us increase sales. We don’t use those tools to their full potential, but partly because many businesses do not allow employees to visit social-media sites. So I think for business-to-business purposes, its value is limited.”

Think of Social Media As Another Tool For Trade Show Promotions

I think that at first exhibit marketers viewed social media as a threat to their exhibit marketing programs, but now see social media as another method for trade show promotions.  Just as advanced exhibit marketers must become knowledgeable about direct mail, email, the Internet, telemarketing, and print advertising to support their events, they are now learning social media methods, too.  Early adopter exhibit marketers have demonstrated success using social media for their pre-show, at-show, and post-show promotions.

While most respondents claim success, not every survey respondent did.  But like other marketing, Social Media marketing is not easy.  It can take a lot of experimentation and false starts until enough of the pieces fall in place.

Click here to read the full EXHIBITOR Social Media in Marketing Study

We’d love it if you would also share in the box below your comments about your own experiences using social media marketing in general and especially to promote your trade shows and events.  And thanks to EXHIBITOR for producing this study and allowing us to share it with you.


Mike Thimmesch
About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

7 responses to “EXHIBITOR Social Media In Marketing Survey

  1. I’ve been researching the effects of social media for my site as well. It seems like you really need to know which sites to advertise or invest in creating though. If my business is my high-profile it might be best to have a Facebook or LinkedIn site rather than MySpace or twitter. It seems like there are absolutely different user groups amongst the different sites. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    1. Hello Justin,

      Yes, all social media network sites are not created equal. They all have their niches and the ones you focus on really depends on the market segments you go after. For example, one commonly shared bit of advice is that Facebook tends to be better for B2C brands and LinkedIn for B2B brands.

  2. I like social media networking – I feel it has a place in business… BUT many companies are having their IT departments block social media so the time spent on creating a Facebook page, logging onto LinkedIn or Tweeting about a new product is now wasted because the people you’re trying to reach can’t access it. Sure they can get on line at home but are they going to remember what it was they wanted to look at or read while they were at work 6 hours ago? Are they going to want to go on line and “work” or would they rather go to Pogo or spend time with the family? Some will want to work, but others… Pogo looks pretty good after a long day in the office…

    1. Kathleen,

      You are right that B2B marketers have a hurdle to jump because of corporate IT departments blocking social media sites. But based on some B2B marketers’ success with social media, it is merely a hurdle, not a dead end.

  3. Can you give some examples of how exhibitors have used social media pre-show, at-show and post show?


    1. Hello Melanie,

      Skyline Exhibits of Central Ohio hosted a seminar on trade shows and social media earlier this month. Mark Armbrust, the President of Skyline Exhibits of Central Ohio, wrote a blog post about the content, which featured advice from 4 social media consultants on how exhibitors can use social media to boost their trade show results. There are some examples amonst the ideas. You can read more here:

      Also, the full report from Exhibitor Magazine in the blog post you commented on has examples provided by exhibitors themselves. You can read their verbatim quotes at the end of the report, which is “attached” at the end of the blog post.

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