HOW TO: Market B2B Events via Mobile


Make no mistake about it!

The killer app for B2B social media at trades events is, believe it or not, the app.

But not just any app.  Mobile apps.   More and more, attendees are using iPhone and Android apps to network digitally at events, and marketing them in the process.

Most of us have had some experience using mobile applications at professional conferences and corporate events to post status updates, tweet, check-in and exchange ideas with others who are either in attendance or following the event remotely.   With the help of hashtags on Twitter, the social media back channel makes for better networking, spreading awareness worldwide all the while.

So powerful is the prospect of mobile social networking at events that a number of conference organizers have already taken a stab at building their own, branded mobile apps. So far, the results have been mixed.  Because just like any other social media channel, those that go the distance prevail.

That means using technology to add value to the stream, whether it’s through content marketing, community management or automation. You’ve got to offer people something of value, be it ease-of-use, networking with a targeted community or the ability to engage in a niche back and forths without spamming your friends and family.  B2B mobile apps can deliver this value at events.

For a B2B mobile app to deliver, it’s got to help attendees get more out of an event and give the conference organizers a way to generate excitement before during and after the program dates.  For an app to get used, it’s got to do more then just provide the program schedule, speaker bios and basic event info.  It’s got to enable interactions, both in popular social media, and via partitioned, semi-exclusive spaces.  But what exactly does that mean? And what specifically does it take to succeed and delivery a truly useful B2B social media mobile app?

Here’s my punch list:

  1. Social Sync – Perhaps the single, biggest benefit a mobile app can offer event attendees is the chance to see if anyone they know is registered to be there.  Social sync gives them a way to see of any of their Linkedin connections, Twitter followers or Facebook friends are planning on attending. Working with Janrain, the mobile app at SXSW 2011 allowed attendees to cross-reference their social networks with registered attendees to see who they know that’s attending.
  2. Make Public Posting Optional – It’s great to be able to publish to Twitter or Linkedin from a branded, mobile app, but don’t force the user to do so.  They may want to use the app to have a segregated conversation with attendees without crowding up their Twitter feed.  Not that they would need to keep those conversations private, but they should be able to decide, on a per share basis, what they want on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook, and which ones they think are only useful to people on site at the event.
  3. Think Beyond the Event – It may be tougher to get people to download and invest their time in a mobile app for a single event.  From a B2B social media marketing standpoint, the whole idea of the app is to generate excitement for the event before it happens, and extend that excitement after it’s finished. Cisco Events used Double Dutch to build what is one of the most useful apps I’ve seen to date for extending the reach of B2B events via the social web.
  4. Location Based Social Networking – B2B mobile app should let attendees “check-in” on their mobile device at different locations. This can be a great way to drive traffic to exhibitors or sessions.  To make sure attendees don’t check-in without visiting an exhibitor’s booth, build a QR code reader into your app, and offer incentives to attendees who check-in the most.
  5. Auto Generate Hashtags – For those attendees who choose to publish their shares from your mobile app to their Twitter stream, make sure you give them the option to include the conference hashtag in their tweet.  If it’s an internal company training event, use different QR Codes on the last slide of every presentation deck and use incentives, like leaderboard listings and other event privileges, to attendees who collect the most QR codes.
  6. Socialize the Photo Opp – In the old days, trade show exhibitors would book a celebrity to come by their booth for photo opps.  Nowadays, it would by silly to do something like that without integrating social to extend the reach via the web.  Make sure your app offers a way for people to share photos and video among conference attendees and easily publish them to Twitpic, TwitVid, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook as well.  Remember my cardinal rule of usability: ease of use drives adoption.
  7. Notifications – Don’t make your attendees have to open your app to see new activity. Offer push notifications as an option and make darn sure the mobile app icon on the device home screen displays a number in a red circle in the upper right hand corner of the desktop icon to indicate new activity since last time it was opened.
  8. Offer a “Pull” Option – The value of syncing your Linkedin account with your Twitter account is not so much the ability to syndicate tweets to Linkedin, but rather to search the tweets of other Linkedin users by industry, geography, company and time frame.  Go to Linkedin, sync up your twitter account, and try searching Linkedin Signal.  The tweets from your first, second and third tier connections appear, and can be segmented by a variety of options. If your app can pull in and display all the social networking activity of other conference attendees, that’s useful, even after the event is over, because it serves as a sort of lens to bring social networking activity of a particular community into focus.
  9. Offer Keyword and Klout Score Search – B2B decision makers in different parts of a company have different priorities.  Give users the ability to isolate the discussions they’re most interested in by keyword or phrase.  To fight digital illiteracy, let them also filter by user’s Klout scores, so they can learn what online influencers do to stimulate engagement. These are features in Hootsuite’s premium service, which is very useful when conducting influencer relations at live events.

The Cisco Events app that I mentioned earlier offer many of these features.  But if I had one piece of criticism, it would be that the app offers social sync for Facebook and Twitter, but not Linkedin, which is, in my opinion, the most important network to B2B users.  According to my discussion with the folks at Double Dutch, this is something they expect to offer very soon. In fact, some time has transpired since we spoke and I wrote this up, so it’s entirely possible they’ve got it up and running now.

If you’d like to hear my briefing with Double Dutch, I released it as a podcast at On the Record…Online, so jam the like button, follow us on Twitter or subscribe on iTunes and listen in.

In my book Social Marketing to the Business Customer with Paul Gillin, we deep dive into every aspect of B2B social media marketing, from winning buy-in from disengaged managers and clients to B2B search and social optimization, and it will be no surprise to readers of this blog that Linkedin is by far the most important social network for business professionals.

I hope my B2B mobile app list of features is helpful.  What features did I miss and what B2B mobile apps do you think are most effective?

Which are the best B2B mobile apps from a user and a B2B social media marketer’s perspective.  Please post your favorites here, and let’s see of we can get a list of the most important functional specs for event-focused B2B mobile apps ever assembled.

What features would you put in a mobile app designed for use at B2B events?

  • Eric,

    Great post and punch list. I have an additional suggestion, which applies to the large-scale events (e.g. NAB Show). How about interactive maps of the exhibit floor, which tell you not only where the exhibitor booths are located, but give you a preview of what you can experience at the booth (e.g. demo of latest product, free T-shirts, etc.).

    On top of that, it would be neat to leverage the smartphone’s location awareness and compass to provide an “event GPS,” which guides you to the exhibitor’s location (applies to the very large events and not so much to “self contained” exhibit floors).

    Dennis Shiao

  • Great idea. But I wonder whether or not GPS is accurate enough to map out 10x10s in the trade show floor. Do you know the answer to that question?

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