Guest post by Andrew Brusnahan, a freelance writer who works with companies like IconicDisplays to gain additional exposure through content on the social web.

Over the past few decades, the face of marketing has changed; moving from being a primarily physical practice to one that is almost solely virtual. Contemporary advances in technology allow businesses—large and small alike—to market to literally thousands of consumers without ever meeting anyone face-to-face. However, trade shows and expos are a marketing practice that has withstood the test of time, remaining firmly embedded as a physical marketing powerhouse. 

With email, Facebook, Twitter, and SEO campaigns dominating the virtual marketing world, it is quite surprising that trade shows are still highly valuable; but when you break it down, trade shows, expos, and conventions are actually quite phenomenal in terms of marketing power. Corridor upon corridor of relevant vendors and eager consumers can leave any business with an arsenal of new leads and connections, as well as an accurate scope of the competition facing said business. In a nutshell, a trade show can be a haven, as well as a warzone, for a business.

While trade shows are still physical in nature, when you combine the physical presence of trade shows with the virtual presence of social media, you are left with a marketing weapon like no other. Implementing a social media marketing campaign in coordination with your trade show appearance will allow you to turbocharge your presence before, during, and after the event.

Before the Event

Just because a particular trade show is a month or two away, does not mean you have to sit around for a month or two waiting for the big day. No, quite the contrary in fact; this is the time in which you could get the word out. One popular method businesses are using before a trade show to build momentum is simply snapping a few pictures.

Now, these are not just random pictures. Most convention halls will have staff on hand to aid vendors in setting up their trade show displays and exhibits. Instead of sitting idly by, ask the staff if you could take pictures of them setting up the display to post to your various social media profiles (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.).

Aside from that, never forget one of the unspoken virtues in the marketing realm—people like free stuff! With that in mind, use your social media presence to announce a special promotion, contest or giveaway. For example, you could announce a secret code-word or phrase that trade show attendees could provide you with at the event in exchange for a prize or entry into a contest. Such a simple action can result in an exponential increase in traffic to your booth on the day of the show.

During the Event

Believe it or not, a superb social media strategy can work wonders at drawing crowds to your booth even during the actual event itself. In fact, since most trade shows will keep most any business busy, most companies will employ a staff member with the sole task of managing social media connections during the show.

Trade show attendees want to be kept in the loop, so regular updates about contests, demonstrations, promotional giveaways, and similar aspects will keep your booth in high demand among visitors. Moreover, rather than just announcing that there will be a “special product demonstration,” make a short video of the product demonstration to upload to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other prominent social media profiles.

When put in the right hands, the role of social media use during a trade show can be interactive too. For example, Facebook is equipped with the ability allowing users to literally “check in” to the event. Similarly, special hashtags can be set up on Twitter too.

After The Event

Sadly, there is a misconception that when the trade show comes to an end, so too does the promotion and marketing. Nothing could be further from the actual reality of the situation. Hopefully your business was successful in obtaining an arsenal of new leads, contacts, and connections.

Just as you would thank someone who gave you a gift at your wedding, the contacts you met at the trade show need to feel appreciated too. Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, or a deadly cocktail composed of several social media sites, use them to thank all those who attended the show (especially those that interacted with you and your staff).

Even those that could not come to the trade show, for whatever reason, should be included; after all, they are still interested in your businesses’ products or services. Summarize the important happenings that occurred during the event, condensing everything down so that even those who could not attend can feel as though they did not miss anything. Pictures, videos, testimonials, and post-show giveaways are all viable ways to keep everybody happy after the show.

In the world of business there is definitely a middle ground present between physical and virtual marketing. When powerful aspects of both are combined, they form a lethal tool in attracting prospects. This fact is further amplified at trade shows where social media has essentially become  a staple amongst trade show vendors who enjoy increased exposure, more leads, and extensive networking opportunities.

Photo via Flickr user Phil Sexton